MANILA, AUGUST 21, 2012 (TRIBUNE) Written by Charlie V. Manalo - A couple of weeks back, the country had again been hit by massive flooding, one of the worst in recent history, no thanks to President Aquino for cancelling the flood control projects initiated by his predecessor, resulting in countless lives being lost, with billions of pesos in damaged properties and thousands of families being displaced.

How ironic for failing to come up with an honest-to-goodness disaster preparedness program to substitute for the programs he had cancelled as Aquino obviously failed to take into consideration that the Philippines is one of the world’s most calamity-prone countries.

According to the United Nations, nearly half of the country can be classified as “disaster-prone areas,” placing us third behind tiny Tonga and Vanuatu in the Pacific. From floods alone, the country suffered $1.23 billion of destruction and the loss of over 3,000 lives over the period 1990-2007.

Global warming and climate change have only worsened the situation. Typhoons can hit with unexpected severity in the most unexpected places.

In 2009, the damage from Ondoy and Pepeng exceeded $4 billion — more than triple the previous two decades — with nearly a thousand lives lost. Also in 2009, Northern Mindanao was hit by Auring, and again in 2011 by the much more severe Sendong, which took over 1,500 lives.

As the country enters the middle of this year’s typhoon season, with more expected to come (up to 20 a year), it is timely to review the history behind the nation’s flood preparedness. It is important to understand why a palpable sense of dread, never seen in previous years, seems now to settle over the people every time the storm clouds gather overhead.

GMA’s Response

In response to the disaster wrought by Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, former President Gloria Arroyo came up with the following multi-layer response:

1. Enactment of Disater Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121) and issuance of Executive Order (EO) 888 on a Strategic National Action Plan (SNAP) for calamity response and reduction. These two documents, drafted with extensive inputs from various disaster experts, provide the legal policy framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR) all the way down to the community level.

2. Establishment of a Special National Public Reconstruction Commission (SNPRC), chaired by the Department of Finance, and its private sector counterpart, the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF), originally chaired by business leader Manny Pangilinan and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu. These two bodies were created to raise funds and draft plans for post-typhoon reconstruction in Panay and Luzon, as well as to undertake studies on preventing future mega-disasters.

3. Endorsement by both bodies to the incoming President Aquino of about P10 billion in projects for funding earmarked by Congress in the 2010 budget. This was in addition to over P8 billion in recovery work that was funded by realigned agency budgets. These projects formed part of a Reconstruction Master Plan for the Ondoy and Pepeng areas from 2010-2012.

4. Submission by both bodies of two draft Executive Orders. One would integrate and better maintain the disparate flood warning and control operations of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa ), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), as well as dam operators the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the National Power Corporation (Napocor), to improve early warning of communities in the path of floodwaters.

5. The other EO would create a multi-stakeholder commission to draft a long-term integrated plan (the so-called “delta plan”) for infrastructure, land use, water resources and watershed management in the Pasig River delta and Laguna de Bay, using state of the art modeling and expert advice from international consultants, including experts from the Netherlands with its world-famous sea dikes.

The SNAP plan per EO 888, as drafted by the Office of Civil Defense, prioritized five actions:

1. Governance – Disaster risk reduction should be supported by major legislation and government programs like the Medium Term Phil Development Plan (MTPDP)

2. Risk identification, assessment, monitoring, and early warning systems – To get people quickly out of harm’s way

3. Knowledge management and education – To instill risk reduction information and practices, not just in government agencies, but also in the minds and behavior of ordinary citizens

4. Risk management and vulnerability reduction – Such as flood control projects and the proper planning of residential and commercial construction projects

5. Disaster preparedness for effective response and recovery – Well trained and equipped rescue teams; financial arrangements like calamity insurance in order to quickly mobilize resources for medical, livelihood, and rebuilding needs.

Bottom line: There was a real legacy bequeathed to when he assumed office in July 2010, including the necessary funds, nearly P10 billion in concessional Japanese loans and a pending $250 million credit from the World Bank (WB).

He was handed a complete disaster manual just waiting to be implemented.
(Tomorrow: How Aquino squandered that legacy)

How Aquino squandered that legacy Written by Tribune Wednesday, 22 August 2012

1) Cancellation of flood control projects

In July 2010, Public Works Secretary Singson cancelled 19 projects totaling P934 million which involved repair of numerous seawalls, flood control systems, bridges, bank protections, and dikes. These projects were rebid only a year later, in April 2011, for completion scheduled by September 2012.

Unfortunately, that did not help the victims of Pedring and Quiel in late 2011, with nearly a hundred lives lost and P14 billion in property damage. Neither was the new deadline helpful to the victims of the recent low pressure areas (not even full-fledged typhoons) that dumped torrential rains on the country this month.

Whatever fractional savings on that P934 million of projects that Singson was after, obviously wasn’t worth the lives lost and billions of property damage that were suffered. Tuwid na daan cost us and became Lunod na bayan.

2) Neglecting the recommendations of disaster preparedness

Here are some specific recommendations from the SNPRC and PDRF that were simply ignored by the administration:
Inter-agency sharing of weather and water data and implementation of joint disaster responses. This was one of the recommendations turned over to the new administration in July 2010, but has languished since then.

Creating a single authority to coordinate disaster response, including dam water releases. This was also recommended in 2010, and is only now being resurrected.

Buying more rescue helicopters for the Coast Guard. This was not included in last year’s budget, nor was money even realigned by Department of Transportation and Communication (DoTC) to acquire at least one or two choppers.

Despite Presidential adviser Neric Acosta’s repeated pleas to blame climate change (and not the President), Aquino has not convened even once the Climate Change Commission. And it was only after “Basyang” hit earlier this year that the President for the very first time convened his own National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
In general, none of the major recommendations of the disaster reconstruction commission or its private sector counterpart have been implemented at all by this administration during its two years in office.

3) Neglect and alienation of concerned agencies

After Basyang hit in 2010, the President fired chief weatherman Prisco Nilo. In the advent of Juan soon after, he praised the relief agencies. Then, after Pedring and Quiel a year later, he complained that “disaster response needs improvement”. This, despite the availability of ample fiscal resources as well as the roadmap for reforms left to him by his predecessor.

Lately, the President was on the warpath again, this time issuing direct threats against Pagasa employees who were simply asking for overdue benefits. The retirement benefits of another chief weatherman who had incurred his ire were also withheld for no reason.

How can we expect effective management of these agencies—let alone implementation of a long-term roadmap—when the President’s daily style of leadership seems to depend on which side of the bed he gets up in the morning?

4) Blaming the victims
This is the most unattractive facet of the administration’s failure to deal with the perennial flood problem. First we heard Neric Acosta blaming climate change, not the administration’s failure to anticipate and prepare for the disastrous effects of such change. After Pedring hit in September last year, the President blamed typhoon victims for failing to evacuate despite government alerts.

Months later, in the wake of Quiel, the executive director of NDRRMC, Benito Ramos, again blamed the victims for ignoring storm warnings. This same executive later blamed the lack of Doppler radars for the failure to anticipate the rains brought by Sendong, even though warnings were available a week earlier from US storm monitors and even a blogger,

This year, a Palace spokesman said the government was no longer obliged to issue such warnings; after all, people could always check Facebook or Twitter (as if everyone has access to the internet). Not to be outdone, even the DepEd sought to wash its hands of any responsibility to close down schools because of typhoons, passing the buck instead to local government executives.

What lies ahead

Judging from what has happened in the wake of this year’s storms, maybe we can only expect more of the same from this administration:

Finger-pointing – The President scored his predecessor and crowed that his disaster relief responses were better than hers. Then he told outright lies about the Laguna Lake dredging project that he unilaterally .

Threats – After canceling those much needed flood control projects two years ago, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson is now threatening to “blow up” structures that obstruct flood waters. Does he intend to include squatter shanties among his explosive targets?

Grandiose promises – The President unveiled a grandiose press release about a P352 billion flood control program. This, from someone who can boast of only one awarded project to date from his even more grandiosely heralded PPP program.

But this need not be the case. If only they put their minds to it, there is no reason an effective flood control strategy cannot be put in place by the different branches of government:

Congress should appropriate sufficient funds for disaster risk reduction (DRR). If we assume P100,000 per household to relocate a total of about 125,000 families living along creeks, rivers and lakes, that works out to P12.5 billion. That is less than one-third of this year’s budget for the supposedly pro-poor conditional cash transfers program (CCT).

The President can use the “delta plan” crafted by the SNPRC and the PDRF in the wake of Ondoy—as the basis for planning and implementing his P352 Billion flood control program. There is no need to reinvent the wheel if only he can get over his hostility to his predecessor.

The NOAH flood warning system, also proposed by the two post-Ondoy bodies, is a good step in the right direction (assuming of course it has enough fuel to keep it running). Also waiting to be implemented are the global warming adaptation measures urged by the Climate Change Commission, as soon as he gets around to convening this body.

Lastly, DILG has a role to play in prodding local governments to join the national government in investing in DRR infrastructure and logistics, including flood control, rescue and medical gear, and most importantly, resettlement of affected communities

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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