By Atty. Howard Calleja
As entire communities recover from the severity of Ulysses, the waves that haven’t ceased are those of fear, uncertainty, and anger. While our Kababayan sort through the ruin and asking themselves what comes next, there are many who point out that, because we’ve made it through similar situations in the past, that we can, once again. Resiliency has become synonymous with Filipino, and it is the reliance on this trait that has given our leaders room for complacency.
Though every country is fragile, as they are currently picking up the pieces of their economy and working towards the new normal due to the ongoing pandemic, the Philippines’ vulnerabilities are unique to her, being the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms. The painful lessons learned over the past decades seem to have been ignored, proven by the devastation and billions of pesos worth of damage brought by Ulysses. Though we have been asked to aim heal as one, the leaders in charge of granting relief only apply bandaids to deep-seated wounds.
No one could have prevented the landfall of Ulysses, but lack of preparation is what propels a storm into a crisis. Disasters are not acts of God; they are natural occurrences that are aggravated by improper management, communication, and infrastructure. Those that are most at risk live amongst decades of maldevelopment and are further made vulnerable with a socio-economic standing that only highlights their inability to relocate. Where the failure of this administration lies is not in controlling the weather, but controlling their bias. One of the efforts in Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) of the previous administration, which was lauded by the United Nations as innovative and responsive, was Project NOAH. By using a centralized system, both LGUs and civilians would be able to receive updates on storm patterns, flood alerts, and the like. Unfortunately, this initiative was defunded just one year into Duterte’s term. With plans of the Project leaders to install water level monitoring stations and use technology to identify landslide-prone areas, who knows how many lives could have benefitted? What we do know is that, since then, Filipinos have had to rely heavily on PAGASA social media platforms and texts from National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC); neither of which has proven to prepare communities sufficiently. In fact, the victims of the recent Ulysses have said the text brigade offered by the NDRRMC did not warn them of the amount of rainfall, nor any information on where the storm was expected to land.
The politicization of DRRM is costing lives, if we prioritize preparedness over relief, then there would be no unnecessary deaths. Can we truly say that we have done everything in our power? But yet, even the rescue efforts are delayed and the recovery initiatives hidden from the public. How can we begin to build back better, when the plan is kept from the people it supposedly aims to help? We’ve seen the Bayanihan spirit all throughout this pandemic and again following the effects of Ulysses, so no one can deny the impact that the private sector, and the individual, have on rebuilding our economy and uplifting the spirits of the people. Proper DRRM is generally characterized by smooth coordination, and the recovery efforts from Ulysses require a multi-sectoral approach and a sense of urgency. With a part-time President, a decrease in the calamity fund, and prioritization of the drug war. Add the failure of communication by cutting the main source of communication ABS-CBN. Moreover, our Environmental protection is focused on dolomite sand instead of reforestation. Is it any wonder why the country is in shambles?
2020 has been marred by a growing health crisis, but the recent climate crisis has only exacerbated our real problem; a leadership crisis. With the multitude of crises, those at the top are quick to shift the blame and pretend like implementation or discipline is the real issue. But the reality is, our leadership is not service-leaders, rather choosing to come when it is convenient. Though I hope the next two years are successful, the reality is that, as of now, we only have a Monday night talk show President. If there is no promise to do better, and an acknowledgment of shortcomings, then this cannot continue. The resilience of the individual Filipino will not be enough to keep the country together, and it should no longer be used as a fail-safe. We now need to think of what is best for the nation and, perhaps, pass the baton to a President who would actually work to bring his people together.
Where were our leaders when the storm fell? Well aware of the impending disaster that would strike, and the number of people that would be affected, the sense of urgency was portrayed via karaoke sessions and, in the case of one local official, beach birthday trips. If the DILG announces an intention to file charges against the Tuguegarao City Mayor for being absent during Ulysses, having been advised of the situation days ahead of time, then what excuse can we give for those who we expect to warn us and properly prepare but instead are sick and sleeping and or choosing to unwind by singing with friends. Instead of aerial inspections done for the sake of political peacocking, why not show empathy instead of being defensive? Why not direct your people towards the nearest evacuation centers or assure them of the administration’s efforts to clean the streets, rebuild, and assist them in their own recovery? After all, we need real leadership and not half-baked attempts to be visible with tag lines. What is the use of rescue and relief efforts long after it matters most? Yes, Filipinos are resilient but the Filipino spirit can only endure so much. More importantly, Filipino shouldn’t have to endure so much. After all, when it does become excessive, the dead can no longer be resilient.