Calamities and more

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By Tibs Palasan, Jr

Spark of Law

Friday, January 17, 2014


2013 closed with natural disasters worldwide. Earthquakes and floods have taken lives. The death statistics resulting from natural disasters are higher than the casualties of the Syrian, Iraqi, and other wars combined. What is imminent threat is not the nuclear nightmare but nature’s wrath.

Unfortunately, the natural disasters in 2013 took the heavy toll at the close of the year here in the Philippines. The Bohol earthquake was followed a month after by the “Yolanda” typhoon. The combined deaths can easily surpass 10,000, and the displaced more than millions.

2014 opened with the polar vortex which has caused subzero temperatures across North America. Still reeling from the wrath of typhoon “Yolanda,” Mindanao is battered anew with low pressure area which caused flash floods and landslides. Already, Butuan City and San Francisco, Agusandel Sur are now declared under State of Calamity.

Natural disaster though, after death, is a great equalizer. Nations, regardless of their economic status, are not spared. Calamities apply to all in equal measures.

With the magnitude and frequency of these calamities, no nation, much less the Philippines should be inutile to come up with mitigating measures before and after the natural occurrence.

The call to plant trees has been repetitive. The cry to stop cutting of trees has been resounding. The shout to stop mining that has seen the balding if not the obliteration of our forests echo across our nation.

Yet these calls have been heeded not in obedience but in flagrant violation. The logging has exponentially outpaced the tree planting. The mining, both legal and illegal, remains unabated. While logging has caused the balding of our forests, mining has caused their decimation, as heavy equipment levels them to the sea level.

Doable mitigating measures to temper nature’s wrath are not being done. After having failed in that department, we still fail in another aspect: inept response to calamities.

The “Yolanda” typhoon has seen how to mishandle a calamity. It was only after a week when help reached some of the victims. To aggravate the situation, the national government was blaming, if not politicking, with the local government. Understandably, the local government could not act with dispatch because the first responders were themselves victims. Over a technicality, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas would not act without the city mayor signing a document.

We saw in “Yolanda” how Pnoy and his administration panicked, and the lack of preparation to address immediately the natural disaster. Where the damage is limited to certain areas, like “Sendong” in Cagayan de Oro City, the local government should be the first responders. But where the calamity is so widespread as to paralyze the first responders themselves, the national government is expected to act without delay, sans technicalities.

Natural disasters unfortunately will strike our country with more frequency. We are in the path of storms owing to our location within the Pacific. Philippines too sits in the ring of fire. Earthquakes will not be uncommon. The death toll will rise. Displaced victims will increase exponentially. We cannot simply lower our guards. It’s a shame that international bodies reach the victims well ahead of the national government.

The national disaster coordinating bodies should put in place already all warm bodies, supplies, and equipment even before disasters strike. We should be ready 24/7 whole year round.

Deaths directly caused by the calamity cannot be helped. But countless deaths resulting from lack of immediate aid are unforgivable.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 17, 2014.

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