Capitol to get sat phones for all towns, cities

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Saturday, March 8, 2014


SATELLITE phones and seminars on making vulnerable households safe: that sums up Cebu officials’ actions this week in response to Yolanda, which struck four months ago.

While the weather is sunny, former San Francisco mayor Alfredo Arquillano yesterday urged local government units (LGUs) to prepare for typhoons this year by, among others, identifying evacuation centers and making sure these can withstand super typhoons.

“The previous disasters happened during the last quarter of the year. We have time to prepare,” he said during a half-day seminar on disaster preparedness.

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At the Capitol, Gov. Hilario Davide III said that the Province will distribute satellite phones to Cebu’s towns and cities for easy reach during disasters.

He signed agreements with private groups yesterday, including the Corporate Network for Disaster Response (CNDR), whose help the Province will need in refining its disaster preparedness plan.

“Cebu doesn’t have a comprehensive contingency plan (on disaster preparedness),” Davide said yesterday.

Fifteen towns and a city in northern Cebu were among the communities that suffered most when Yolanda swept across the Visayas last Nov. 8, 2013. It damaged or destroyed P39 billion worth of infrastructure, crops and agricultural equipment. It also killed more than 6,200 persons and injured at least 28,000 others.

Buying a Smart satellite phone will cost the Capitol P1.96 million for 51 LGUs, at P38,500 each under the SmartSAT package.

Davide said he is having second thoughts about including Talisay and Mandaue, because these are close enough to reach even if telecommunication lines fail.

Agreements

Davide and Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale signed agreements with Conchita Ragragio, executive director of CNDR; Ramon Isberto of Smart Communications; Reena Villamor of Pru Life UK/Prudence Foundation; and Marilou Erni of Petron Foundation.

He told Task Force Paglig-on head Baltazar Tribunalo to make a comprehensive contingency plan with the help of CNDR’s Noah’s Ark Project, which focuses on disaster preparedness training.

CNDR is described as a network of business associations, corporations and corporate foundations who want to make the business sector and other Filipino communities more resilient in the face of disasters.

This batch of the Capitol’s post-Yolanda projects is supported by a P2.7-million fund, most of it from private groups. The Capitol’s counterpart fund amounts to 417,000.

Noah’s Ark Project is a six-month series of training sessions and workshops for flood-prone areas to prepare local governments and communities to deal with disasters.

Its objectives are to find a safe evacuation center in each high-risk area; strengthen local governments in managing disasters by helping them establish their disaster risk-reduction management council; and to teach vulnerable communities to prepare for floods.

Communication

Corporate risk-reduction consultant and resource person Dr. Cedric Dael said an early warning system plus communication protocols and evacuation procedures will improve an area’s chances of having no casualties during a natural disaster.

The Capitol’s role is to identify evacuation sites.

As for the importance of communication, Davide recalled that a day after typhoon Yolanda, he inspected Bantayan Island and the northern towns.

He thanked Smart public affairs manager Jane Paredes for lending him a Smart satellite phone at that time, which let him contact town officials even when communication lines were down.

Davide told reporters he will subscribe to Smart’s offer, a SmartSAT package worth P38,500, inclusive of a special satellite SIM with an initial airtime credit load of US$225 or around PHP10,000, valid for one year.

Tribunalo said that Task Force Paglig-on is finalizing Cebu Province’s rehabilitation plan and will have it ready for submission next week to the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (PARR). The plan is required for the release of rehabilitation funds.

Last Wednesday, a Journal Online report quoted Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as having said that LGUs now have access to rehabilitation funds.

Tracking funds

No funds have reached Cebu yet, said Tribunalo.

According to the report, Marcos explained that reconstruction or rehabilitation of damaged government buildings and facilities like municipal and city offices will be prioritized, followed by other public facilities like schools and hospitals.

However, LGUs have to submit needs assessment and calamity reports first.

Former senator Panfilo Lacson, who now heads the PARR office, briefed Marcos last week on the rehabilitation work so far. Marcos has filed Senate Resolution 548, calling for an inquiry into the status of funds contributed by international and local donors to LGUs in the Visayas.

For her part, PARR communications director Karen Jimeno told Sun.Star Cebu that her office is ready to provide technical assistance to LGUs in coming up with the required rehabilitation plan and other reports.

One of the technical defects of the relocation sites for Bantayan and Camotes Islands, for example, is that these are not and cannot be titled. These two islands are considered wilderness, mangroves and forest reserves, based on Presidential Proclamation 2151, said Engr. Alfredo Icoy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Land Management Services.

Benchmark

Jimeno said that concerned agencies, like the National Housing Authority, are the ones that ask for requirements before extending any assistance.

“We have no power to change regulations (or documentary requirements) but we can make an appeal or recommend exceptions,” said Atty. Jimeno.

She said her office also studies if there is a need to waive certain requirements to hasten the assistance.

Arquillano, named one of the champions of the United Nations (UN) Disaster Risk Reduction’s Making Cities Resilient Campaign, said disaster preparedness should be a top priority of local officials to prevent a repeat of the massive loss of lives caused by Yolanda.

Speaking before barangay officials of Mandaue City, Arquillano said that LGUs should start retrofitting or strengthening schools and other establishments used as evacuation centers, and make sure these can withstand super typhoons.

“The new benchmark is Yolanda,” he said, adding that evacuation centers should be away from areas prone to floods and landslides, among other risks. He said there are existing building designs that can withstand disasters.  

Shared work

Arquillano also discussed the role of non-government organizations in community growth and enhancement during the seminar, organized by the Taga Mandaue Inc. and held in the Dohera Hotel yesterday morning.

More than preparing for the yearly typhoons, Arquillano said LGUs should incorporate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in their development plans.

Preparing for disasters and adapting to climate change, he said, “do not happen overnight.”

“It’s about education, it’s about infrastructure, it’s about increasing the level of awareness among the people,” he said.

Arquillano added all sectors of the community should get involved in making disaster preparedness plans.

“It should be participatory. The community should be the one planning. The local government will facilitate and support them such as providing infrastructure,” he said.

In 2011, the town of San Francisco in Camotes Island, under the leadership of Arquillano, won the UN’s Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 08, 2014.

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