Editorial: The disaster that is our disaster body

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A FELLOW journalist who is among those who covered the destruction in Eastern Visayas has a point that is worth everyone’s attention: about the lack of authority beyond counting damages and deaths of the council that is supposed to focus on disaster risk reduction and management, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

As it is, the NDRRMC is but a coordinating council that has no power at all, not even to call on government trucks to move in with relief goods. Its mandate is just to gather all the information about the disaster, nothing else. But, it is made up of all the powers that can be in government. Meaning, everyone in there is the lead actor. Now, what happens when everyone’s the lead?

Imagine this humongous bureaucratic composition: Chair - Secretary of Department of National Defense; Vice Chairperson for Disaster Preparedness - Secretary of Interior and Local Government; Vice Chairperson for Disaster Response - Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development; Vice Chairperson for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation - Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology; Vice Chairperson for Disaster Rehabilitation and Recovery - Director-General of the National Economic Development Authority;

Members: Secretary of the Department of Health; Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Secretary of the Department of Agriculture; Secretary of the Department of Education; Secretary of the Department of Energy; Secretary of the Department of Finance; Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry; Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication; Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management; Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways; Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs; Secretary of the Department of Justice; Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment; Secretary of the Department of Tourism; The Executive Secretary; Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process; Chairman, Commission on Higher Education; Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines; Chief, Philippine National Police; The Press Secretary; Secretary-General of the Philippine Red Cross; Commissioner of the National Anti-Poverty Commission - Victims of Disasters and Calamities Sector; Chairperson, National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women; Chairman, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council; Executive-Director of the Climate Change Office of the Climate Change Commission; President, Government Service Insurance System; President, Social Security System; President, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation; President of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines; President of the League of Provinces in the Philippines; President of the League of Municipalities in the Philippines; President of the League of Cities in the Philippines; President of the Liga ng Mga Barangay; Four representatives from the CSOs; One (1) representative from the Private Sector; Administrator of the OCD.

Sure, the composition looks impressive. But we all know when such humongous piece of bureaucracy meet. They achieve nothing.

Now, that says a lot about the government’s focus and concern on disaster risk reduction and management. When government sees nothing beyond just keeping count of damages and deaths and relaying information on what and where donations are coming and repeating warnings of the weather bureau as disaster risk reduction and management, then we can expect to see the same unpreparedness and the sheer lack of leadership when yet another disaster strikes, just as what happened in Eastern Visayas.

Like headless chickens, government officials were acting on their own, among them Secretary Mar Roxas who was even seen directing traffic in the early part of the post-disaster scene and President Benigno Aquino III distributing plastic bottles of water to individuals.

Just yesterday, former Senator Panfilo Lacson has been appointed to lead rehabilitation efforts in areas wiped out by Typhoon Yolanda. That’s good, but only for Yolanda. What about the coming months, next year, the coming years?

In these times of super typhoons and disasters, government cannot afford to be short-sighted and only attack each disaster only after it comes. The government and the people need a true leader whose heart is in disaster risk reduction and properly given the power to whip the whole bureaucracy into action for climate change mitigation, adaption, and yes, risk reduction.

We know the best man for the role should be the president, but we know that the president we have is not our best man. The best the national government can do is to ensure that there is a person, unperturbed by politics, who can wack through the destruction disasters can bring. This is definitely not a job for the weak of heart, of body, and of empathy.

We have to remember that Yolanda may have wreaked major destruction, but government did the same in Zamboanga, and the crumbled structures and infrastructure from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake remain crumbled to date. Seen with these two other disasters in context, naming a rehabilitation czar for Yolanda destruction becomes nothing but a positive spin to the mountains of negative news Malacañang has been getting.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 03, 2013.


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