Saturday, November 27, 2021

Special Report: Evac, bodega and anchor

Government, private sector step up preparations for the next calamity

IF A NATURAL calamity were to strike today, exactly two years after the magnitude 6.9 Negros earthquake threw Cebu residents into a panic, would Cebuanos now know what to do?

Alfredo Arquillano Jr., former vice mayor of San Francisco town in the Camotes Islands, Cebu, said there is a disaster every year, but disaster preparedness is not prioritized.

The United Nations Sasakawa Awardee for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2011 said the government has a great role to play in giving the people the information they need to deal with disasters.

“Ang gobyerno ang pag-ayuda. Dapat sila masayod unsay angay nga mahibaw-an sa katawhan (The government’s role is to help. They should be aware of what their constituents need to know),” Arquillano said.


In San Francisco, he said, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), adopted by the Philippines in 2005, was translated to Cebuano-Visayan, so it will be understood by the community. It is posted in the different sitios of his town.

The HFA, a 10-year plan endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly to build disaster-resilient communities, outlines five priorities to reduce loss of lives and social, economic and environment assets.

These are making disaster risk reduction a national and local priority, identifying the risks and taking action, increasing the level of awareness of officials and residents, reducing the risk factors, and being ready to respond to disasters.

Arquillano said that by translating this guide, people would know what they need to do.

About 1,000 residents in Tulang Diyot, an islet barangay in San Francisco, were saved after the residents were evacuated to the mainland of Camotes Island a day before super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) struck on Nov. 8, 2013.

Ro-ro port in Danao City as alternate Visayas port
ALTERNATE PORTS. After the experience of Tacloban City, Leyte, when damage brought by Super Typhoon Yolanda to its airport and seaport made access by rescuers difficult, Cebu has identified alternate ports that could be used should its main domestic and international seaports in Cebu City become inaccessible after a natural calamity. Pictured here is the roll-on, roll-off port in Danao City. (Sun.Star Cebu Photo/Amper Campana)

Hazard maps

Arquillano said the government should provide information like a geohazard map to determine the dangerous areas that could be prone to landslides, storm surges and floods.

The DENR 7’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has released a list of areas vulnerable to storm surges in Cebu (See Part 2 of this special report.). It also released a list of areas prone to landslides and floods last October, as have some local government units (LGUs).

But residents cannot yet make their own assessments on their vulnerability to typhoon-generated storm surges or earthquake-generated tsunamis because the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria) has yet to come up with more specific data on the elevation of areas near the coast. Requests made with MGB 7 for elevation data are referred to Namria.

Former Camotes vice mayor Alfredo Arquillano on natural disasters
BIG ROLE. Alfredo Arquillano Jr., former vice mayor of San Francisco town, Camotes, Cebu, says local government units have a big role to play in educating residents on the hazards of natural disasters and in choosing evacuation centers that are safe from typhoons, floods, storm surges and landslides. (Sun.Star Cebu Photo/Amper Campana)

Safe evacuation

After providing geohazard information, Arquillano said, the government should identify evacuation centers safe from typhoons, floods, storm surges and landslides.

“Wa gyuy evacuation center kung storm surge area (There is no such thing as an evacuation center in an area identified to be vulnerable to a storm surge),” he said.

If there is no safe area, said Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) head Neil Angelo Sanchez, Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 allows LGUs to construct a safe evacuation center by using its disaster risk reduction and management funds.

During a press briefing headed by the Philippine Information Agency 7, Police Regional Office 7 Director Danilo Constantino said there was no safe evacuation center in Bantayan Island when typhoon Yolanda struck.

So if a super typhoon strikes again, he said the residents of Bantayan Island—which hosts Bantayan, Madridejos and Sta. Fe towns—should be evacuated to mainland Cebu.
Going to church

In Cebu City, Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (LDRRMC) operation officer Alvin Santillana said the City Government has identified Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish in Barangay Capitol Site, Redemptorist Church, Sto. Rosario Parish Church, Guadalupe Church and Pardo Church as evacuation centers for families during storms.

“These big churches in the city are strong. They can withstand storm signals one, two and three,” Santillana said.

But if the typhoon will be as strong as Yolanda, which packed one-minute maximum sustained winds of 315 kilometers per hour and gusts of 380 kph, churches as well as other structures will not be spared from damage, he said.

To reduce typhoon damage, he suggested: “Trim the trees. Secure roofs with rope. Glass in houses or the church, such as windows, can be covered with plywood.”

Other evacuation centers the City has identified include barangay sports complexes and gymnasiums.


Public schools are often used as evacuation centers, but many of them were damaged by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck Bohol and Cebu last Oct. 15 and super typhoon Yolanda weeks later, raising questions about their structural integrity to begin with.

Department of Education 7 Director Carmelita Dulangon said their engineers are now making plans for the construction of school buildings that are typhoon- and earthquake-resistant.

Sanchez said if the budget intended to build disaster-resistant classrooms will be properly used, the desired structure will be achieved.

Santillana said Cebu City doesn’t usually use public schools as temporary shelters during calamities.

“We need areas where the affected families can stay for long, so classes will not be disturbed,” he said.

Based on the records of the Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor, more than 5,000 families in Cebu City will be vulnerable during typhoons as they live within the three-meter easement zone of the five major waterways in the city, which are the Mahiga, Lahug, Guadalupe, Kinalumsan and Bulacao rivers.

These rivers immediately swell due to the heavy rains typhoons bring.

Aside from that, hundreds of families and an estimated 550 fishermen living in coastal barangays will be vulnerable to storm surges. Sixteen of the city’s 80 barangays have coastal areas.

In the event of an earthquake, Santillana said, the public should evacuate to nearby open spaces such as parks, plazas or ovals.

He doesn’t advise people to take shelter in barangay sports complexes, gymnasiums or other facilities until their structural integrity has been assessed.

“One Bodega”v

Yolanda saw not just evacuation centers but also warehouses in Tacloban City overcome by storm surges, so another lesson learned is that relief goods should be prepositioned in safe areas identified by the LGUs.

Sanchez said a “One Bodega” concept would be helpful to every LGU. This would make it easier to receive, segregate and track goods and the equipment that will be used for the clearing and rescue operations.

Capitol Consultant Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., head of Task Force Paglig-on, also said that ahead of every typhoon, each family must prepare kits with food and other materials needed that would last for five to 10 days.

Task Force Paglig-on is the body formed by the Cebu Capitol to plan and oversee the rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas devastated by Yolanda in Cebu.

Asked if Cebu City has an area to store relief goods, Santillana said it doesn’t.

Department of Social Welfare Services (DSWS) chief Dr. Ester Concha said they no
longer store relief goods.

Instead, they have a “supply order agreement” with a group of suppliers in the city so
DSWS will have relief goods such as bread or food packs to be distributed to families affected by disasters.

Concha said bidding is not needed in such transactions because these are considered emergency purchases. The City’s practice is to give food to disaster victims for three days.

Asked if LDRRMC would recommend to the City the construction of concrete bunkers to serve as evacuation centers and areas to preposition relief goods during calamities, Santillana said it would be too costly as such facilities would cost millions of pesos.

He said the City has only some P200 million every year in its calamity fund.
Village work
While the City is doing its part in preparing the city for disasters, the LDRRMC asks the barangays and the public to do their part as well.

Santillana said the barangay quick response teams should be active and knowledgeable
in disaster management.

Typhoon drills are encouraged as part of disaster preparedness.

In San Francisco, residents conduct typhoon drills every March 25 and Nov. 10.

Arquillano said they chose these dates after their town was badly hit by typhoon
Besing on March 26, 1982 and typhoon Ruping on Nov. 11, 1990.

He also encouraged other LGUs to implement a “typhoon shelter” project, which involves building a multipurpose shelter that can be used as a comfort room or place to hide if a family cannot go to the evacuation center.

He said houses made of light materials should have a “typhoon shelter” beside them.

The materials of the typhoon shelter cost just P5,000.

Arquillano said the typhoon shelter is still subject to risk assessment to determine if it can withstand a typhoon.

He said no typhoon shelter should be built in areas prone to floods, landslides and storm surges.

Ship trouble

Aside from houses blown away, downed trees, and fallen electric and other utility posts, other hazards to residents during typhoons are ships flung to shore by strong winds.

In Leyte, a vessel docked at port was carried by the strong winds and waves and rammed into a residential area.

Commander Rodolfo Villajuan, chief of the Cebu Coast Guard station, said ships should be brought to places not affected by wind even if there is a storm.

Cebu Port Authority Deputy General Manager Yusoph Uckung said one such place is Carmen town in northern Cebu.

“It’s a safe harbor because there is a Carmen bay,” he said.

Coast guard commander Villajuan said if possible, ships should be moved to locations where there are no storm signals.

“Ang ginawa lang nila, nag-anchor lang sila. Ang iba pumunta sa lugar na walang storm signal (All they did was to anchor their ship, whereas other owners brought their ships to areas without storm signals),” Villajuan said.

For motor and non-motor bancas of fishermen, he said if there is a surge forecast of five meters, fishermen must add three meters to that estimate, meaning assume the wave height will be eight meters, so they can really keep their boats far from the waves.

Bantay Dagat Office head Ranulfo Sebusa said that ahead of typhoons, Cebu City
fishermen usually shelter their fishing boats in an area in Sitio Alumnos, Barangay Mambaling where these will not be damaged.


To speed up the start of clearing operations and distribution of relief goods after typhoons, Capitol consultant Tribunalo said LGUs should preposition their equipment in strategic locations.

The province may purchase essential heavy equipment for this purpose and for regular engineering works in the municipalities, he said.

Sanchez said an inventory of equipment and other resources should be done ahead so if an LGU does not have some equipment needed, it can ask for help from the private sector apart from the national government agencies.

A day before the storm, Tribunalo said, the Department of Public Works and Highways and electric companies must also preposition their manpower and equipment, as well as communicate with personnel trained to do all the forms of responses.

Cebu City’s Department of Engineering and Public Works (DEPW) has a fleet of
payloaders and backhoes, among others, while the Department of Public Services owns several dump trucks.

Santillana admitted the City-owned equipment won’t be enough to address all the needs of the city in times of calamities, so they will get the help of the Cebu Contractors Association, as practiced in the previous years.

During disasters, the equipment is placed at the Plaza Sugbu Grounds fronting City Hall for easy deployment, while others are stationed in Barangay Taptap for the north district and Barangay Sudlon I in the south district to address the emergency needs in the city’s mountain villages.


The PDRRMC is beefing up its own disaster-response capabilities. It received approval to buy 10 satellite phones and, to support the equipment of island towns, five Single Side Band radios.

Satellite phones came in handy after Yolanda when traditional communication lines fell.

But Sanchez said this doesn’t mean all their communication problems will be solved.

“Satellite phones are not always reliable during disasters,” he said. “I experienced it in Cateel (town in Davao Oriental) and Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte. If it’s cloudy, it can’t get a signal.”

In Bantayan, Cebu where he went on the Saturday after Yolanda struck, the signal of
their borrowed satellite phone was choppy, but the team’s hand-held radios were able to reach Tacloban City, he said.

Alternate ports

If relief goods from other areas of the country can’t enter Cebu because its ports are damaged, Commander Villajuan said the ships that brought the goods may apply for a special permit with the Maritime Industry Authority to dock in a port not affected by the typhoon.

Villajuan said applying for the permit will not take long, especially during emergencies.

He said there are 13 ports in Cebu, excluding the private ports.

In Cebu, Tribunalo said, among the ports in the north are the Polangbato port in Bogo
City that caters to Masbate and Manila; a port in Bogo City proper that can accommodate vessels from Leyte and Cawayan, Masbate; and a port in Bantayan Island facing Cadiz City, Negros Occidental.

There are also ports in Sta. Fe, Bantayan Island, from where ships can go to Hagnaya, San Remegio in mainland Cebu; and a port in Maya, Daanbantayan for trips from Kalubihan, Leyte.

In eastern Cebu, the Danao City port connects people to the port in San Francisco town on Camotes Island; the Pilar port on Ponson Island caters to ships from Ormoc City; Carmen port accommodates ships from Palompon, Leyte.

In western Cebu, the Tuburan and Tabuelan ports connect to Bais City and Toboso town in Negros Occidental. Toledo City caters to ships from San Carlos City, also in Negros Occidental.

Tribunalo said the private port of Tsuneishi Heavy Industries in Balamban town in western Cebu is a potential area to accommodate ships from international donors.

Cebu’s main domestic and international ports are on its eastern seaboard in Cebu City.

New roads

Asked if Cebu City will consider constructing satellite roads to serve as alternate routes in case certain city roads become inaccessible after typhoons or earthquakes, DEPW chief Jose Marie Poblete said no roads in the city will be spared in times of typhoons or earthquakes.

“Wa may pili ang bagyo or ang linog,” he said.

What is important is for the City to ready all its equipment for the conduct of clearing operations, he said.

Tribunalo said good road networks are essential, but too many roads would only bring
more cars and pollution that will lead to environmental destruction.

Ready supplies

With the Visayas receiving help from different countries after typhoon Yolanda hit last November, it already has relief supplies on hand for the next calamity.

Aside from relief goods, donors had provided water purifiers, medical equipment, housing materials and others.

Provincial Information Officer Ethel Natera said the equipment brought by foreign donors were left with the LGUs and is now owned by them.

Task Force head Tribunalo said there were water purifiers turned over to LGUs, while others informed them that they might collect these later.

For the tents, he said these are now owned by the beneficiaries, for it will take months or even years to complete their shelter rehabilitation.

Sanchez said all equipment brought by foreign donors intended for disaster response
are exempt from taxes as long as this is left in the affected country.

Asked why the Philippines did not provide as relief goods ready-to-eat meals, which are more convenient for typhoon survivors, like foreign donors did after Yolanda, Natera said there are not that many manufacturers of ready-to-eat food in the country.

The relief packs from the national government and LGUs contained rice, canned goods and noodles, which still had to be cooked or heated.

Arquillano said Filipinos also want to eat warm food during cold weather. Aside from
that, he said canned goods and noodles do not immediately perish.

Budget in place

With RA 10121, PDRRMC’s Sanchez said, LGUs already have a budget they can use to deal with disasters.

The law mandates LGUs to set aside five percent of their estimated revenue from regular sources for their Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (formerly the Local Calamity Fund), of which 70 percent is to be used for mitigation and
preparedness and 30 percent for quick response and rehabilitation.

Section 21 says the budget could be used for “pre-disaster preparedness programs, including training, purchasing life-saving rescue equipment, supplies and medicines, for post-disaster activities, and for the payment of premiums on calamity insurance.”

But the devil is in the implementation.

“We have a long way to go,” said Sanchez. “I still have to work on 35 percent of the LGUs in Cebu (province) just to attain 90 percent preparedness.”

The usual problems, he said, are: “They lack a disaster risk reduction and management officer. They lack an office. They don’t have the disaster risk reduction and management plans.”

The reason is that their mindset is focused on response.

“We want to change their mindset to preparedness,” he said. With Cherry Ann T. Lim

(Tomorrow: Green shield/Designing for the new normal)
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