ONE year after a powerful quake struck Bohol and Cebu, are our communities safer?
It’s a difficult question, in part because little appears to have changed. Change, when it did come, started slowly.
It took 10 months for the National Government to release, in Cebu’s case, a first batch of funds to fix town halls and other public buildings.
Hundreds of pupils, in the case of Bohol, continue to attend classes in makeshift classrooms built of salvaged wood and donated tents. Homes are being rebuilt, yes, but some of them in the same vulnerable areas where these stood and, when the quake struck, fell.
But to say that nothing has changed would be inaccurate. Worse, it would be a disservice to the thousands of government workers and private volunteers who stepped up, even in their hour of need, to help others.
This, more than anything, is the story we chose to lead with today in our five-part series “Rising from the Rubble.” Government’s reports on how communities responded to the quake sometimes leave out the details of how the calamity drew out untold numbers of nameless volunteers.
The rehabilitation plan for Bohol points out that 631,128 family food packs and 209,524 bottles of water were given away from Oct. 15 to Nov. 23, 2013. However, “not included in this report are numerous civic groups and organizations, which distributed relief goods directly to the affected families in the hardest-hit towns.” In a way, that made these acts of compassion more moving, in that the givers did not seek to call attention to themselves.
As the work of rebuilding after the quake continues, government will continue to face scrutiny, as it should. The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act contains a long, cautionary list of activities prohibited in a calamity’s wake. It is illegal, for example, “to prevent the entry and distribution of relief goods in disaster-stricken areas.” It is also illegal for public officials to fail to perform their duties, such that their failure leads to deaths, critical damage to facilities and misuse of funds.
But for today, let us honor the survivors who have learned the quake’s costly lessons, and the thousands of government workers and private volunteers who helped them rise.