Editorial: Putting accountability in resilience

·3 min read

WHY do civil authorities claim they were “blindsided” in the destruction wrecked by Ulysses?

More important, how do we avoid being caught unprepared again by natural calamities that strike the nation with predictable regularity?

Currently, the government and civil society are concentrating efforts and resources in rescuing people, many of them still stranded on rooftops, their houses submerged in floodwaters; sheltering and providing food, medicine and clothing; attending to the injured and those struck by illnesses after long exposure to extreme elements; and clearing the wreckage and restoring power and water in devastated communities.

However, authorities must have a reckoning to address the significant gaps in disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) preparation, an area that receives searing scrutiny directly after a calamity but seems to be back-burnered by local government units (LGUs) in planning and resource allocation.

Blaming disasters as acts of providence and expecting citizens to pick up and move on in the much-abused spirit of “Filipino resilience” should have no place in official mindsets.

In 2010, the implementing rules and regulations were released for Republic Act (RA) 10121, also known as the Philippine DRRM Act of 2010.

RA 10121 was created to make the country a safe environment for its residents.

Implementing this law should be a priority of officials serving in “one of the most vulnerable countries in the world” due to “climate change and disasters,” according to a Nov. 6, 2014 paper posted on the official website of the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards program (Project NOAH).

Almost 74 percent of Filipinos and 80 percent of the land are disaster-prone, with the threats coming from typhoons and storms (58 percent of annual disasters), flooding (25 percent), landslides (six percent), earthquakes (five percent), volcanic eruptions (five percent), and drought (one percent), based on same Project NOAH paper.

Storms cause the worst devastation in terms of fatalities, number of people affected and economic damage.

If the law already existed since 2010, why were LGUs “blindsided” by Ulysses, to quote Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba?

In 2012, then Government and Interior Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo urged local executives, from provinces and cities to barangays, to see climate change as a reality and disaster preparedness, not so-called resilience, to be the appropriate response to protect Filipinos from environmental hazards.

Robredo made the call because many local DRRM councils had yet to pass their action plans. While local executives are prime movers for coming up with disaster preparedness programs, the success of implementation hinges on local participation, maximizing the knowhow, experiences and resources of residents, civil society groups and other stakeholders.

The Project NOAH, spearheaded by the Department of Science and Technology, provided free technical expertise, systems, tools, and other technologies to help the LGUs move away from disaster “relief” and emphasize “prevention, mitigation, and preparedness.”

In 2017, the Duterte administration “defunded” Project NOAH, which was absorbed by the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute. The center taps multiple disciplines, from the sciences and technology to the humanities, to build community capabilities for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Many LGU officials blame the lack of local resources as an obstacle in DRRM.

Section 21 of RA 10121 requires LGUs to set aside five percent of their revenue for DRRM. Allocating resources and involving stakeholders to create a DRRM plan are contingent on local leaders being educated in climate change and committed to prepare for disaster.

Until official mindsets bridge this transition, our people will continue to be vulnerable to “blindsided” responses and lack of public accountability in disaster mitigation.