Sun. May 9th, 2021
Six landfalls did not deter the horror Super Typhoon Yolanda brought with her.

(Part Two: Analysis paralysis, avoiding another Tacloban)

But if the accidental vice president, her children and their trolls, were not looking for President Benigno Simeon (BS, for short) Aquino III in November 2013 when one of country’s worst humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions since World II claimed more than 10,000 lives, rendered 1.8 million homeless and displaced more than 6,000,000, why were they looking for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte two weeks ago?

Without inputing a storm surge, the combined intensity of the three recent typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses approximates if not exceeding Ondoy (Ketsana), and yet the damage caused is not even 1% that of Yolanda (Haiyan) as only 125 lives were lost, 463 injured with 39 missing.

Truly everything could have been “badder” if Duterte just like in 2013, was “noynoying.” We related in Part 1 how instead of immediately taking over Ground Zero, Aquino hemmed and hawed and engaged the local government blaming city officials and employees, the policemen and the first responders.

The truth was a whole city and neighboring municipalities were literally either fighting to save their own lives or coming to the rescue of their loved ones and extended families, or were already killed or injured by what Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described as a triple whammy – “Very high winds, strong rainfall and a 13-foot storm surge” that funneled a tsunami into Tacloban city.

But thanks to the faux pas of national government in Tacloban, the rest of the nation saw the true character of two men – the first froze in the midst of conflict and the other shone in action. Aquino was a big man but empty-handed. In stark contrast, since Duterte was a just a mayor with no axe to grind, except geared to the teeth to help needy victims of the tsunami, they identified with him.

A little over two years from that time, the nation collected on the karma brought about by death of helpless thousands and the destruction of their abode. In the 2016, BS Aquino, Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party and rest of the yellow mob suffered a humiliating defeat in the polls, in the hands of a probinsyano from Mindanao at that!

At the last minute, through the magical wand of Smartmatic, however, a spell took the vice presidency from leading candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. more popularly known as Bongbong.

Leni Robredo’s narrow 263,000 lead is still being questioned at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal to this date. It appears however that Aquino stragglers in the Supreme Court have stonewalled the case to a virtual halt, with no hint whatsoever that a final resolution, one way or another, would be reached before the transfer of powers by June 30, 2022.

The reform of NDRRMC

The precursor organization was called the National Disaster Coordinating Council established in 1978. After sad experiences with Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), among others, then Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. started reforms that took up to May 2010 to complete with the signing by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of  Republic Act No. 10121 reorganizing the NDCC and renaming it the “National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council,” or NDRRMC.

Indeed, the name was slightly changed but there was more than just that.

The older version’s job was to just to “advise the President on the status of preparedness programs, disaster operations and rehabilitation efforts undertaken by the government and private sectors.”

Apart from that, however, one of the NDRRMC’s primary functions is to “develop a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework, which shall provide for a comprehensive, all-hazards, multi-sectoral, inter-agency and community based approach to disaster risk reduction and management.”

NDCC fixed its sights on disaster control, while the NDRRMC focuses on disaster risk reduction and management. The former law comes into play after the happening of a disaster, while the latter law provides mechanisms prior to the happening of a disaster. 

While still chaired by the defense secretary, the NDRRMC has four vice chairs—the interior secretary, who sits as vice chairperson for disaster preparedness; the social welfare secretary (vice chairperson for disaster response); the science and technology secretary (vice chairperson for disaster prevention and mitigation); and the socioeconomic planning secretary (vice chairperson for disaster rehabilitation and recovery).

The law also provides that the powers and functions of NDRRMC are not limited to answering the calls for rescue and relief by the victims, but also extend to policy-making, coordination, integration, supervision, monitoring, and evaluation functions. NDRRMC Chairperson is even authorized to call upon or mobilize other government instrumentalities or entities, as well as non-government and civic organizations for assistance for the protection and preservation of life and property. However, the law assigns responsibility not only on the national level but also on the regional and local DRRM Councils.

Thus, from a 19-member advisory NDCC, the new council has become a body of more than 40 members. They include the department secretaries, the chief of the Philippine National Police, and the presidents of the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System, Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, League of Provinces of the Philippines, League of Cities of the Philippines and League of Municipalities of the Philippines, among others.

The declaration of a state of calamity is no longer needed in order for the allocated DRMM fund to be accessed and used. In addition, 30 percent of the fund shall be allocated as Quick Response Fund or stand-by fund for relief and recovery programs in order for the situation and living conditions of people in disaster-stricken areas to normalize immediately.

No effective Yolanda response despite reform

But why is it that despite the salient reforms of the law put further into motion by the completion of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) under the new administration of President Aquino by the Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on September 27, 2010, their response was still anemic?

Given the salient new features of the law, a lingering question would be: Had the NDRRMC Act of 2010 been properly executed, would the government’s experience with Yolanda been any different?

According to self-styled environmental policy expert, Dean Tony La Viña, the first lesson to be learned is not to lose the most critical period in disaster response – the first 24 hours.

Applying only hindsight, President Aquino himself pointed out, as early as during his first visit to Tacloban two days after Yolanda came, that our institutional system failed as it depended on the premise that local governments would also be able to function, even immediately after a massive disaster.

This premise is clearly wrong in a disaster of this nature, La Vina said.

The dean affirms that the NDRRMC Act continues to be a good law in that it mandated a paradigm shift from an emphasis on disaster response to that of risk reduction.

“Experts are unanimous in believing that the best way to prepare for a disaster is to know and to reduce disaster risks. A science-based risk assessment (using contemporary mapping methods) that is communicated effectively to decision-makers and to ordinary citizens is imperative for such preparation,” he added.

The NDRRMC Act is also correct in assigning the main responsibility of disasters to local governments. This is based on the principle of subsidiarity. The reason for this is that it is the unit of government nearest to the problem, as in the case of disasters, which knows best what needs to be done.

The dean however cautioned to take note that subsidiarity is premised on capacity. The new law requires capacity-building by local governments but the NDRRMC must lead in capacity-building and in responding to big national disasters when the local government is unable to respond.

So there you go quick response, science-based risk assessment and real-time communications, best training and overarching oversight by a national agency.

Analysis, paralysis

But this it seems is where La Vina’s analysis starts to move to paralysis.

He proposes the creation of a single, permanent organization with the mandate, powers, and budget to oversee a singular, comprehensive, coordinated strategy for addressing natural and man-made disasters.

A stand-alone agency, he called it, “Although it changed the name of the NDCC, the NDRRMC is, however, essentially the same animal in that it is a coordinative body lodged in the same department of defense as the defunct NDCC, with the same secretariat in the Office of Civil Defense”.

The trouble with this prognosis is that where Secretary Gazmin miserably failed, his replacement Delfin Lorenzana succeeded with flying colors without any further empowerment added to the NDRRMC.

Duterte’s administration began on July 1, 2016.

I was not therefore surprised that after appointing Lorenzana as secretary of national defense, one of the priorities he told him to solve is the gridlock at the government agency handling disaster management, given the Yolanda nightmare.

La Vina was correct however in reminding us all that natural calamities come to the Philippines like clockwork. That is a consequence of our geography being in the ring of fire and the typhoon belt. In that sense, disasters are beyond our control. The real disaster lies in our response to this hard reality. We do not reduce our risks, and in fact, as we are doing with reclamations on Manila Bay, we continue to enhance our vulnerability and increase disaster risks.

The Duterte government, however, has not lost a single “first 24 hours” in its watch and best of all, its top priority is “zero casualty” whenever possible.

In the next article, we will find out how Secretary Lorenzana does it, and does it best under President Duterte!

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