Typhoon Rolly and the culture of readiness


The Dispatcher
EV Rieza

Typhoon Rolly which struck the country on All Saints Day crossed the Bicol region with might that cut a trail of death and destruction no longer new to us. If at all, it only reminded us of the things we missed doing when it comes to disaster readiness. And as always, the feeling of inadequacy comes late. And then we tend to forget until the next catastrophe comes along.

True, we do not stand a chance against such natural calamities. But we are aware of certain principles by which we could be able to mitigate the human sufferings they bring, and the economic toll they cause.

The culture of preparedness is not hard to cultivate and in fact, it had been practiced many times before and was found to be worth the effort.

Come to think of it, Albay which suffered Rolly’s brunt, perhaps second only to neighboring Catanduanes, once prided itself with successes in the “Zero Casualty” goal, founded upon the principle of preemptive evacuation. The province had been once a global model of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in the fields of disaster risk reduction or DRR and climate change adaptation.

Sad to say, this international recognition is not sustained and the rich culture of readiness this province had nurtured all seemed to have been shed overnight, or unlearned (?). Albay has the most number of casualties recorded during Rolly’s onslaught. What actually happened?

The DRR program, which was started by Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda during his three-term as governor of the province, had made quite a name for the province. Salceda created as a regular department the Albay Provincial Safety and Emergency Management Office or APSEMO, which was at the forefront of all disaster preparation and operation programs in the province.

APSEMO was so successful in its “Zero Casualty” goal, that other provinces tried to emulate it. The term “Zero Casualty” in fact, was first coined in Albay and had since then became a household byword when it comes to disasters. Salceda had even organized Team Albay, a rescue and retrieval strike force of some sort, which did missionary works in places around the country to assist other local government units during calamities.

After his brief visit to Guinobatan town a day after the typhoon, President Duterte had ordered an investigation into some quarrying activities along the rivers at the foot of the volcano. The residents became vocal in blaming these activities for the unexpected direction of the floods, which veered away from the established path. Many think quarrying could have contributed to the character of the massive flash floods in the town and other neighboring areas. Consequently, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu had immediately suspended all quarrying projects in the area.

But what happened to the province’s strong DRR program on which Albay had previously reaped recognitions from national and international organizations? Well, the answer now stares clearly at us.

Nevertheless, we should look at the bigger picture of DRR program, a proposal on which is now being vigorously pushed in Congress, titled Department of Disaster Resilience Act (DDRA). The bill was already submitted to the Senate after it was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives last September. The bill is authored by Cong. Salceda and was based on the Albay template of a successful DRR program during his term.

House Speaker Lord Alan Velasco had aired his call to the Senate for the immediate approval of the DDR bill, at the height of Typhoon Quinta the other week. Velasco’s voice represents the sentiment of the entire lower house, and while other voices such that of Senator Bong Go were as loud in calling for its approval, Typhoon Rolly could not have been more profound in sending the message this time: Pass that DDRA.

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