SUBIC BAY FREEPORT (MindaNews/3 Jan) – The horrific impact of Sendong exposes not just the geo-hazards faced by the premier city of northern Mindanao but the deep social malaise relegated to the sidelines by the daily ruckus that characterize the developing city of over half a million people.
Several issues were raised on why there was no forced evacuation despite the heavy rainfall on December 16. Why City Hall abetted the settlement of poor people in known flood-prone areas like the ones in Tibasak and Cala-cala in Macasandig and Isla de Oro river deltas. Why City Hall did not learn a thing or two on disaster risk reduction after the January 2009 flooding.
These are questions from downstream of the river known for its whitewater rapids tourism up high to the Kitanglad and Kalatungan mountain ranges.
After the January 2009 floods, I had interviewed then Baungon mayor Ardan Roa who told me that on January 2, 2009, the water level in the Bubunawan hydro power plant was so elevated, it was “murag duha ka ring sa basketball” from the critical level. I assumed the water level then was 20 feet above the critical level.
Had there been flood early warning systems, not necessarily the costly hi-tech equipment but people trained on disaster early warning and response, the risk people downstream faced could have been reduced.
Around 9 o’clock in the morning of January 3, 2009, Cala-cala, Tibasak and Isla de Oro were washed away. What saved lives then was daylight and lots of luck.
I wrote in a column in January 2009 that had the floods struck in the dead of night, the casualty figure would be hard to imagine. My worst fears happened past midnight of December 16, 2011.
When the 2009 floods happened, the Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) Law was still in the works. But our advocacy then for the paradigm shift in disaster management was already on the ground. We have been arguing that it would be less costly and many lives could be saved if disaster risk factors are reduced than investing in the most sophisticated disaster response and relief system.
RA 10121 or the DRRM law was passed and took effect in 2010. Lawyers and DRRM advocates would know that with the law in place, the mechanism for accountability is already hard in place.
Cagayan de Oro, being the premier city in northern Mindanao, is not helpless in disaster risk reduction.
At a mandatory allocation of at least 5 percent of a local government unit’s revenues for the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund, formerly known as the Calamity Fund, Cagayan de Oro, which has an income of at least P1 billion, may have accumulated at least P100 million for DRR work in 2010 and 2011.
RA 10121 stipulates that 70 percent of the DRR fund is to be used prior to a disaster for prevention, impact mitigation and disaster preparedness. That could have been at least P70 million. At least P30 million could have been reserved for quick response. Unexpended DRR fund cannot be returned to General Fund and is left to accumulate for five years if there are no disasters.
For a relatively rich city, money could not have been a problem in preparing for disaster and in responding to a disaster when it strikes. Now with millions pouring directly to City Hall for the relief and rehabilitation, the sufferings of the survivors could have been largely mitigated. But what with this second whammy, the leptospirosis outbreak, general shortage of potable water, ad nauseam.
But what we have seen is that the management of the post-disaster response pales very much in comparison to the smaller city with equivalent Sendong impact, Iligan.
Iligan did handle honorably the dead, so much unlike the handling of Cagayan de Oro that sent literally to the dogs the unidentified victims in the city’s garbage landfill.
I don’t know why the current occupants of City Hall have fetish for that dump site. They apparently want City Hall to be transferred there. Some election paraphernalia allegedly used in election cheating in 2010 were also found in that infamous garbage dump.
What makes matters worse is that instead of listening to suggestions from various sectors, Mayor Dongkoy Emano has shown his severe dislike to participatory democracy.
He dismisses all criticisms as “pamulitika.” But why would outside observers make scathing remarks on the city’s post-disaster management or the lack thereof?
For example, what would be UP Prof. Prospero de Vera’s interest in local politics when he criticized the lack of coordinated action in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the city compared to Iligan?
While it is good that Mayor Emano calls for unity from all people in these dire times, his attitude of dismissing outright as “pamulitika” what could have been constructive criticisms and outright offers of help in the post disaster situation betrays him.
Now could have been the opportunity for Emano to unite even his perceived political enemies. Now could have been the time to show his statesmanship. But this is being wasted, not by his perceived critics but by his addiction to the game of politics.
It is unfortunate that the simmering division of the “City of Golden Friendship” is underscored in these very trying times.
It cannot be helped that even as the people help each other pick up the pieces, the discordant voices cannot be muted with Emano’s insensitivity and over-simplification of the complex problems. As it is turning out now, the grief of many may have been rightfully transformed into disquiet going after the perceived perpetrators of this human-induced tragedy.
To some this may be a bit too early. For many, it is an urgent task before a new disaster strikes and forgetfulness sets in.
(The writer is an environmentalist from Cagayan de Oro. He is a senior editor of an Arabian newspaper’s South Asia and Philippine Bureau based in Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Comments can be sent to email@example.com.)