FASTLANES: Getting lost in the summit

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/21 February) – Attending the Mindanao Summit on Disaster Risk Reduction and Geo-hazards Awareness here over the weekend was an excellent reason to reconnect with people who are battered but still fighting hard to recover from Sendong.

The Summit convened by two Mindanawon Senators – Koko Pimentel and Tg Guingona – was timely and the venue could not be any better than this City of Golden Friendship, which has been brought to its knees by Sendong. It still is on its knees now, but in fervent prayers that when it finally can stand up, it will be ready to face the huge challenges up front.

I had participated in the whole process, and my appreciation of the exercise was that Sendong was just the light that ignited the fire for more Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) consciousness and awareness. The expectation that post-Sendong work in CDO and Iligan would be given focus was not really served as expected by many as the convenors took the broader perspective.

Good enough that the issue of public accountability in DRR was included in the declaration after strong leanings from the Senators at the start about their “no blaming” approach.

My general reflections on the process, in the context of post-Sendong work, are:

1) After Sendong, we are now forcing the issue of the DRR paradigm shift in all levels of governance;

2) The accountability mechanism in the DRR Law and related laws needs to be asserted, and the assertion should come from the grassroots. Let us not expect people in higher echelons of government to rock the boat. Take for example Sen. Loren Legarda, after polluting her 20-minute speech with “no blaming” content, she went down in the Jade function room of Dynasty Hotel in the 2nd floor around lunchtime to have a meeting with Mayor Dongkoy Emano and his entourage of you know what.

I would have wanted to take the floor in the open forum to tell her that the accountability movement in Cagayan de Oro post-Sendong is not about blaming, but about the rule of law and putting people in their right place, either outside of public office or in jail.

I was in the hotel lobby when the lady senator left around 3:30 in the afternoon.

3) It would be business as usual for Cagayanons and Iliganons because the truth is, we would be on our own primarily. Let’s take stock with our strengths and political capital and give meat to the Never Again Sendong battlecry.

As one friend told me in the sides, “maghuna-huna na lang ta nga kini nga tigum para sa sunod nga katalagman, para dili musakit atong buot. (Let’s just think that this summit is for the next disaster, so that we won’t feel bad.)”

A friend who is in the thick of relief and rehabilitation efforts as a worker of an international relief organization did not even bother finishing the Summit as he cannot take anymore the speakers just reciting figures.

“Dili man gud numero akong makit-an kada adlaw pre, mga tawo man gud nga namatyan, duna pay missing nga pamilya, gapangutana kanus-a sila mahiluna,” (What I am seeing everyday are not numbers or figures, but real people who lost loved ones, people who are asking if ever they will be given permanent resettlement soon) my friend told me.

In the sides of the Summit, with the support of the broad civil society coalition Aksyon Klima, I organized a round table discussion with the community media and representatives of the internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The event was to provide a venue for the community media who we thought are really stakeholders in post-Sendong work.

Aside from asking experts to discuss basic concepts of DRR and CCA, we thought of giving the IDPs a platform to express their stories.

Malu Cagay of the DRR Net and Atty. Elpidio “Ping” Peria of Aksyon Klima squeezed their schedules in the Summit to join us for a breakfast with the media.

I do respect the broader perspective taken by the convenors but would have wished that local issues and concerns were discussed more, including the governance and accountability issues many Cagayanons feel very strongly now, but felt alienated by the process.

The summit was a good event to see Mayor Dongkoy Emano in a roundtable with his entourage of bumbling elected officials. It was a sorry sight to see Rep. Benjo Benaldo taking the floor asking where the P250-million dredging fund for Cagayan de Oro and Iponan Rivers went after the 2009 floods.

I presume Benjo has an idea what happened to that project. The person from whom I learned about the project is close to him and that person knows what happened. I was told that that project was one of the flagged overnight projects approved at the close of the GMA administration.

I have not seen the project papers in Benjo’s hands but if it is one of those enumerated by President PNoy Aquino as the flagged projects that would have benefited Gloria’s cronies, it was a bad call for Benjo to have taken it on the floor.

I do appreciate Rep. Rufus Rodriguez for challenging the two Mindanawon Senators to support his legislative measures in Congress, like the bill that would stop all mining and logging in the Cagayan de Oro watersheds.

Congressman Rufus also took the high road of demanding from Undersecretary Benito Ramos of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council to finish the payment of benefits to all those who perished, including those who are missing and presumed dead, by Feb. 29, 2012.

Anthony Cabanigan, president of the Calaanan Temporary Relocation Site, said during the Aksyon Klima breakfast RTD Sunday morning that until now, they are still at a loss on what is being done for them. If ever they will be relocated to permanent sites, when and where?

He also lamented that aside from receiving relief goods, they do not have much participation in decision-making and in the rehabilitation efforts. “Tinuod man nga nangawad-an gyud mi, pero maka trabaho pa man gihapon mi. Pasalamat mi sa tabang pero gusto na gyud mi makabangon pod sa among paningkamot,” Cabanigan said.

The Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) has documented 4,981 internally displaced families in 22 evacuation centers. Of this, 2,851 families are in so called “tent cities.”

Rey Magbanua, Response Manager of HRC, is appealing to the government “to respect the right of evacuees to a dignified transfer to safe and clean shelter as they are trying to make sense of the painful loss they have gone through.”

The HRC is appealing with the local government to ensure that:

•    Evacuees are represented at every level of decision-making regarding their relocation to new shelters
•    Evacuees are prepared and involved in the relocation process instead of being forcibly moved to another shelter
•    The new shelters are located on areas safe from natural hazards like landslides and flooding
•    The new shelters have basic facilities such as latrines, have access to water and can withstand inclement weather projected to continue
•    Livelihood options, such as cash-for-work, are put in place.

Comparing the forward-looking and broader perspective of the convenors of the recently concluded Summit to the realities in Ground Zero, it was understandable that people immersed in the grassroots and those still trying to pick up the pieces of what Sendong left cannot relate to the big things being said by supposedly powerful people they look up to in times of great distress.

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