Mindanao LGUs complacent in disaster preparedness and response

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews/18 February)–   There is “some level of complacency” in all regions in Mindanao when it comes to disaster preparedness and response because the majority view is that Mindanao is “a gifted island… is not typhoon-prone,” Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soiiman said Saturday.

Typhoons and floods in Mindanao “are few and far between,” she said.

She cited disasters from terrorist attacks such as the Ipil Massacre of April 1995, bombings, and armed conflict between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Font in 2003in Buliok and the attacks following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement in August 2008 where hundreds of thousands in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Lanao were displaced.

Soliman forgot to mention the 2000 “all-out war” waged by the Estrada administration as among the major disasters in Mindanao.

She  said  internal conflict is “more known as the cause of internally displaced persons (IDPs) so there is a level of complacency in disaster preparedness in all of the provinces and in all of the towns. This is not just in Northern Mindanao. We saw that happen in Cotabato City and in Maguindanao.”

She said there is also “little consciousness of hazards,” that there is a gap between one disaster to another and in areas where it is not conflict-affected, “many of us, LGUs (local government units) included, do not really have a consciousness of preparing for a major disaster. Even if there are disaster (response) plans, these are not doable…it could be all on paper but when you’re in the middle of a disaster, implementing, it is not something people are really prepared to do from barangay level to municipal level and to the citizenry as a whole.”

“Part of the reason why it is not doable is it is not clear who’s going to do what, when and who’s going to take the lead because a plan will not work if  the who ,what, when, where, how is not articulated and part of it goes back to the fact kana laging di ta mutuo nga nay disaster. Hindi ka maniniwala na mangyayaring disaster kasi hindi naman bumabaha dito hindi naman nage-earthquake dito (we don’t believe there will be a disaster because it does not flood and the earthquake does not happen here, that)  we are a blessed island. … hindi tayo masyado epektado (we are not that affected)  but this has been defied from the occurrences from the flashfloods in Davao City (in June 2011)  and the flashfloods here (in December 2011). That has been slowly eroded, that thinking that we are blessed.”

Based on records of the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council, flash floods in Mindanao had actually replaced armed conflict as the major cause of  internal displacement in 2011. Flooding incidents were recorded in various parts of Mindanao every month — from January to December last year.

Soliman stressed the need for disaster preparedness.

“As I always say the angel is in the detail. And the angel is not present if we do not have a very clear plan,” she said.

Diaster preparedness “is process of ensuring that we are organized and that the organization has complied with the preventive measures,” a state of readiness  “that all of us are able to respond (to) a disastrous event with minimum loss of life, injury and damage to property.”

“How many of us really know the  five laws that pertain to our disaster preparedness?” Soliman asked participants from local government units and civil society.

“Risk reduction is the emphasis so all these laws already articulated the preventive measures but have we all complied?” she asked.

She said President Aquino’s instruction to the NDRRMC and the LGUs is that they should have zero casualty. “Unfortunately,  zero casualty in a massive disaster such as that in Sendong or that of  the earthquake in Negros Oriental is just not possible. But many could have been prevented if the rescue has been more prepared and we have the equipment to undertake massive rescue at the point of disaster.”

Soliman also said that while the focus now is on relief and rehabilitation after the flashfloods  that struck Cagayan de Oro  Iligan and the recent earthquake in Negros Oriental, national government agencies are “still continuing work with rehabilitating Central Luzon and the Cordillera” following typhoons Pedring and Quiel in late September to early October 2011.

“I think we should put in our consciousness that after the media has talked about the disaster, the post disaster work is even bigger, that there is so much to be done during this time and hope to bring it to some level of  normalcy,” she said.

She cited Albay as a good example of good management and coordination.

Already used to the eruptions of Mayon volcano and the typhoon-triggered floods,  Albay’s disaster response plans have been well coordinated among government, civil society and citizens.

She said the  province has early warning systems and  residents know that when they hear three sirens they must pack up, they know where to go for transport, the people in charge of transport know where to bring the evacuee and in the evacuation centers, the evacuees know who will take charge of assignment of rooms and the community kitchen. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)