The Philippines gets on average about 20 tropical cyclones a year. This means that about 20 typhoons enter the Philippine area of responsibility annually. The country is also earthquake-prone and while we do experience quakes every day, most of these are not felt.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reports that there are on average about 100 to 150 earthquakes that are felt each year. Another natural disaster that from time to time plagues our country is volcanic eruptions, and with the recent eruption of Taal Volcano, the issue on disaster preparedness has once again caught our attention.
At this point, there are already several nongovernment organization-, individual- and group-led efforts to donate various relief goods to those who are currently displaced, given the situation in Taal. A lot of folks from these groups are even going to the evacuation centers themselves to personally distribute the goods. These efforts are indeed very heroic but I cannot help but ask in the process: how can we make these efforts more efficient and less troublesome for everyone?
Ah, I forgot that our disaster management program is still what it is: a disaster in itself!
Case in point: in the 2018 World Risk Report, the Philippines ranked third in the list of the most vulnerable countries prone to disaster. We are side-by-side with other countries in the Pacific. In the latest 2019 report, we have slipped down to ninth but still remain in the red as being part of the most vulnerable.
To appreciate the evolution of how the Philippines is responding to disasters (side note: one would think that we should be experts in responding to these calamities already given how frequent these occur), we have to understand how Presidential Decree 1566 back in the 1970s created the National Disaster Coordinating Council, which, at that time, was the highest level of policy making body in charge of disaster management. This agency was under the Office of the President.
However, in the next two decades or sometime 1991, this agency has been changed or has transitioned to a decentralized form, i.e. disaster response was decentralized to be served by the autonomous local government units (LGUs), which was at the lowest level of policy making. Close to another two decades later, or around 2009, Republic Act 10121 was signed and was meant to update the previous agency set up with Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act; plus minus a consortium of other similar disaster management plans, we now have the present-day NDRRMC or the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Now, NDRRMC is not under the Office of the President but rather has the Department of National Defense (DND) as its parent agency. In addition, NDRMMC operates on four thematic pillars, which means that there are sub-agencies involved — making this whole council nothing but an establishment meant to coordinate whatever activities are needed that fall under the four pillars that they operate on.
As an example: disaster prevention and mitigation has the Department of Science and Technology as the lead agency but they would need to coordinate with other members from the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH); disaster preparedness has the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as the lead agency but they still need to coordinate with the Philippine Information Agency and OCD; disaster response has Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as the lead agency but they still need to coordinate with OCD, DRRMC, Department of Health (DoH), DILG, DND and LGUs; and finally for disaster rehabilitation and recovery, we have the National Economic and Development Authority as the lead agency but again they still need to coordinate with National Housing Authority, OCD, DPWH, DoH and DSWD.
I suppose that by the time this coordination is done, we are probably dealing with the next disaster already. In other words, it is not difficult to get lost in translation and that is the very reason why we see a lot of relief operations that are not consolidated enough to have an efficient process of reacting and dealing with calamities such as the Taal volcano eruption.
Think about it: with no proper governance, structure or framework to follow, we organize our own relief operations without taking a step back and assessing the best practice to execute this. I see a lot in social media several requests for donations of items and food, and also even cash donations to be deposited to an individual’s bank account. These are relief operations done day in and day out with no audit, no accountability and key performance indicator, and obviously are very open to interpretation. And this is what happens when there is no concerted effort in organizing all of these into one cohesive approach for us not to waste everyone’s resources such as time, energy and effort.
This is exactly why we need a dedicated agency to handle this and for this to be under the Office of the President to have the highest level of policy making, budget and teeth in enforcing such policies. We must also bear in mind that responding to disasters is a political minefield — that it will either make or break you, and politicians try to bring their best foot forward to earn their people’s votes come Election Day.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.