Sustaining disaster management practices in the Philippines

The Philippines hit the global stage again last week when Super Typhoon “Rolly” struck the country. It prompted the Incredible Hulk himself, Mark Ruffalo, to tweet: “Pray for our brothers and sisters in the Philippines then get ready to send donations.” On one hand, it was great hearing from one of Hollywood’s finest actors air his concern for this side of the world. But on the other, I thought it sounded like it was yet another part of a vicious cycle of sending donations to places where typhoons just come and go.

One would think that, with the Philippines experiencing an average of 26 typhoons in one year, we have become experts in disaster management. However, a closer look at how we do things does not necessarily reflect an improved approach. In fact, it shows it’s more important than ever to have a better disaster management plan in place.

While it is worth applauding the efforts of the national government in implementing the necessary precautionary measures, such as the early evacuation, and in immediately releasing funds for disaster relief in Catanduanes and other hard-hit provinces in Bicol, this begs the question: What happens next to those who lost their homes, livelihoods and crops? How would the next couple of days or weeks turn out for them? Before we get into this, let us recognize that although “Rolly” was considered the world’s strongest typhoon this year, the death toll from it was far lower than what it could have been if those government efforts were absent.

Japan is one country in the region that we can learn from in terms of disaster management. Disasters are not new to them, since it is a magnet for earthquakes and tsunamis. A journal released by the Japan Medical Association in 2015 revealed an emergency management plan that would be executed based on a damage estimation study done should the Nankai Trough Earthquake generate a tsunami. The stakeholders involved are the national government, prefectures and municipalities. From there they identified the categories that would need attention in large-scale disasters: emergency transportation routes; rescue such as first aid; firefighting; medical; supplies; and fuel. On top of this, Japan has existing laws that require structures across the country to use earthquake-resilient materials. These disaster plans are thoroughly supported by their capabilities to forecast and assess natural disasters and their impact on citizens. Most of these capabilities utilize advanced technology and equipment. The laws approved and passed protect these insights.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is under the Office of the Civil Defense, which, in turn, is under the Department of National Defense. A quick look at its website shows a monitoring dashboard and insights on activities related to earthquakes, eruptions, floods and other calamities.

There are still areas to consider including in the website as a matter of sharing public information, such as the impact of these natural disasters on housing, livelihood and crops, and what can be done to mitigate them.

Here are some questions that can be addressed:

– How would our housing agency ensure that structures built are disaster-resilient? Is there any legislation on this? If so, is it enforced? If none, are bills on it forthcoming?

– How can technology — digital — help in replacing jobs that were lost because of calamities? Can we teach those in rural villages ways to earn income online?

– How can we take advantage of advances in agricultural technology to make sure that crops are not part of collateral damage every time disaster strikes?

– Do our forecasting systems have the capability to detect disasters within a certain period of time? How can this aid our disaster preparedness as a nation?

Just considering the above would require major collaboration among agencies like the National Housing Authority, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Agriculture. In the end, bills addressing the above are very much needed, as are lessons that we can learn from neighbors like Japan.


Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, sustainability education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at