In terms of disaster risks, the Philippines ranked third among all of the countries with the highest risks worldwide according to the World Risk Report 2018. However, there was deafening silence from our government’s chief disaster- warning system when an undersea volcano in Tonga erupted massively and caused tsunami waves across the region last Saturday.
One of the mandated tasks of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) is to issue such an early warning to the public against any potential natural or man-made calamity events. However, not once did we receive any NDRRMC emergency “alert” last Saturday. The subsea volcanic eruption reportedly caused a magnitude 5.2 earthquake. Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean near Australia and New Zealand.
Because of this law, we have been receiving the ear-piercing NDRRMC alerts in the wild ringing of our mobile phones even at the unholy hours of the day to warn us about typhoons, flooding, or earthquake incidence in our country. These “alerts” are simultaneously sent to millions of both Smart Telecom and Globe Telecom subscribers.
The Tonga subsea volcanic eruption triggered tsunami waves as high as 1.2 meters that reached Hawaii, certain parts of the United States (US) facing the Pacific Ocean, and all the way to Peru. Tsunami advisories were issued to all the coastal areas in these countries along the path of the tsunami waves. Japan, our neighbor up north, suspended regular TV programming to give way to tsunami alerts. While the Philippines lies in the same Pacific Rim of Fire, ironically, there was no tsunami alerts issued here.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology (Phivolcs) headed by director, Dr. Renato Solidum Jr. justified why he deemed it not necessary to send out any tsunami alert here in our country. In the ANC-TV interview last Monday, Solidum explained their assessment on the Tonga volcanic eruption indicated it would only trigger around 0.22 meters or 10 centimeters high of tsunami waves if it reaches our country. In fact, Solidum disclosed, Phivolcs did not even receive any tsunami notice from the international tsunami information center.
The better part of virtue is to keep the public aware of imminent danger precisely due to the unpredictability of Mother Nature. Only experts from the Phivolcs led by Solidum are in the best position and equipped with modern technology to provide advance warning and enough time for the people to flee to safer grounds.
That’s why the law provided the NDRRMC with quick access to issue such warning system. Whether it is a low possibility or not, the people deserve to know of potential threats to their lives and properties. This is the primary purpose of enabling the NDRRMC to send out early warning alerts to effectively save people from clear and present danger.
The NDRRMC was the same inter-agency body that President Rodrigo Duterte lashed at recently. President Duterte scored the faulty provisions of the law that created the NDRRMC. The President believes this law must be amended to ensure flexibility of immediate action by the government during periods of emergency situation in any parts of the country.
The Chief Executive in particular referred to Republic Act (RA) 10121 that created the NDRRMC. It was crafted out of the original inter-agency body called as the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).
Called by its long name, “An Act strengthening the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management System, providing for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework and institutionalizing the National Disaster Reduction and Management Plan, appropriating funds therefore and for other purposes,” RA 10121 was signed into law by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on May 27, 2010. The implementing rules and regulations for the NDRRMC were issued on Sept.27, 2010, or a few months after the late president Benigno Simeon “PNoy” Aquino III assumed office at Malacanang.
More than five years into office and about a hundred typhoons that struck the Philippines since he succeeded PNoy, President Duterte expressed extreme displeasure over the NDRRMC law only after typhoon “Odette” hit Visayas and Mindanao provinces on Dec.17 last year. As of latest count, NDRRMC confirmed 406 people died due to Odette-related incidents like landslides, drowning etc.
The President blamed this law for having delayed his declaration of state of calamity at level of the national government. Actually, the same law delegated to the chief executives of local government units (LGUs) the authority to declare a public calamity in their respective areas to enable them to tap their own calamity funds.
However, the outgoing President wanted to fast-track the mobilization of other contingency funds to augment available funds of LGUs. But the President admitted pandemic-related expenses already depleted the government coffers. The declaration of public calamity, however, can justify realignment of available funds in the national government to distribute them for relief and rehabilitation operations of LGUs in the Odette-stricken areas.
The presidential suggestion should be taken into consideration while the bill on the proposed creation of a Department of Risk Resiliency (DRR) remains pending at the Senate. The House of Representatives have already approved their version of the DRR bill on third and final reading last Sept., 2021.
There were as many as seven Senators, including concurrent Special Assistant to the President, Sen.Christopher “Bong” Go who filed and authored their respective DRR bills. Inexplicably, however, these DRR bills have gathered dusts at the legislative mills of the Senate.
As defined, “resilience” means to allow better anticipation of disasters and better planning to reduce disaster losses—rather than waiting for an event to occur and paying for it afterward.
Are they waiting for yet another disaster to happen before they act on the DRR bill? God forbid.
– Marichu A. Villanueva
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