Now that the sun is shining, there are no rains and strong winds, the water levels in the rivers are low and flowing gently, the sea is calm and the waves small, and the mountainsides above villages look so solid, the residents who evacuated their homes during Typhoon “Pablo” have started to return. They feel so safe now. They feel there is no longer any danger—until the next typhoon occurs and the same cycle of death, destruction and evacuation is repeated.
It is a fact that many of those who perished in storms, landslides and floods did not realize they were in danger. Many storms have passed over them in the past, and nothing happened to them. So they are not afraid of the gathering storm, and do not heed warnings and orders to evacuate their homes and seek shelter in a safe place.
Many village folk really do not know that they are in danger, especially those who have not yet experienced a landslide or flood. That is why Sen. Loren Legarda’s effort to distribute color-coded maps to provincial and municipal governments is commendable. The maps show what areas are danger zones. Red means very dangerous areas and immediate evacuation of residents is necessary.
Because when heavy rainfall and floods occur at night, nobody becomes aware of the danger. On the contrary, when it is raining, the air is cool and people sleep deeply. They therefore don’t see that the river is rising or that rainwater is rushing down the mountainsides. With these color-coded maps, the people would know whether or not they are living in danger zones.
Local government units should make maps down to the barangay level and distribute these to their constituents. Just posting the maps in the municipal building will not suffice because people seldom go to the municipal or provincial capitol.
Barangay officials should also call their constituents to meetings and explain to them what those maps mean. Many lives are lost during disasters because of the negligence of public officials and the ignorance and indifference of many residents. Senator Legarda has shown the way. Other officials should follow her example.
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The representative of the lone district of Dinagat province, Ruben Ecleo Jr., was dropped from the roster of the House when he went AWOL after being convicted of murdering his wife. The seat was therefore left vacant. But P140 million in pork barrel funds was released to the district through a caretaker. This has created an uproar. It’s patronage politics, shouted the opposition, adding that Liberal Party legislators get their pork barrel promptly even when absent but opposition legislators don’t.
According to the opposition, the appointment of Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao as caretaker of Dinagat and the subsequent release of the pork funds to her are meant to boost her bid for the congressional seat of the province against Gov. Gwendolyn Ecleo. The opposition further criticizes the administration for quickly releasing the pork barrel for Dinagat even while it withholds the pork funds of those critical to it. What are the facts?
Bag-ao was appointed by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte last Oct. 1 as caretaker for Dinagat as replacement for the AWOL Ecleo. That is not out of the ordinary. It has long been the practice in the House to appoint caretakers for districts whose seats have been left vacant. For example, Erico Aristotle Aumentado, the son of the late Rep. Erico Aumentado, was appointed caretaker of the second district of Bohol to take his father’s place. The purpose of the appointment is to have the district in the care of a person who is knowledgeable of the local dynamics and the needs of the people of the district.
This is the reason Bag-ao was appointed to Ecleo’s vacant seat. Bag-ao was born and raised in Dinagat, and her appointment is in fact supported by the two representatives of Surigao del Norte, Dinagat’s neighboring province.
Another important point is Bag-ao’s track record for good governance and clean politics, which have long been lacking in Dinagat since it was subjected to the cult-leadership of the Ecleo clan.
Dinagat has a long history of underdevelopment and poverty. And its people’s desperation and destitution have never been more pronounced than in the last two years, when they were left without government funding. The province has not received its Internal Revenue Allotment due to the much-delayed settlement of Dinagat’s status as a province. It has also not received its Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the official name for the pork barrel, since Ecleo went AWOL.
It is only in the last month that Dinagat finally received funding for basic services and public works projects, and it is only because Bag-ao worked on it. Further, the distribution of funds is not a matter of personal decision on the part of Bag-ao, but was done after consultations with local leaders, all the way down to the barangay level—a demonstration of democracy empowering the poorest of the poor, and of good governance when leaders do what their constituents want.
Let’s look at the Department of Budget and Management website to see how much the gripers received in pork barrel funds. Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got PDAF worth almost P155 million and Rep. Danilo Suarez, P156 million. The total pork barrel of the Makabayan bloc (Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Kabataan): P670 million.