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At Large

‘Battle of the Tents’

Remember those meetings of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, otherwise known as the NDRRMC? This alphabet-soup body would often show up in the news whenever there was a natural disaster. Cabinet members would be shown gathered round a table reporting on what their offices or departments were doing to mitigate the effects of a typhoon, earthquake or any other calamity. Oftentimes the President — usually PNoy, who most enthusiastically embraced the concept — would be there in person to preside over the proceedings and presumably to ensure that government efforts were coordinated.

Admittedly, the public had no way of knowing if the NDRRMC parleys were truly effective and if government response had indeed improved. But for this citizen, at least, just seeing all those officials reporting on the measures to address the problem was reassuring. It may have been just a “show,” but the show was at least proof that government was trying to get its act together.

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In time, the NDRRMC was convened so often it began to look routine and, indeed, boring. But when what media outlets call the “habagat floods” inundated much of Mega Manila and outlying towns over the last weekend, I, for one, missed the NDRRMC. I wanted to see government officials putting their heads together and striving to arrive at common solutions.

As I write this, the public has yet to hear from PDuts. I mean, even if he were ensconced in his hometown of Davao, there are lots of outlets available for him to at least respond to the crisis.

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Silence in this case, I’m afraid, is easily taken for indifference.

There’s a positive aspect to this situation, though. Local government officials were compelled to step up their game, since the government response, it seems, was left entirely their responsibility. And given the urgency of the situation and the serious needs the rains, the floods, the evacuation and relocation engendered, local officials were compelled to act and act fast. This they did with varying levels of success, and, given that next year’s elections are just around the corner, their action or nonaction will be remembered in the polls.

Also quite amusing was the burgeoning “Battle of the Tents.” It began when Marikina residents posted a photo of an evacuation center in a government gym that ran counter to the common appearance of such places. Instead of a chaotic mishmash of mats and household ware with babies sprawled helter-skelter, there were blue tents arranged in neat rows, providing each evacuee family a measure of privacy and safety. Indeed, commenters were one in their admiration for the way Marikina officials had prepared for such an emergency.

A day later, another photo surfaced on social media, showing an evacuation center in Makati, with much the same arrangement but using yellow tents.

The main thing that popped up in my mind was why it had taken officials so long to finally come up with the idea of using tents. Especially in Marikina, where floods from the Marikina River after some days of heavy rain have become routine.

But let’s take whatever grace comes our way. If the “Battle of the Tents” compels other LGU officials to produce their own improved facilities, so much the better.

Also a positive note is the response of the private sector, which this time has not been confined to allocating donations to the victims or providing places for the collection and collation of such donations.

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I mentioned yesterday the worthwhile move of mall management to allow stranded shoppers and motorists to use their facilities to rest and sleep, and use their parking buildings to protect their vehicles from floods.

In this case, malls have ceased to become mere emporia for commerce, and instead have turned into active and compassionate members of the communities they serve.

Such initiatives would seem to compensate for the lack of outward and visible concern on the part of the national leadership. But when the time for reckoning comes and they are found wanting, they will, indeed, pay a heavy price for their neglect.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: At Large, Battle of the Tents, disaster preparedness, evacuations centers, Metro Manila flooding, natural disasters, NDRRMC, Rina Jimenez-David
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