Learning from Marikina
Following the onslaught of storm-enhanced monsoon rains over the weekend, a post comparing evacuation centers in Makati, Manila, Marikina, Quezon City and Taguig made the rounds on social media.
The photos showed evacuees in Makati, Marikina and Taguig in an organized setup, the families provided with modular tents.
Those in Manila and Quezon City, however, appeared to have been lumped in evacuation halls and left to their own devices, with no partitions and no order. Netizens asked: “Anyare Manila at QC?”
The floods once again showcased the preparedness, or lack of it, among local government units (LGUs), which are mandated by law to allocate 5 percent of their annual revenues to disaster risk reduction and management.
Thirty percent of that money goes to a quick response fund, and 70 percent to equipment like tents, first-aid kits and hardware that LGUs deem essential.
Among the areas affected by last Saturday’s heavy rains, it was Marikina that received a lot of positive feedback for its relief operations and disaster response.
The city has obviously learned hard lessons from Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009 that killed 70 of its residents (most of whom drowned) and left more than P27 million worth of damage.
Marikina — a catch basin of rainwater from Rizal, Antipolo and Quezon City — has since instituted a system to help residents take immediate action during emergencies, including the installation along the riverbanks of sirens that could be heard within a radius of 1.5 kilometers.
Solar-powered closed-circuit television cameras have also been set up on its major bridges — Tumana, Sto. Niño and Marcos. These cameras with night-vision capability have a built-in alert system and allow government officials to monitor the Marikina River water levels from city hall.
This early warning system was put to the test last Saturday when the Marikina River swelled to 20 meters high, only 3 meters shy of the level recorded during Ondoy.
But, this time, officials said residents have become more alert and responsive to evacuation advisories, and while there was a shortage in rescue boats and some people were still left stranded, the city eventually reported only one casualty — a 36-year-old man who drowned while trying to save his motorcycle from his apartment.
LGUs are the frontliners during natural disasters; thus, their response at the ground level is critical. Marikina is not as rich as Manila and Quezon City, two of Metro Manila’s wealthiest cities. Yet it has managed to address the needs of its constituents and has even been recognized for its efficient early warning system.
The city did benefit as one of the pilot areas of Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), the country’s primary disaster risk reduction and management program during the Aquino administration.
(Project Noah was scrapped last year by the Duterte administration due to “lack of funds,” and later downsized and transferred from the Department of Science and Technology to the University of the Philippines.)
But where the national government has failed, Marikina’s local government has made things happen despite changes in leadership. Its mayors have made sure that programs are sustained and improved on, rather than being scrapped with every change in administration.
As advertising executive and Marikina resident Gerry Cacanindin wrote on Facebook: “…succeeding mayors kept all the systems and processes… because Marikeños have grown accustomed to efficient government. If anyone tries to be a ‘trapo’ or changes anything, sure as hell he or she wouldn’t win another term.”
What netizens also found impressive with Marikina’s evacuation setup, in fact, was its no-frills approach. Its modular tents were not only designed to provide a measure of privacy and dignity to evacuees; more remarkably, they did not bear the names and faces of politicians or government officials, but were simply marked with the name of the city and department — so unlike what the public has come to see in other government projects.
Other LGUs, and even the national government, should take a look at the Marikina model — and get it in their heads that giant tarpaulins and cheap politicking are not what’s needed to impress the public and show that their taxes are working for them.
Only efficient, empathetic and responsive public service will do.
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