Bicol’s triumph in adversity | Inquirer Opinion
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Bicol’s triumph in adversity

The Bicol region is particularly vulnerable to typhoons because of its location (typhoon corridor) and geographic features (Mayon and the sea). Typhoon “Rolly’s” 220 kph winds, while clearly not as powerful and sustained as Yolanda’s 230 kph winds, activated a concert of threats—storm surges, floods, landslides, lahar, and descending volcanic boulders.

Oxfam put the victims at 2 million people or 400,000 families. Thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, as well as facilities and infrastructure. The poor suffered the brunt of the damage, with 20,000 farmers losing their crops.


But the real story of “Rolly’s” challenge was the Bicol Region’s resiliency response. “Rolly” caused only 20 deaths, compared to “Yolanda’s” 6,300 deaths and almost 2,000 missing. The Bicol Region has shown how to harden itself as a target for storms, learning hard lessons from centuries of perennial devastation due to typhoons.

The Province of Albay has shown the way in anticipating and preparing for impending calamities. The Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (Apsemo) is an institutional innovation capable of anticipatory instead of reactive response. The culture of preparedness is also mature in neighboring provinces and cities. Bicolanos aim for “zero casualty” in facing up to impending disasters.


The main lesson here is that while government plays a crucial role, “disaster resilience fluency” among the affected people is really the mental virus that enables them to make the proper decisions and actions to avoid or minimize catastrophic consequences. This was a fluency that was not evident in “Yolanda,” where the mortal meaning of “typhoon surge” was misunderstood.

It will take a higher level of learning to adapt to typhoons to minimize the damage to property and infrastructure. Disaster resilience fluency requires that the people are co-designers and co-owners of the whole DRRM enterprise. Recall how Apsemo developed disaster resilience fluency among the people through the decentralized system of rain gauges, warning systems, and networked radio communication in barangays.

How can we scale up disaster resilience fluency? Mind shifts are necessary. A low-hanging fruit is expanding DRRM to engage micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Cities should model how MSMEs can help harden cities habitually devastated by calamities, as well as quickly recover from these adverse events.

In 2016, Oxfam initiated a modeling process on how MSMEs can contribute to DRRM using case studies from the Philippines and Indonesia. The study was undertaken by the Universities and Councils Network on Innovation for Inclusive Development in Southeast Asia (UNIID-SEA), a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Development Studies Program of the Ateneo de Manila University. The study covered eight major and 22 minor case studies of MSMEs located in Agam and Yogyakarta in Indonesia, and Guiuan and Legazpi City in the Philippines. Thirteen essential MSME services were identified: water, food, energy, housing, transport, media and communication, local livelihood, markets, health and medical services, social and educational services, financial services, public order and safety, and civic readiness.

Just to give a preview of the way minds can be changed, the study came up with this classification of MSMEs’ contribution to community climate and disaster resilience:

MSME “Enablers” are Strategic: Their loss or absence visibly and significantly obstructs the provision of essential services and/or the mounting of strategic disaster response in the community. Example: Marcelo’s Restotel and GAA Funeral Home in Guiuan during “Yolanda.”

MSME “Facilitators” are Critical: Their loss or absence prevents individuals, families, households, and neighborhoods from helping themselves in times of disasters. Example: Tourism Village in Yogyakarta.


MSME “Providers” are Contributive: Their loss or absence prevents individuals, families, households from accessing essential goods and services. Example: Brickmakers in Agam.

MSME “Supporters” are Supportive: They provide livelihood and income support and enable short to medium-term individual, family, and neighborhood survival. Example: Drifish in Agam, Indonesia.

If you cannot gain traction in the specific combat arena, you may need to expand your view to the whole battlefield to find the solution. We look to Bicol to push the envelope of disaster resilience fluency to include MSMEs, and teach the whole country more inclusive DRRM strategies, systems, and structures.


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TAGS: bicol, pagasa, Rolly, Supertyphoon, weather
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