Making R&D a priority (3) | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Making R&D a priority (3)

As noted in my previous columns on this topic, both government and academic institutions have not allocated sufficient funds for this type of work, justifying this to be among these institutions’ least priority agenda. More often than not, government and academe focus on more pressing operational issues they face on a daily basis, forgetting that such issues could have been solved easier if they are based on strategic thinking resulting from meticulous, painstaking research and development (R&D) work.

Currently, even at the local or regional level, constituents face pressing problems brought about by extreme weather events, or variations in climate, that contribute to the more long-term climate change. Flooding is one of such extreme weather events. Some areas get perennially flooded, even during times when there is no heavy rain. Here, “lakes” are created, where before it was just a piece of dry land. These are easily seen in areas that are geographically low-lying or considered catch basins, like marshes or wetlands. One of these is the Ligawasan Marsh, considered one of the country’s largest wetlands, in terms of its area, at 288,000 hectares, straddling three provinces in Central Mindanao: Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat.

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Flooding leads to equally challenging consequences like internal displacements and food insecurity among affected community members. In response to these consequences, local governments allocate emergency relief assistance to affected communities through emergency food assistance, and in some cases, emergency health kits and supplies. These are of course part of the mandated tasks of any municipal government’s disaster risk reduction and management office (DRRMO).

However, part of the DRRMO’s mandate is also doing preventive measures to mitigate the extreme impacts of sudden variations in climate that can displace communities, like flooding. More importantly, Republic Act No. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, signed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in May 2010, provides that, among others, each locality (barangay to province) should have a local disaster risk reduction and management office or LDRRMO) with a minimum staff of three people, to address three important mandates of the office.

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These are: a) administration and training, b) research and planning, and c) operations and warning. This is in Section 12 of RA 10121. In its declaration of policy, the law states that it should “adopt an approach that is holistic, comprehensive, integrated, and proactive in lessening socioeconomic and environmental impacts of disasters…”

Of the three main mandates of LDRRMOs, it is the second one that has not been given its due attention, as I have noticed over the years of doing fieldwork in many low-lying municipalities in Maguindanao province.

In 2015, when I did an assessment of the implementation of the health and emergency systems in two localities in Central Mindanao, I discovered that the newly appointed DRRM officer in one town was just assigned there by the mayor mainly because he was the latter’s nephew. He did not have a staff, and his office had only a table and one old computer that he hardly used. In previous years, many Maguindanao local government units just engaged external “experts” to draft the town’s or the barangay’s DRRM plan.

One early concept of sustainable integrated area development was the relationship between ridge (mountains) to reef (coastal and catch basin areas). This has been demonstrated many times in other parts of the country and the world. Flooding and other natural disasters know no political territorial boundaries, and water is always pulled by gravity down to the lower areas in an ecozone.

Unfortunately, this concept has not been fully investigated, especially by the governments within and around the Ligawasan Marsh. A full-blown R&D endeavor in mitigating the extreme consequences of severe natural weather events based on the holistic and integrated ridge to reef framework might even reduce the amount of work (and funds) spent on emergency relief distribution. Both the regional and local governments can instead focus on developing or promoting holistic resilience among flood-vulnerable communities around the marsh, as mandated under RA 10121.

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