Quake a timely, urgent reminder
Among the saddest sights from the damage wrought by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and surrounding provinces on Tuesday were the ruins of old churches in Bohol and Cebu.
It was difficult to discern, amid the pile of rubble, crumpled corrugated roofs, and tumbled adobe blocks the churches we had visited in the past, and whose ancient relics, inspiring frescoes and brilliant-colored windows we admired and took delight in.
I was especially saddened at the pictures showing the churches of Loboc, Baclayon and Dauis in ruins. Just last year, the Jimenez clan held its annual observance of the “Flores de Mayo” in Bohol, considered the “second home” of my uncles and aunts who had spent their teen and preteen years in the province and where old family friends still resided.
Taking prominent place in our memories of Bohol were the churches of Baclayon and Dauis, whose interiors we had toured. I remember that Dauis Church was even especially decorated for a wedding, while the members of the Loboc Children’s Choir practiced in the background.
We would encounter the wonderful voices of the Loboc Children’s Choir a few days later, when we held our culminating Mass at Loboc Church, with the choir members joining us in the traditional offering of flowers and the novena to “Mama Mary.” It was truly saddening to behold in pictures the current state of Loboc Church, its wonderful and elegant interiors exposed to the elements after an entire wall had collapsed.
Also dismaying was the damage sustained by the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño de Cebu, said to be the oldest church in the archipelago. If faith and devotion alone could hold together bricks-and-mortar structures, then the basilica, the pilgrim site of countless of the faithful, should have withstood the test of time and human folly. Alas, we are helpless against the elements, against an act of God. All we can do is pray that the death and destruction caused by the temblor would no longer escalate, and that the historical structures laid to waste be rebuilt with goodwill, historical accuracy, and respect for the legacy of faith the old structures bore.
* * *
BEYOND the physical damage, there are the lives lost, counted at 28 as this is being written, with some 33 reported injured. (Wire agencies pegged the death toll at 73 as we went to press. —Ed.)
There was an air of fatalism around the table at the Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel media forum I took part in yesterday. There was, as usual, mention made of our being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and a sense that “it is just a matter of time” before another earthquake hits closer to home—that is, Metro Manila.
The Visayas earthquake is a timely reminder, once more, of how much preparation we need to carry out before disaster strikes. Warnings have proliferated: how in some areas around Taguig houses have begun sinking and ominous cracks have appeared in walls and streets; how much of the city of Manila would sink underwater should the country fall prey to a tsunami; how we badly, as in yesterday, need to carry out a review of public structures and take note of what repairs and renovations need to be carried out before an earthquake strikes.
This is Nature giving us a heads-up, and it is up to us to decide whether we should heed the warning and respond to the coming crisis, or proceed as if everything is hunky-dory and there is nothing to worry about.
* * *
LAST year, the Civil Service Commission conducted a random audit of Government Service Insurance System offices around the country as part of the provisions of the Anti-Red Tape Act (Arta). Sadly, reports GSIS president and general manager Robert Vergara, the 13 branches surveyed “failed” the test, with an average grade of 63 (the passing grade was 70).
But now he has good news. When a new Arta survey was conducted this year, the results for the GSIS were far better. Five branch offices were rated “Excellent” by the CSC, with the Bacolod branch office conferred a “Seal of Excellence” for obtaining a rating of 91.57. Even better, four other GSIS branches “rebounded” from their failing marks last year, earning excellent scores to date.
Vergara, who was the guest at the Bulong Pulungan, said that under his administration, the focus of the GSIS is to reach out to its members and improve their service delivery.
Part of this are plans to build more GSIS kiosks, stand-alone outlets where members can check their status and balances and transact (via the Wireless Automated Processing System) with the main office. From an initial 750 kiosks, he said, the GSIS has rolled out 350 more units all over the country, including “rapid-deployment” portable kiosks that can be easily installed in areas beset by disasters.
* * *
GSIS income reached a new high of P93.2 billion in 2012, while payments for claims for retirement, pension, disability and funeral benefits increased by 23 percent. So obviously, the rise in assets has not affected at all (on the contrary) the GSIS’ ability to meet the needs of their members.
This is why, Vergara said, his primary goal is really “to make the GSIS more accessible to its members,” which he sees as turning transactions with their offices “more enjoyable as they interact with our employees.”
One of his new policies, he said, is putting full-time, experienced employees in front-line positions. “I want to make sure that the people dealing with our members are the best, the most knowledgeable, with the most favorable attitudes toward serving our public,” he stressed.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.