Let’s do this right
We cannot keep making the same mistakes. “Yolanda” was not the Philippines’ first encounter with a category-5 typhoon. In 1990, Cebu and other provinces was hit by “Ruping” (international name: “Mike”), which left damage worth P10.8 billion and a death toll of more than 700.
This experience from 23 years ago could have provided us with insights on how to best handle Yolanda and its aftermath. But as we all have seen, both our local and national governments seemed to be starting from scratch, flailing as they went through the pre- and post-disaster moves—from the preparations of the local government units to the decisions of the national government and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
In a televised interview with reporters, Undersecretary Eduardo del Rosario of the NDRRMC admitted to being unprepared: We have a concrete system on typhoon preparedness and response. What we were not prepared for was the magnitude of this storm. So huge.
Once Tacloban City and other devastated areas stabilize, I hope that we will all find time to look back and reflect on our experiences—our government and its institutions, in crafting better policies on risk and disaster management; and the people, in taking ownership of assessing safety and security risks.
“What we need now are words of encouragement. We don’t want to finger-point. We don’t want to blame anybody…. The worst is over. We survived the most powerful typhoon in the world,” Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said in another televised interview.
Officials are right: We do not need to play the blame game. But this does not mean everyone gets a free pass as if nothing had happened. We need to pause and discuss what went wrong and what could have been done better. Failures are learning opportunities, and the devastation inflicted by Yolanda is one course our leaders cannot pass up.
We cannot always offer weak excuses and cry “But we are a developing nation!” in covering up failure. If we do this right, we can frame a strategy comparable to the adeptness that Japan demonstrated in its relief and rebuilding efforts after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that battered its eastern shore.
Effectiveness does not always have to boil down to money and resources. Leadership, political will, and participation of civil society are strong success factors, too.
Tiffany Chan, 25, is a resident of Makati City but her and her family’s roots go back to Leyte and Tacloban City. She studied at the University of the Philippines Visayas (Tacloban) and Sacred Heart College.
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