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Enhanced disaster management by private sector

At the end of 2012, I sounded in this space a call to the private sector, especially big business, to make as one of its strategic considerations profit with prosperity for all. As we end 2013 with the country still reeling from the effects not just of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” but also of the Bohol-Cebu earthquake, Typhoon “Santi” (which roared through Central Luzon in October, ripping off roofs from homes and uprooting trees in its path), and the Zamboanga siege, this call has become even more relevant—urgent, even.

The relaunch of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF—with no less than Cardinal Chito Tagle, Manuel Pangilinan and Jaime Zobel de Ayala serving as cochairs and supported by other prominent captains of industry like Erramon Aboitiz, Ed Chua, Doris Magsaysay Ho, Federico Lopez and Ramon del Rosario—most certainly responds to this now-urgent call for big business to become part of the solution.

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The PDRF was first organized in 2009 after the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng” in 2009. Today it is being further strengthened and expanded to not only address the devastation of Yolanda but also get business to be better prepared to respond to the many more challenges our country will face from climate change and future earthquakes, including the feared “big one” to afflict Metro Manila.

For the ongoing recovery programs, the PDRF remains focused on the hardest-hit areas of Yolanda, the October earthquake, and the September unrest in Zamboanga. The areas included are in northern Cebu, northern Negros, northern Panay, Leyte/Tacloban, Samar, Palawan/Busuanga, Bohol and Zamboanga City.  The disaster management activities in these areas are centered on preparedness, relief, recovery and reconstruction, and the PDRF’s initiatives are focused on shelter, livelihood, education and environment.

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National Competitiveness Council cochair Bill Luz has been convening the PDRF advisors, including yours truly, and various other meetings among private-sector and civil-society groups to better coordinate the efforts and help ensure that no community gets left behind in the combined response of the public and private sectors. As certainly not all groups will be willing to pool their efforts under the PDRF banner, it is hoped that there can at least be a central information management system that can track what is needed where, who is taking action where, and what more needs to be done where.  A critical next step to better coordination is a meeting with Panfilo Lacson, the government’s lead person for the rehabilitation and reconstruction, in the first days of 2014.

A friend of mine who has been in and out of Tacloban since Yolanda struck has confirmed the weakness of the ongoing disaster management. My sister, too, who has been helping in volunteer efforts at Villamor Air Base and recently joined a team of psychologists in a visit to Tacloban, has noted the hard work of individuals that, unfortunately, is not being made easier and more effective by the weak systems for coordination and communication.  They both confirm that local politics has been a bane to efforts to reach as many survivors as quickly as possible. According to my friend, getting at least a tarpaulin roof over every home in time for Christmas—incidentally, the rains usually come in December in Samar and Leyte—could have actually been achieved if politics did not get in the way and if a better disaster management system were in place.  Businessmen in Cebu have cited weak logistics as the critical bottleneck that could have been addressed sooner.  That, too, is about disaster management.

In its website, the PDRF describes itself as the country’s primary private-sector vehicle for disaster management. The challenges posed by taking on this role are gargantuan indeed, and I hope that the PDRF cochairs, board, advisors, and management and staff recognize this. One of the key challenges is how to get the rest of the private sector to buy into the effort.

If the PDRF is to become the primary private-sector vehicle, the Chinese-Filipino business community must become engaged. It can begin with coordination that may lead to a larger vehicle being assembled and let loose against the disaster challenges we face.  Another challenge is that of ensuring that the regional business groups will unite with the effort and possibly even help lead it. And still another is how the PDRF can get the public sector to give it more room to unleash its management prowess without being held back by bureaucratic red tape, politics, corruption, and entrenched syndicates.

The disasters of 2013, both natural and manmade, have thrown another monkey wrench into inclusive growth. These disasters continue to affect rich and poor alike, but while those who have the least may exhibit more resilience simply because they are used to suffering, they are still the most vulnerable.

As the private sector digs deeper into its pockets to help in rebuilding, it must make even more strategic decisions. One of these should involve focusing on rebuilding the local economies wiped out by disaster. That will take a lot of resources. Sooner rather than later, the government must become fully able to manage the reconstruction of homes, schools and other key infrastructure so that the private sector can focus on job regeneration.

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is the executive director of the Makati Business Club.

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TAGS: Bohol-Cebu earthquake, Cardinal Chito Tagle, disaster management, Doris Magsaysay Ho, Ed Chua, Erramon Aboitiz, Federico Lopez, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Manuel Pangilinan, PDRF, Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation, private sector, Ramon del Rosario, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, Typhoon “Santi”
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