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Congratulations are in order

“Ruby” has come and gone, and in her wake she has left a country and its government in receipt of congratulations from the international community—or rather the international community that counts: the United Nations, its Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the UN Development Program.

Helen Clark, head of the UNDP, commended the national government and subnational governments (local government units) on the “highly effective precautionary measures put in place to prepare for a typhoon of this magnitude,” adding that the “Government’s approach to preparing and responding to this disaster presents an important model of building resilience for the many other countries which are exposed to similar natural disasters and other calamities.” Margareta Wahlstrom, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s special representative on disaster risk reduction, had similar comments, talking about the “excellent job” done.

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On the domestic front, however, the praise seems very faint. The silence, in fact, is deafening. The critics, especially the members of the political opposition, certainly did not waste any time last year condemning the government for what they described as mismanagement and lack of preparation for “Yolanda.” Why can’t they be as fast to congratulate the country for a job well done? Is it that they cannot stand success? Or can’t recognize when a job is well done? Or maybe they just lack the grace to concede that the government can do a good job?

Take the relatively low number of deaths. After all, anywhere between 1 million and 2 million people were evacuated to safer quarters before the storm hit. So congratulations should have been in order. But no. Much was made of the difference in estimates of mortality from the Red Cross and the government. The implication was that the government’s estimates of fatalities were too low. Then, the low number of deaths and other damage were dismissed as being attributable to the fact that the storm had weakened considerably. Nothing said about government preemptive, preparatory action.

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Take the evacuation centers. Goods (food) were prepositioned, local governments were on the job (some mayors even forced the evacuations, threatening those who were reluctant to comply with arrest), police or the armed forces were deployed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the evacuees. What was reported? That some evacuees were hungry or had not been given food.

Then there’s the Mar Roxas bike crash. I read where some were criticizing him for not wearing a helmet. Heavens. As well criticize some Titanic passengers for not being properly dressed at the time.

He was not planning to ride a motorcycle, for heaven’s sake. From what I read, the road to Borlongan, Samar, was almost impassable for cars, and he saw motorcycles for rent by the roadside, so he asked to rent one. Instead of being commended for his determination to get to Borlongan, or his fast reaction to alternatives (he grabbed the opportunity to ride the motorcycle), or even his disregard for the possible dangers to himself, he got panned.

I understand the photos of the incident went viral. I do not know what proportion of the viewers made nasty comments. But a statement attributed to Teddy Casino was: “Lesson for the day: Huwag mag motor pag may bagyo. At saka magsuot ng helmet.” This, from a former member of the House of Representatives?

Ah, well. If someone like Teddy, whom I respect, can say that, can I expect any more from the others?

Come to think of it, Vice President Jejomar Binay hasn’t said anything about the government’s handling of Ruby. He said he was a team player, didn’t he? That was, at least, his response to the invitation of P-Noy to leave his cabinet if all Binay could do was criticize rather than propose solutions. Shouldn’t the VP be the first to congratulate the administration for a job very well done? Or is he really as petty and small-minded as his critics say he is?

I would like to congratulate P-Noy and his team (the VP, as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, is in it, but I doubt he is active) on the excellent job on Ruby. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which is composed of practically all Cabinet members, plus members of civil society, government financial corporations, etc., is chaired by the Secretary of National Defense and administered by the Office of Civil Defense (which is under him). It has four vice chairs: for Disaster Preparedness, the Secretary of Interior and Local Governments, Mar Roxas; for Disaster Response, Secretary of Social Welfare and Development, Dinky Soliman; for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Secretary of Science and Technology, Mario Montejo (Pagasa is under him). And for Disaster Rehabilitation and Recovery, the Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority, Arsy Balisacan.

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The first three vice chairs are to be congratulated. Mar Roxas and Dinky have been on the frontlines (that’s why Roxas had to go to Borlongan) since before the storm hit, and are still there, or have just come back. The Armed Forces, the PNP, were mobilized and were on the ground. The coordination seemed to be flawless. The fourth—Arsy Balisacan—now has to step up for rehabilitation and recovery.

But the local governments involved also did a great job. Somehow, this time, politics at the local government level was minimized. The local DRRM offices were well prepared.

The two morals of the story: The Filipino Can. And let us give credit where credit is due.

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TAGS: disaster preparedness, Jejomar Binay‎, Mar Roxas, Typhoon Ruby
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