Ruby, Seniang reveals how the government is still woefully unprepared

“We prepared for Ruby, not Seniang”

This single sentence says a lot about how the Philippine government remains shamefully unprepared for disasters.

After typhoon ‘Ruby’ (international name: Hagupit) struck in the early part of December 2014 with less casualties and damage than Yolanda/Haiyan, the national government was quick to congratulate itself with a ‘job well done‘ while the United Nations provided additional applause.

But right before the year ended, a “much weaker” typhoon ‘Seniang’ caused massive flooding and landslides in many parts in the Visayas and Mindanao, killing at least 53.

A survivor’s explanation that “We prepared for Ruby, not Seniang” reveals several things:

1. There is really no organized plan regarding disasters in many communities in the Philippines.

For many disaster preparedness NGOs, this comes in the form of a ‘contingency plan’ (or CP) which is defined as “a plan developed by the community to clarify objectives and the various actions to be performed by all its members to better prepare for emergency situations, and to avoid or reduce the adverse effects of disasters” (ACCORD 2012)

In my experience, communities which have CPs done in a participatory manner simply ‘activated’ their respective plans during a typhoon. The plan served as a guide for what to do during a disaster, when and where to do it, and who should do it.

I am willing to bet a month’s salary that those communities badly affected by Seniang did not have a proper contingency plan, if any.

2. The ‘positive experiences’ during Ruby were the result of ‘media hype’ and trauma from Yolanda, not government efforts.

(To be fair, PAGASA should be commended for giving an accurate forecast of the direction and impact of the typhoon)

In the Visayas, people were generally cooperative of evacuation efforts. But is it because there is a proper contingency plan in the part of the government? Or is it because people would have evacuated with or without the government because of the trauma inflicted by the 2013 super typhoon, multiplied by the way the media reported ‘Ruby’?

I would guess it was the latter, because there were many reports that while people quickly packed their belongings and headed to a officially-designated evacuation center, the DSWD did not have any food, water, and other supplies for them. The insufficient stocks by local government units (LGUs) were quickly overwhelmed, leaving the private sector (such as activists and the Church) to pick up the slack.

Points #1 and 2 are supported by another survivor’s explanation: “We got tired of evacuating (after Ruby)”

A proper contingency plan would have 1) included educating people in the need to evacuate 2) planned evacuations in such a way that it would cause the least disruption in the lives of the people.

3. The government is not doing their job regarding disaster risk reduction. At all.

Aside from the contingency plans, Seniang revealed the government failed in the following: 1) identifying communities which have a high risk of being hit by disasters 2) creating measures to lessen that risk.

Most of the casualties from the latest typhoon come from communities near mountainsides. The risk of a disaster could have been lessened by either relocating the people somewhere else, or by preventing the landslides altogether through mitigation measures such as the planting of trees or the construction of barriers.

4. Back in college, we were fond of quoting the musician Bob Marley whenever we criticized a poor decision by either the student council, campus administration, or national government: “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time

This comes into mind during the Seniang aftermath. The national government may be able to exploit Ruby for propaganda purposes, but it cannot always fool the people all the time. Especially since they are dealing with Nature, the most powerful of all forces.

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