By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
It won’t be surprising if the Philippines is now dubbed the most calamity-prone area in the world. In just the past three months, our country has been hit by the worst of natural calamities – strong earthquakes, powerful typhoons, and a massive volcanic eruption.
Fortunately, a tsunami has spared us but it’s like we’ve also been hit by one, considering the massive flooding unleashed by Typhoons Tisoy and Ursula that struck during the last few weeks of 2019, affecting around 2.6 million people in the Visayas and Northern Luzon, and causing property damage estimated at a total of P5.4 billion.
In Mindanao last October, around 35,000 structures were destroyed by three strong quakes – a magnitude 6.3 struck on Oct. 16, magnitude 6.6 on Oct. 29, and a magnitude 6.5 on Oct. 31. The strongest one, at magnitude 6.9, struck on Dec. 15, destroying at least 1,200 houses and damaging close to 6,000 more.
And there was the fury last week of Taal Volcano in Batangas, causing extensive damage especially to agriculture. The destruction of around 16,000 hectares of land planted to cacao, coffee, pineapple, coconut, and rice, plus the tilapia and bangus farms around Taal Lake, has been estimated to reach no less than P3 billion so far.
Add the disruption to the tourism activities in Tagaytay, and the operations of companies in the economic zones of Calabarzon area, then one could grasp the extent of economic losses in the aftermath of Taal’s eruption. Yet amid the massive losses that include the properties and livelihood of hundreds of thousands, solace can be found in the knowledge that, so far, no person has perished.
And, despite some criticism over government efforts, many find solace in the thought that our first responders, particularly those in the local government units, did their utmost to cope with the latest disaster.
I had an enlightening discussion last Sunday with DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing and DSWD Spokesperson Irene Dumlao in my DZMM teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan, and they stressed that disaster response efforts were quickly activated as soon as Philvocs issued Alert Level 2 on Jan. 12, and evacuation was in full swing by the time Alert Level 4 was in effect.
Dumlao said DSWD personnel in the Calabarzon field office were already deployed during Alert Level 2 to guide LGUs to evacuation centers. Densing said that mayors not only in Batangas but also in Laguna and Cavite were all accounted for during the critical period when forced evacuation was being implemented in the 14 towns near Taal.
Both officials reassured teleradyo followers that their departments were fulfilling their mandate of “capacitating their local counterparts in disaster mitigation and response” which is among the duties of DSWD, and training of LGUs in disaster preparedness provided by the DILG.
Densing also stressed the need for Phivolcs officials to be in direct and constant communication with local officials whose actions would be guided by the updates they get in real time.
But despite all efforts being undertaken to mitigate hazardous consequences and effectively manage responses to an eruption, such efforts might still be deemed lacking simply because predicting the precise moment and intensity of a volcanic eruption is not yet an exact science, unlike the forecasting of the path and strength of a typhoon which has vastly improved with modern technology.
And, according to Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum, volcanoes have different characters. Unlike Mayon Volcano which can more “gentle” and slow-acting, Taal Volcano can be more violent in just a short span of time.
It is essential to come up with measures aimed at greatly improving disaster response. Among such measures would be to thoroughly document the current efforts of DSWD and LGUs to see the strengths and weaknesses in such efforts.
There’s also a suggestion from my brother Bert Lina, who’s an expert on logistics and cargo forwarding, to come up with an efficient system of consolidation of relief goods, with proper documentation, to effectively hurdle ensuing vehicular traffic in times of disaster.
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