No wonder the Aquino administration failed to alert sufficiently and early enough Tacloban and other Leyte-Samar areas that Super Typhoon Yolanda would create a horrific tsunami-like storm surge that would drown thousands of Filipinos in minutes.
No wonder that its response to the disaster was so feeble that even four days after Yolanda struck—and this is according to he official website of the Armed Forces of the Philippines—only 1,000 troops from its 525th Engineering Battalion and 1st Special Forces Battalion were in Tacloban to collect the corpses, rescue those buried in collapsed houses, provide relief goods, and maintain order.
The Tacloban horror. Insert, the universal logo of civil defense, which was absent anywhere in disaster-stricken areas.
No wonder CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper, days after the worst calamity to hit the country, reported out of Tacloban: “There is no leader, no government, no civil defense in the Philippines.”
Aquino failed to implement law
President Aquino failed to implement crucial provisions of R.A. 10121, or the National Disaster and Risk Management System law, which former president Gloria Arroyo pushed into law and enacted May 27, 2010 in the wake of the destruction wrought by Typhoon Pepeng in 2009.
A crucial part of the law was the strengthening of the Department of National Defense’s Office of Civil Defense as the government’s lead agency for disaster risk and management program.
The law made the OCD the workhorse of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. That Council was really more of a consultative body, consisting of 28 heads of departments and other government agencies as well as ten other members that included local government representatives and even the private sector. To ensure the close coordination of the OCD and the NDRRMC, the OCD Administrator was designated as the Council’s Executive Director, and its chairman the defense secretary.
The law actually sought to upgrade the OCD along the global practice that a well-funded, -staffed and -equipped organization—separate from the military—is essential to save the lives of a nation’s citizens in cases of attack and disasters.
For instance, in the US, its Office of Civilian Defense which had been under its military for decades was converted into the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1978, put later under the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attack. Many countries have its independent civil defense organizations, for instance Russia’s Civil Defense Troops, Singapore, its Civil Defense Force.
Distinctive sign of civil defense
There is even an international distinctive sign of civil defense, defined by International
Humanitarian Law, and used as a protective sign. It is these civil defense agencies that has the primary responsibility of preparing for and responding to major disasters, and not, as Aquino insists, local governments that do not have the expertise for doing so.
For its new, vastly upgraded role, the law ordered that the OCD be allocated immediately when it took effect a P1 billion revolving fund.
Three years after the law was enacted, the Aquino regime with its tight control of Congress did not provide the OCD such a P1 billion fund, and instead merely maintained the level of operations budget—about P100 million—it had been receiving before the law was enacted.
The fact that no fund was allocated to the OCD as the law ordered was however concealed by the Aquino administration’s new procedure of including as part of the agency’s budget its share out of the Calamity Funds, termed as its Quick Response Fund. These QRF allocations though were even smaller than those the Department of Social Welfare and Development received. The office of the secretary of national defense was even allocated its own QRFs, amounting to P353 million annually for 2012 and 2013.
Under the law, the OCD was clearly the agency in charge of planning for and dealing with disasters anywhere in the country, with the NDRRMC and its counterparts in the local levels as consultative bodies to ensure the coordination of efforts of the various government agencies.
Contrary to Mr. Aquino’s claims that local governments are in charge of disaster preparedness and relief operations, it is the OCD which has such main responsibility under R.A. 1012. Under section 9, paragraph (e), it is responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plans.
More importantly, the law’s section 10 stipulates: “The civil defense officers of the OCD who are or may be designated as Regional Directors of the OCD shall serve as chairpersons of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council,” or the next level of responsibility after the NDRRMC.
Was there even an RDRRMC for Eastern Visayas led by the OCD’s regional director? If there was, it has been invisible during the biggest disaster to hit the region, and the country.
Pittance civil defense budget
With its meager budget, the OCD couldn’t afford specialized staff or consultants to really understand the impact of an impending national disaster such as super typhoon Yolanda.
It was only in its “Advisory” issued Nov. 7, 11 a.m. that it had a note that hardly raised a real warning: “Likewise, those living in coastal areas under signal #3 and #2 are alerted against storm surges which may reach up to a 7-meter wave height”. It didn’t even call Yolanda a super-typhoon, or even the strongest that would ever hit the country, but just another typhoon.
The advisory was feeble and vague. First, issued less than 24 hours before Yolanda struck, it didn’t give local governments especially in Tacloban the time to evacuate their threatened residents. Second, it merely “alerted” them, and didn’t warn them that the storm surge could result in horrific casualties. Contrast that to the orders of the Vietnamese government to immediately evacuate the coastal areas that were on the path of the super typhoon. Thirdly, it didn’t explain how far inland the storm surge could reach.
And lastly, what the hell was a “storm surge”? Did NDRRMC Administrator Eduardo del Rosario who signed the advisory understand what the term meant?
I myself could have simply thought it was a huge wave you see in movies and documentaries reaching even ten-meters high but only off-shore, and which you could even watch safely from shore.
The NDRRMC law of 2010 also stipulated a creation of a Congressional Oversight Committee to monitor and oversee the implementation of its provisions, which could save thousands of lives of Filipinos caught in a disaster. It was a 12-member committee consisting of members of both houses of Congress.
Are they afraid of Aquino?
Has that committee met at all? Its chair is Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th. Do we need to tell him that after this worst disaster to hit our nation, and with government showing its incompetence in its response, that committee must investigate what happened so we could reduce the number of Filipinos dying in the next natural disaster?
Or are Trillanes and the other committee members so afraid of Aquino that its investigation will show that a student-council kind of government was so incompetent in preparing for and responding to Super Typhoon Yolanda.
There is a detail that only emphasizes that government either practically ignored the NDRRMC law or doesn’t recognize the role of the OCD in responding to disasters. Under the law the OCD administrator also concurrently the NDRRMC executive director) has a rank of undersecretary. Media and even the OCD website indeed refers to the agency’s administrator as Undersecretary Eduardo del Rosario.
However, the DND website and especially the Official Directory of www.gov.ph which is the definitive roster of all government officials identify del Rosario as a minor official having the rank only of Director IV, or even below the Assistant Secretary rank. Did Aquino forget to appoint del Rosario defense undersecretary?