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Hail PAGASA! Hail NDRRMC!

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Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Musings

Typhoon Tisoy (international name: Kamurri) left 17 people dead, isolated several provinces, and destroyed infrastructure and agriculture worth billions of pesos. Torrential rain submerged hundreds of villages in the Bicol region as well as in Isabela and Cagayan, floodwater rising to as high as the roof of most houses in those provinces.

The governments of Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Quezon Province, Oriental Mindoro, Northern Samar, Virac town in Catanduanes, and Ilagan City in Isabela placed their territories under a state of calamity.

It could have been much worse. Many more lives would have been lost were it not for the timely and well-planned response of government agencies and the officials of the areas in the path of Typhoon Tisoy.

When the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) reported on Nov. 29 that the typhoon was expected to make landfall in the Bicol Region between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, the various agencies and units of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) went into action. The civil defense authorities in Sorsogon, Albay, Camarines Sur, and Catanduanes recommended the cancellation of classes at all levels on Dec. 2 and 3. In Catanduanes and Masbate, people living in coastal areas were moved to shelters. In Albay, people dwelling on the slopes of Mt. Mayon were evacuated to safer grounds.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano directed all governors, mayors, and village chiefs to stay at their posts and oversee response to the disaster that Tisoy would cause. The Philippine National Police placed all its units in Luzon and the Visayas on full alert, ready for calls for help. The Metro Manila Development Authority advised residents to take precautionary measures. Legaspi City Mayor Noel Rosal ordered all outdoor Christmas decorations taken down.

As southern and central Luzon was expected to be battered by strong winds and heavy rain, organizers of the 30th Southeast Asian Games cancelled or re-scheduled outdoor events in Subic, New Clark City, Calatagan and Tagaytay in Batangas. Officials of Camarines Sur forced residents in flood- and storm surge-proned areas to evacuate.

Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia cancelled all their international and domestic flights from the afternoon of Dec. 2.

It is amazing that the NDRRMC was able to reduce considerably the number of lives lost and the amount of damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and private property given the fury and wide scope of Typhoon Tisoy and the organizational structure of NDRRMC.

The NDRRMC is a working group of various government, non-government, civil sector, and private sector organizations, administered by the Office of Civil Defense under the Department of National Defense. Its function is “to plan and lead the guiding activities in the field of communication, warning signals, emergency, transportation, evacuation, rescue, engineering, health and rehabilitation, public education, and auxiliary services such as firefighting and the police in the country.”

It is composed of 40 members that include the president of the Social Security System and the secretary of Tourism. The chairman is the defense secretary, with the secretaries of Interior and Local Government, Social Welfare and Development, Science and Technology, and the director general of the National Economic and Development Authority as vice-chairmen.

President Duterte wants a unified body dedicated to disaster risk reduction. In his State of the Nation Address last year, he urged Congress to pass a bill creating the Department of Disaster Management. He said: “We need a truly empowered department characterized by a unity of command, science-based approach, and full-time focus on natural hazards and disasters, and the wherewithal to take charge of the disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response, with better recovery and faster rehabilitation.”

There is, however, a strong objection to the separation of PAGASA from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The DOST, which also deserves honorable mention in risk reduction and management, has been able to build PAGASA as well as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) into well-functioning units in the overall disaster risk reduction and management system in spite of its meager resources.

In the era before weather satellites and Doppler radar, sudden and alarming weather disturbances were a way of life in the Philippines. Typhoons batter islands, particularly those lying on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, many times during the year, sometimes in the dead of night, causing loss of many lives and wreaking serious damage to infrastructure, private property and crops. Today, PAGASA is able to track a typhoon days before it makes landfall, and even before it enters the Philippine area of responsibility, as PAGASA did when it spotted Tisoy in late November, enabling the NDRRMC to perform its function commendably.

We do not know when the knowledge we now have about typhoons could have been gained had the bill to study typhoon prospered in the halls of Congress and passed into law before the end of the 1950s. In the mid-1950s, Rep. Francisco Perfecto of Catanduanes filed a bill in Congress to address the problems caused by typhoons, his island province being frequently pounded by the furious storms. The true intent of the bill was to study typhoons with a view to dissipating their force and reducing the damage they wreak. It included provisions for funding the specialized training of personnel and the acquisition of technical equipment.

A cynical member of the House of Representatives instantly dubbed the bill as the “Bill to Outlaw Typhoons.” The press lapped up the derisive label, prompting political pundits to comment that the bill was reflective of the inanities indulged by the occupants of the Lower House. The twisted information that a member of Congress wanted to declare typhoons outlaws gained wide circulation among politicized citizens. The fact is nowhere in the bill was there any statement or even a hint to declare typhoons outlaws.

But because of the jeers that rained down on his bill and the snide remarks blown his way, Rep. Perfecto allowed his bill to die a quiet death. He retired from politics at the end of his term in 1957.

Had Rep. Perfecto’s bill been made into law, perhaps the staff of the weather bureau would have gotten to know more about the behavior of typhoons by the beginning of the 1970s. A super typhoon, Yoling, hit Metro Manila on Nov. 19, 1970. Fortunately, it raged in the morning of that day when people were up and about. Power would not be restored in many parts of the metropolis until 10 days later, causing many people to miss the telecast of Pope Paul VI’s visit on Nov. 27.

Perhaps damage to property could have been reduced and many more lives saved if Yoling had been tracked before it entered the country’s area of responsibility and people warned of its potentially destructive force to enable them to secure their property and ensure their personal safety.

But the DOST has been making up for lost opportunities. It has made PAGASA what the late Catanduanes Rep. Perfecto may have envisioned it to be. PAGASA played a major role in reducing the destruction of Typhoon Tisoy as it did when typhoons battered the country in recent years.

Hail PAGASA! Hail NDRRMC!

 

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.





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