Thinking Beyond Politics
By Victor Andres C. Manhit
Time and again, nature teaches humanity the inextricable symbiosis between the environment and human existence, most recently in the aftermath of typhoon Odette (international name: Rai), one of the worst superstorms to hit the Philippines. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council tallied over 400 reported casualties of which 77 have been validated. More than 83,000 families are being sheltered in evacuation centers, and over 45,000 more in other facilities.
The Department of Agriculture estimates P9 billion in crop damage and agricultural commodity losses across 11 affected regions. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) gave an estimate of over half a billion pesos in damaged roads, bridges, and even flood structures.
Killer typhoons like Odette have repeatedly blown down critical infrastructure that carry the services that are indispensable to our daily lives. Amidst the calamity of the series of extreme weather events that have been hitting our country, addressing the vulnerabilities and building the resiliency of the power and energy, telecommunications, and transportation infrastructure should be prioritized in every community. The fast restoration of these services is critical to rescue and relief operations in every emergency situation.
When there is no electricity, no cellphone signal, and all roads are impassable, there is complete paralysis of the system which results in emergency response teams being delayed in reaching calamity victims. Each day that any of these services is down affects the operations of the other and will be a debilitating handicap as the devastated regions struggle to rebuild their ruined communities amidst a sputtering economy and this increasing surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Here again arises the need for an all-of-society collaboration to have an honest assessment of the weaknesses exposed by the magnitude of Odette’s destruction. Anticipating more of these occurrences, there should be a more integrated approach that builds and continuously strengthens cross-agency and cross-industry disaster resilience, and seamless protocols for quick disaster response and restoration of disrupted power and telecommunications services.
The power and energy sectors are already seriously challenged to meet current consumer demand — which will even increase as more people are relying on digital technologies to run their businesses, and these technologies become their main medium to connect with others for daily activities. This further prompts an integrative approach to sustainability and resilience that goes beyond calamity response and is actually more critical for the country’s economic rebound.
This is where the private sector can take a pro-active role in offering partnerships as investors and technology providers that government should welcome and encourage — the consumers in the ecosystems of private enterprises are, after all, the same constituents that government is mandated to serve.
The huge burden of financing the rebuilding of regions devastated by typhoon Odette can be carried substantially by the private sector through Public Private Partnership, which have proven to be the most successful strategy as seen in the Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects. This frees up government funds for other important public services such as health and education.
In the crafting of new strategies and solutions, policy gaps will always be revealed which, if agency level regulations will not suffice, will need legislative and even executive action. This is another dimension of building sustainability and resilience that requires leaders with the cerebral prowess to understand, analyze, and act correctly based on scientific data and expert counsel from industry and affected stakeholders.
The aftermath of typhoon Odette accentuated the interlinking functions of transport infrastructure, power and energy, and telecommunications — three highly complex sectors, with their own range of nuanced problems, that will need to work out immediate and long-term solutions that are customized to the local dynamics of the communities and their local governments. It is really the local government that will need to lead in the frontlines of disaster mitigation, that should again integrate with other jurisdictions as calamities do not stop at borders. The private sector players who are already serving customers across contingent cities and municipalities will need to re-engineer their resiliency building programs to have adequate cross-border linkages that are ready to be mobilized.
Government institutions should follow the discipline espoused by Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards, which has already been implemented by the most successful and largest private enterprises as a guiding metric of their organization’s sustainability and responsibility beyond their commercial sphere of operation. This is a relatively new set of ethics spurned by the need to act on evolving social and environmental issues.
At the receiving end are the people whose welfare and security are the prime responsibilities of the national and local government — the people who are the consumers that the private sector must gain trust and satisfy in a co-beneficial relationship. This is a customer-centered or, more aptly, a stakeholder focused service that we need not just in times of crisis but as part of our institutional value system.
The most successful companies of the world all have visionary leaders with the professionalism and extraordinary proficiency needed in their specialized fields of business, leaders that live a work ethic that guarantees performance and success in their ventures. It’s these qualities of leadership that we must look for and demand from the leaders we elect in the next government.
Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.