IN UNDER a minute of the earth’s shaking, the people of Balutakay, a coffee-farming village at the foot of Mt. Apo, saw their homes, warehouse, and processing center sustain severe damage.

It was Oct. 31, 2019 and the magnitude 6.5 tremor that struck that day was the third strong one for the month after a 6.6 just two days prior and 6.3 on the 16th.

The 170 families in Balutakay, many of them members of the Balutakay Coffee Farmers Association (BACOFA), evacuated.

And there is no going back as their community has been declared by authorities as a no-live zone.

Among them is Marivic Dubria, the BACOFA manager who would have considered 2019 one of the best years ever as she represented the country in April at the Specialty Coffee Exposition in Boston after topping the Arabica Category of the year’s Philippine Coffee Quality Competition (PCQC). In 2018, she ranked 2nd.

At a media forum in Davao City after her PCQC award, Ms. Dubria talked excitedly about promoting the community’s coffee to a global audience, the value of contributing to local industry, and inspiring fellow farmers to aim for superior produce that will fetch higher prices.

Joji Felicitas B. Pantoja, founder and chief executive officer of social enterprise Coffee for Peace, Inc., which has been working with BANOFA since 2013, said the enterprise is as heartbroken as the people in the village that they have seen work hard and grow.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, Ms. Pantoja narrated the grief and worry of the families, who set up temporary shelters around the nearby Malipayon processing center of Coffee for Peace.

“Nanay Teresing, one of the community leaders and also among the top 10 champion farmers, looked really dazed and worried. They don’t know what will happen to them. Can they go back to the farm? Because the coffee (trees) are there,” she said, speaking in mixed English and Filipino.

Jobelyn Basas, field network director of Peacebuilders Community, Inc., a partner organization of Coffee for Peace, said local officials allow the BACOFA members, in small groups and only during daytime, to go back to the area to harvest as there are abundant quantities that are ripe for picking.

“So far they have not declared it a no-farm zone,” she said, although some of the farmers are too traumatized to take the risk.

Ms. Basas also noted that aside from the Balutakay residents, another 450 families from the neighboring Bagobo-Tagabawa indigenous community, mostly with members who are trained and involved in the coffee post-harvest process, have also been affected.

These over 600 families from Davao del Sur province are among the more than 71,000 affected by the October earthquakes, which were felt in most parts of Mindanao and left Cotabato province, the epicenter area, the hardest hit.

As of end-November, data from the national disaster management council show over 13,000 families are still in 107 evacuation centers while almost 25,000 others who have been displaced but are not in the temporary shelters are also being given assistance.

The Mindanao earthquakes —which came after similarly strong tremors last year in the Batanes islands in July and in Central Luzon in April, alongside the average 20 typhoons that sweep through the country every year — have prompted the Senate to make the proposal to create a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) a priority.

Lyndon L. Ancajas, administrative training chief of the Davao City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMC), said whatever final version of the proposed law will be passed, what is crucial is improving access to national funding for local governments, particularly small towns.

“I read a few versions and it looks good… especially the funds in store for those municipalities that have a very small budget for DRRM,” he said.

In the case of a big city like Davao, which is also a pioneer in a centralized response system through its 911 hub, Mr. Ancajas said what the city has been working on is expanding and strengthening an even more localized response system to “ensure that all bases are covered.”

“Various offices of the city government are encouraged to create their own disaster action team… This is to enhance and intensify disaster preparedness,” he said.

Cotabato Vice-Governor Emmylou T. Mendoza, who previously served as governor for three terms and was acting governor when the earthquakes struck, said the creation of a DDR should mean having a “more focused approach for interventions and coordination.”

“In our experience, for as long as we follow the disaster protocol and line of command, there will be no overlap (in functions),” she said, citing how the various national agencies helped Cotabato through the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC).

“This is okay pa naman (so far), maybe we just need to strengthen it. But of course, I can’t speak for the experiences of the other LGUs (local government units) or areas hit by calamity,” Ms. Mendoza said.

Peacebuilders President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel A. Pantoja — who has been on the ground for the earthquake relief assessment and was involved in past post-calamity activities such as in super typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas, typhoon Pablo (Bopha) in Mindanao, and the Marawi City siege — said he can attest to how disasters are often “politicized,” usually at the local government level, which is at the front lines of emergency response.

“Hopefully the DDR will be able to transcend local politics,” he said.

“And hopefully the DDR will not lead to ‘disaster capitalism,’” he added, referring to how rehabilitation programs for both natural and man-made calamities, in many cases, leave the most vulnerable victims even more marginalized.

An official of the Department of National Defense’s Office of Civil Defense, which serves as the implementing arm of the NDRRMC, has cautioned legislators about a DDR that would end up with “overwhelming” functions.

OCD Undersecretary Ricardo B. Jalad, at a Nov. 11 Senate panel meeting on the proposed new department, noted that disaster management involves many aspects, from preparedness to response to reconstruction.

“That would be a very big function to be placed under one department,” Mr. Jalad said, and suggested that the DDR focus on the planning aspect.

“Lead role can be assigned to the department. For the implementation, it would still rely on the lead agencies,” he said.

The National Resilience Council (NRC), a private sector-led initiative launched in October 2017, recognizes the primary role of LGUs in overall disaster management.

The NRC, with its goal of strengthening public-private sector collaboration and building up LGU capacity, has named Iloilo City as its first model locality on developing disaster resilience.

NRC President Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said Iloilo was chosen because of the existing strong collaboration between the LGU, the private sector, and the science and technology community.

“Iloilo has a very good foundation for how evidence-based risk governance can actually be part of the sustainability of the city,” she said in an interview in the city.

The three-year Adopt-a-City program for Iloilo is a multi-sector endeavor involving the academe, particularly various universities in the Visayas, national agencies, private companies, and foreign experts.

On Dec. 2, the city government signed a memorandum of cooperation with the NRC, Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction, and the Manila Observatory for the establishment of the first locally-based disaster information system.

On the same day, an agreement was also signed for the Smart Sensor Network, which also involves national agencies, alongside the universities, and private firms Alliance Global Group, Megaworld Iloilo, and SM City Iloilo.

“Today’s agreements are complementary to the science and technology as well as leadership and governance goals of our Local Government Systems Program for Iloilo City. What we’re trying to do is provide a system of environmental monitoring, a way to gather data through the networks and equipment both for climate, weather, and earthquake events,” Ms. Loyzaga said.

Manila Observatory Executive Director Gemma T. Narisma said data is important, especially for developing cities, to address the increasing risks of climate change and disasters.

“Things are changing not only in terms of the hazards but also in terms of hazards and vulnerabilities as the city continues to develop, so even now it is important to have this data… We should look at them, study them and try to see what development pathways should Iloilo do so that it will lead to a more resilient future,” she said.

Iloilo CDRRM Office head Donna P. Magno said the disaster resilience program is not just about the local government’s readiness and capacity, but having an informed and prepared population.

“We are frequently exposed to many hazards such as typhoon, flooding, fire, storm surge, and earthquakes; that is why we are stepping up our efforts to reduce the risk of the disasters and improve the competencies of the residents,” Ms. Magno told BusinessWorld.

Mayor Jerry P. Treñas said apart from residents, disaster resilience is also about protecting investments in the city.

“We need to be resilient not only to make sure that our people will be safe but also investors,” he said.

Ms. Magno said a DDR would be most welcome as another partner “to achieve our dream of becoming a resilience model,” and at the same time noted that disaster management ultimately starts with ‘self help.’”

“Since the first level of disaster management is ‘self-help’… we are really aggressive in terms of our community education programs,” she said.

BACOFA, a community proud of its achievements and full of optimism in the continued growth of the coffee venture, is getting sufficient relief and short-term help from private sector partners, including its network of foreign buyers, according to Ms. Pantoja.

But its future — where the residents will be relocated, the timeframe for setting up new houses, the fate of the farms, the site for rebuilding the coffee processing facilities — rests largely on decisions that will be made by the government.

Ms. Pantoja said given the public sector’s poor track record in implementing rehabilitation programs, the people of Balutakay feel insecure about what lies ahead.

“They ask, ‘Ano na (Now what)?’”

She said it is possible having a DDR would improve the system. And should there be one, she said it must be “pro-people” above anything else.

“Human dignity,” Ms. Pantoja said, must be at the core of disaster resilience. — Marifi S. Jara, Maya M. Padillo, and Emme Rose S. Santiagudo