Archive for National Disaster Coordinating Council

Dam If You Do, Dam If You Don’t

Posted in All About The Philippines, Duke420 Articles, Philippine News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by South Arts Festival

The militant group Bayan said that National Disaster Coordinating Council chief and Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro should also be held accountable for the flooding in Pangasinan.

Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo said, “Teodoro is as accountable as the dam executives. At the minimum, he should have promptly coordinated the timing and volume of the release [of water from San Roque dam] with the possible evacuation of residents and other preparations needed by the affected towns of Pangasinan.”

“It is appaling that he [Teodoro] is clueless on data as basic as the amount of water released by the San Roque Dam,” she added.

The San Roque dam’s critical level is at 290 meters above sea level. Based on available data, water levels already spiked as early as October 4 and continued to rise until October 9. Data from the weather bureau’s website showed that the water levels jumped from 281 meters to 284 meters above see level as early as October 4, and moved up to 289.1 meters from October 6 to October 9.

Had this data been diligently studied, and presented as a serious concern, then an earlier release of water may have brought down the water levels without having it reach the near critical water level of 290 meters. Also, if this information was already available on October 4, then perhaps Pangasinan residents could have been warned and informed for plans to release water from the dam.

At the very least, the effects of the release of so much water from the San Roque dam could’ve been looked into, and preparations could’ve been made to prevent the serious flooding it brought to Pangasinan, which left 80% of the province flooded and underwater. Coupled with the devastating winds and rains brought by typhoon Parma (typhoon Pepeng here in the Philippines), it is no wonder that the consequences were disastrous.

Water Released From San Roque Dam Responsible For Floods Around Rosales Town in Pangasinan Province

Water Released From San Roque Dam Responsible For Floods Around Rosales Town in Pangasinan Province

A similar situation also presented itself during tropical storm Ketsana (Ondoy here in the Philippines), wherein the water levels at the Angat Dam in Bulacan almost reached the critical level of 216 meters above sea level, and had to release its water in the midst of the tropical storm. Some have suggested that the release by the Angat Dam is what is responsibled for the flashfloods that ravaged and killed several people in the province of Bulacan, which includes Meycauayan City and in the towns of Marilao, Bocaue and Sta. Maria.

Of course, while it is necessary for the dams to open their spillways to prevent reaching a critical level where the dam could burst, the big complaint of citizens and a group like Bayan is that there were no announcements made by dam officials about the release of the water.

Malabon City police officer Rommel Habig, whose home was flooded during Ondoy, blames the negligent release of water from the Angat Dam as the cause of the massive flooding.

“There would have been enough time for the people to do what was necessary, if only they [dam officials] made an announcement earlier that the spillways would be opened,” said Habig.

“They issued an advisory only after the flashflood,” he claimed.

Personally,  I feel that dam officials should be accountable for their negligence in not informing the proper authorities about the critical state of the water levels, and not informing the public (especially the citizens who might be affected by the dam release) that the dam would release water.

Lives could’ve been saved and preparations could have been put into place to prevent such a disaster. While the dam officials may have saved the dam from bursting, and causing even more damage, their lack of foresight and initiative to inform those who might be affected is plain irresponsible. Their responsibility to protect the dam and prevent it from bursting should also include a responsibility to protect the citizens who might suffer when the water is relesed.

At the very least, someone should make a public notice, so that a boy might know to avoid swimming in the river because the currents would be stronger. However, without any warning issued by dam officials – the consequences have been very fatal indeed.

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“Danghang Salamat, Ondoy” by Ramil Digal Gulle

Posted in All About The Philippines, Philippine Current Events, Philippine Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2009 by South Arts Festival

[The Following Excerpt Was Written by Ramil Digal Gulle, And I Am Just Re-posting His Inspiring Message Here]

All I wanted to do on Saturday morning was to go to my doctor. After getting off the MRT station in Kamuning (about 10 am) I waded through ankle-deep floodwaters to accompany my wife to the TV station where she works. The rest of the day was already clear in my head: Go to the doctor, finish my business there by around lunchtime (there are usually quite a number of patients, and I wasn’t expecting to finish earlier than that), pick up my wife and we go home for some needed time with the kids.

I thought nothing of it when the doctor’s nurse texted me to say that the doctor’s clinic was already flooded. The clinic is in the low-lying Kamias area. Fine, I told myself, I’ll just go to Hi-Top and buy a bottle of wine and ingredients for dinner. My daughter had requested that I cook for dinner.

After Hi-Top, I proceeded to the TV station where my wife works. I was walking the whole time because of the rain. I felt no danger despite the rain. The rain wasn’t that strong by the time I left Hi-Top. Then I reached the corner of Panay Avenue and Sergeant Esguerra. Holy shit. The floodwaters were neck-deep in Esguerra!

I turned left on Panay, planning to take the train at the Quezon Avenue MRT then disembark at Kamuning station, so I could just walk towards the TV station. I reached Hen Lin (a Chinese fastfood) which is right under the MRT station. I was surprised to see that Edsa was flooded. The area in front of the McDonald’s outlet was waist-deep in flood.

There was a guy—he was soaked from head-to-foot—who was warning people getting off the Quezon Avenue MRT station. He was telling everyone who could hear him: “O, wag na kayo dyan sa Esguerra. Hanggang leeg doon. Dito sa may Edsa hanggang baywang. Mamili na lang kayo kung saan niyo gustong magpakamatay.”

[Don’t go to Esguerra. The water there is neck-deep. Over there at Edsa it’s waist-deep. You guys choose which side you prefer. You choose where you want to kill yourself.]

The guy was trying to be funny. I went up the MRT station, boarded the train and got off at Kamuning. When I reached the TV station, my wife texted me that she won’t be going home. All TV news staff were required to stay because of widespread flooding.

I called the kids at home. Thank God there wasn’t too much rain in Cavite. Finally, I saw what was happening in Marikina and Rizal on the TV set at the visitor’s area. Shit. I won’t be able to go home. Then I also learned that the way to Cavite was impassable.

After talking to my 9-year-old daughter some more and assessing that Cavite would likely not be affected by the typhoon, I made up my mind to wait for my wife. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to let her go home alone, with floodwaters rising in Quezon City.

People were coming to the TV station. Every single one was asking for help. They had loved ones trapped inside their house by floodwaters. There were loved ones already on rooftops. The floods were rising too fast in some areas. And so began my long day: filled with the weeping of women, worries about friends trapped in rooftops, worries about my kids (what if the typhoon turns and hits Cavite?), and a feeling of utter helplessness.

My wife worked till about midnight. We tried to get to Cavite but even before we reached the tollgate of the expressway leading to Bacoor, huge trucks were already turning back. We were in a cab. I decided not to risk whatever was ahead. There could have been floods, an accident, etc.

My daughter kept calling my mobile phone. She was crying. When were we going to get home? After getting assured that there was no flooding in Cavite, that our kids were not in danger of any flood, I told my wife we should just wait for morning. We turned back and stayed in a hotel—the hotel lobby to be exact. All the rooms were booked. It was already 2am. We couldn’t sleep. We simply waited till the sun was up.

When I finally got home today, the first thing I did was gather wife and kids for prayers. We prayed out of gratitude. We were all safe. Then we prayed for all those who were still trapped, who were still struggling to stay alive amid floodwaters. I was crying.

I find myself unable to sleep after being awake since 6 am yesterday morning. I’m still keyed up. My wife’s asleep, finally, after getting a massage. I want to sleep but each time I manage to doze off, I jerk awake at the slightest noise. So I’ll just write.

I can’t get the sound of weeping mothers out of my head. That’s how I spent the night while stranded in Quezon City. All these mothers kept talking about their kids. One mother, Lina, could not help but cry for her kids, who were trapped in the third storey of a neighbor’s house for out eight hours already by the time she spoke to me. Her husband was also trapped by floodwaters—he could not leave his office in Quezon City.

Here are some things I learned from the experience. I can write them down in the comfort of home with my wife and kids safely with me. I actually feel guilty that I’m in this situation. I feel guilty that I’m not out there on a rubber boat saving people. So I’ll write some more and go to bed. After I get some sleep, I might have a saner perspective.

Our families are not prepared for climate change. Typhoon Ondoy was true to its name, which means “little boy”—it wasn’t a supertyphoon. And yet, we all failed in so many fronts.

In our own home, we don’t have an emergency kit. The flashlight is no longer where I always put it. Furthermore, I’m not aware of any evacuation plan in our community. Who do we call? Where do we evacuate when waters start rising? I have no idea. It’s the sort of ignorance that kills.

One friend of mine lost her possessions in the floods. Her husband and kids are safe. She had the quick and sensible thinking to have her family evacuate shortly after the water began seeping into their house and after the power was cut off. They left everything and booked themselves in a hotel. “I lost everything,” she told me over her mobile phone. I told her that the most important things in her life were saved.

Our government—both the national government and the LGUs–is not prepared for climate change. If people are safe now—relatively, for some, because it’s again starting to rain and many are still trapped on rooftops, awaiting rescue—it’s because of prayer. So many people were—are still—praying. It seems the prayers were heard because we all got a respite from the rain.

Filipinos have a saying, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (God dispenses mercy but man has to do the work). God has already dispensed his mercy. Will we do our part?

There’s no excuse for the lack of rubber boats, for example. We have floods every year. But every year, we are unprepared. The two rubber boats that began rescuing people in Marikina were a relief to know about, but why only two?

Philippine National Red Cross Chairman Dick Gordon tried to transport several more rubber boats but these had to come all the way from Olongapo. And with the traffic jams at the expressways, they could not get to Metro Manila in time.

The headquarters of the National Disaster Coordinating Council and the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are both in Quezon City. And yet, for nearly 12 hours, Quezon City residents trapped in floods could not be rescued. The AFP, if I remember correctly, usually has the biggest slice of the national budget every year. But where were the choppers? Where were the rubber boats? Clearly something is very wrong.

Then we recall how General Carlos Garcia, former AFP comptroller, was caught (by US authorities, not by Philippine authorities) trying to bring in millions of pesos in cash to the US. It does not inspire faith in the military leadership.

We also recall a lot of things that are disquieting: government resources being used to secure a questionable telecoms deal with a Chinese firm; millions of pesos spent on Presidential dinners abroad; millions of pesos in campaign contributions unaccounted for; millions of pesos spent on a California mansion; billions of pesos spent on foreign trips; and a cancelled plan to buy a new Presidential jet.

How do you explain all that to kids trapped on their rooftop for nearly 24 hours—soaking wet, hungry, crying for their mothers and going insane with fear?

How do you explain the fact that the government can spend millions upon millions on so many other projects, but could only produce two rubber boats to rescue scores of residents trapped in a flooded Marikina village? How do you explain the President’s lobster and steak dinners to Rizal residents neck-deep in muddy floodwaters?

Every year, we get floods and typhoons. Every year, we give money to the AFP and the NDCC. And all that the Marikina residents get are two rubber boats?

And wasn’t Marikina always being trumpeted as some sort of “First World City in a Third World Country”? Clean and green Marikina. Disciplined Marikina, a jewel of law and order in the chaos of the Mega Manila.

The Marikina River floods every year. Every year. But when it really mattered, the City Government of Marikina did not have enough emergency equipment, did not have enough rubber boats. Or if it did, it did not have the capacity to deploy these resources in time. It seemed to have no plan for the evacuation of residents at Provident Village before floodwaters could reach it.

And former Marikina mayor Bayani Fernando wants to run the rest of the country the way he did Marikina—or at least, that’s the impression we get. We could be wrong.

To be fair, none of us expected something like Typhoon Ondoy. But the lack of rubber boats, the seeming lack of coordinated response, the empty promises made over the media—these are simply not acceptable. These do not inspire our confidence in government once the next super typhoon hits. I mentioned Marikina only as an example.

I’m not blaming Fernando or his wife (the present Marikina mayor). I’m just stating how things appear. The real story about the slow rescue, etc. might unfold in the next few days.

[Kris Aquino was talking on TV about Marikina rescue efforts. She said that according to one Marikina resident, there were rubber boats deployed by the Marikina government–but the river’s currents were so strong that the rubber boats got overturned. It was also pointed out that Marikina Mayor Marides Fernando did everything she could but “nature’s wrath” was just too powerful. In the interest of fairness I should point this out.]

What happened to Marikina can happen anywhere. The local governments of Bulacan, Pasig and Rizal fared no better. Are our local governments prepared for climate change? Are they prepared for typhoons like Ondoy, or much stronger ones? Your guess is as good as mine.

What would have happened if Ondoy didn’t leave the country in the hours following the massive flooding? What if it was a super typhoon that decided to stay for a few days?

The answer is so obvious that we’re scared to state it: Death and Chaos. So many people, so many children will die. Our loved ones will die. We will die.

The next few days, weeks and months will tell us whether the government cares to prevent this, or whether it wants to use climate change as a kind of population control.

The government’s priorities have been clear in the way it spends its money and allocates its resources. For example, the AFP budget keeps growing. But what about the budget for the national weather agency PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration)? There were reports a few years back that the budget was actually slashed.

During a report on GMA-7 news last night, PAGASA OIC Nathaniel Cruz said that there was a piece of equipment that could help the agency estimate a typhoon’s potential amount of rainfall (very useful in the case of Ondoy, which poured a month’s worth of rainfall in about five hours)—a Doppler radar. Does PAGASA have this equipment?

No. The national weather agency, the only one that could warn us if we should evacuate because a typhoon will bring a deluge, does not have a Doppler radar. But it’s on its way, clarifies Cruz.

PAGASA, in Filipino, also means “Hope”. Based on how the government seems to prioritize PAGASA, the weather agency, do we have reason to hope?

It was drummed into my head a long time ago that when we use the term “government” in a democracy, we should really refer to ourselves. After all, in a democracy, governance must be by, of and for the people.

So it’s either we’re not really a democracy (because we always stand back and just let a bunch of evil yoyos run things for us) or we’re all just not getting this governance thing right. We’re not governing things the way we should.

It’s raining again. I hope we get our acts together soon.

Philippines Current Events: Coordinating Disaster Is A Disaster For National Disaster Coordinating Councild

Posted in All About The Philippines, Duke420 Articles, Philippine Current Events, Philippine News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2009 by South Arts Festival

I don’t like the National Disaster Coordinating Council of the Philippines. Simply because they lack COORDINATION! It’s a given that Ondoy has brought so much damage to property, to homes, and not to mention the thousands of people who had to be evacuated.

Coordinating rescue operations is no joke, but it’s rather such a disappointment that they couldn’t get something going quickly enough. After all, it’s a matter of coordination. If the NDCC receives a call for help, then they coordinate the efforts with the nearest rescue operation unit  in that area – whether it be hospital, police or barangay. From there, the local rescue unit will give an assessment of the situation, (i.e. “we cannot get to those victims due to severe floods.”)

From that point the NDCC will coordinate this information to those who can do something about the situation, such as the Philippine Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy, or maybe they might have their own special equipment or task force that can respond to the call since the local unit cannot, and then THAT is dispatched with the utmost emergency. And then coordinate a place with which they can use for evacuation. After all, you don’t just rescue the cat from a tree just to leave him in a pit of dogs.

The NDCC Cannot Coordinate This Disaster

The NDCC Cannot Coordinate This Disaster

What happened to yesterday’s disaster because of Ondoy had the phone lines of the NDCC on fire, and yet without anyone to really provide the proper coordination in order to get things done. The slow process of bureaucracy before Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro could mobilize anything is just not acceptable when lives and property are at stake, especially those who stand to lose EVERYTHING.

Sorry – Gilbert Teodoro – but you just lost my vote.

Then, there’s that NDCC Deputy Director Anthony Golez Jr., who I believe may have a good heart, but just looks like a total dweeb. Anthony Golez Jr., in an interview with ABS-CBN, asked for an apology for the delayed effort in the rescue operations, citing that the flood made things difficult. Sorry – Anthony  Golez Jr. – I was taught to produce results and not excuses, and I can’t believe you even had the time to conduct an interview to apologize instead of getting on that damn phone and finding more trucks and more rubber boats and more choppers, or coordinating more evacuation centers.

Then, when he was asked if school and work would be suspended, Anthony Golez Jr. quipped something like it would depend on the bureaucracy. Apparently, there is a criteria that must be followed for the suspension of classes or work, or the declaration of any calamity, and it has such a frigging red-tape process. (you may check it out here). It’s no wonder kids take the dangerous trek to school at 5Am and get to school on time at 7am, only to find out that government will suspend classes at 11am (government work starts at 8am or 9am.) By that time – the situation of the weather is near disastrous, and students are stranded.

So, anyway, Anthony Golez Jr. can’t say if there are no classes or work on Monday because some government offices are closed on Sunday, and no one is around to write the memo. If you look at the red tape process of suspending classes and work by the NDCC, you will understand the importance of the memo.

Apart from the rescue operations, the NDCC should have better coordination in the gathering of information as to those that may need relief. They should also coordinate all the efforts of volunteer groups and point them to designated areas. They should also coordinate the charity and relief assistance from various groups to send out to evacuation centers or disaster areas. COORDINATION – it’s in their job description.

Instead, what’s going on now, is that several groups and foundations have risen up to volunteer their services, and yet they are like headless chickens running around. Sure, ABSCBN is doing a tele-thon and getting donations  with even the supposed head of Coca-Cola – pledging 2 million bottles of Wilkins drinking water. Fine – it sounds good on television, but I want those 2 million bottles now! I want 10,000 of those put on a truck and sent to Marikina. I want 10,000 more sent to Rizal. I want 20,000 more floated down the Pasig river to reach homes that cannot be reached. I want immediate action through coordination. I want to see the pledged 2 million water bottles making its way somewhere it is needed. Instead, it might take 2 weeks for me to ever see those bottles, and some might just find its way to a studio set and not to a relief center.

The Red Cross have their hotlines. ABSCBN Foundation have their own fund-raiser. Politicians and presidential aspirants are setting up their own relief  centers. – those are all good. But then, eventually, there has to be someone at the top of all that to say, “ABSCBN release that 1 million peso donation so we can rent out 5 choppers to do rescue operations. NOW!”

We need someone to say,  “Red Cross! Shell out Php100,000 so we can run gensets at the evacuation centers, and put cots and blankets, and give medication…”

The good will of the people and their good intentions to help their fellow Filipinos is fine, but it’s the coordination of important action that is needed during a state of calamity that is truly lacking. We may have saved a child from drowning in the flood, but if we put that child  in a place that has no food or medicine or warmth from the storm, then we just gave that child a new place to die. We didn’t save that child at all.

If there is no one in charge with that kind of capacity, power or responsibility, to command that kind of action from local government units, NGO’s, or from private groups, then there is no point in putting up a National Disaster Coordinating Council if they cannot coordinate such things at a time of disaster.

In other countries, like the US – when a policeman needs to accost your vehicle to chase a suspect, then he gets it by flashing a badge and without questions asked. And if he wrecks it, then it will be cared for by the government. That kind of authority empowering a simple police officer allows things to get done in terms of results. We have to put that in a bigger scale in order to mobilize things at a time of disaster, at a state of calamity.

Anyway, the National Disaster Coordinating Council can begin the change by upgrading the NDCC website to make it look like a site of action, and not just a mere web-brochure on press releases about agreements made for fudning. I’m beginnning to get the feeling that the NDCC is a lobbyist group in search of relief, instead of an action group. If it were action, then the first page of their site should be a form for an incident report, or a hotline number in big bold letters. And don’t forget to check the NDCC contacts directory (the number of Golez isn’t even there!). If the primary contact number of the NDCC is the “Webnaster”, then we are truly screwed. And if the alignment of the NDCC contacts directory page is anything to consider on how to coordinate things – then God save us all because the NDCC surely doesn’t look capable at all.

Don’t even get me started with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD.)

Anyway, I was just informed that there is an online  Rescue InfoHub Central. I’m just uncertain how this works, or who’s responsible or on top of this, but it’s disconcerting that there are only 200 incident reports with everything that is going on.

I just really wish that the coordination of this disaster be swift. It is frustrating to think that with all the cooks in the kitchen, the efforts for rescue, relief and rehabilitation will be delayed in bureaucracy. Before you know it – the funds raised will be used for an election campaign, or some other misappropriate use.

By the way – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo‘s office has been rather quiet.