Hope amid despair

Liling Magtolis Briones

The devastation wreaked by Typhoon Reming on the hapless residents of Southern Luzon is only one of many natural disasters which occurred in quick succession this year.

We thought Milenyo was the mother of all supertyphoons. It turned out that destructive forces brought by earlier calamities were surpassed by Reming. Extra-strong winds, excessive rainfall, rampaging floods, huge boulders, mudflows, landslides—name it, Reming brought them with unparalleled fury.

Stunned TV viewers were not staring at death and desolation in far off Africa, Indonesia or Bangladesh. They were looking at the dead bodies of fellow Filipinos in Albay—some wrapped in torn mats, sacks and old newspapers, with ants busily crawling among them.

The Philippines as a disaster area

This year we had all sorts of imaginable as well as unimaginable natural disasters. Who would have thought that a mountain would collapse on an entire barrio? And who would have predicted that a volcano would regurgitate tons of mudflows and volcanic boulders on three Albay towns and their hapless barrios?

It is wishful thinking to assume that Reming will be the last of our natural disasters. El Niño and La Niña phenomena, global warming and climate change have been building up for decades. We cannot assume that we will be unaffected by these global signals of impending disaster.

Disaster management and governance

It is increasingly clear that both national and local governments have to upgrade capacities for disaster management and governance. Experts loftily tell us that disaster management as a specialization has been around for decades. We have Filipino experts who are helping other countries set up disaster-management systems. They admit that the Philippines is tragically unprepared for the range and scale of disasters predicted during the recent United Nations’ Summit on Climate Change. We are not even prepared for recent natural disasters like Reming.

Our capacity to predict disasters, whether typhoons or volcanic eruptions, has improved considerably. However, we need to be able to forecast the extent of damage which a typhoon signal No. 4, or a violent earthquake can wreak on barrios beside rivers, barangays at the foot of volcanoes, seashore towns facing the open sea and flood-prone, billboard-infested urban centers. And we need to prepare for different levels of destruction. In other words, disaster preparedness.

We need to gather our meteorologists, hydrologists, geologists and other natural scientists, as well as our management experts. And we must be ready to invest vast financial resources on researches and simulations, using the most advanced technology.

Will someone please tell the congressmen to stop beating the dead horse of constitutional change and start learning about climate change? And will someone warn the Executive that instead of obsessive attention to super-regions, it is time to start preparing for super typhoons, super earthquakes and super droughts?

One of the songs of Bagong Dugo, a group specializing in political satire, goes, “Ang buong Pilipinas ay disaster area/Ngunit and pinakamalaking disaster ay nasa….”

Guess where.


On Wednesday, November 29, an event of hope took place in the Senate on the eve of Reming’s arrival. This was the Fifth Local Government Leadership Awards (LGLA) ceremony.

The LGLA was initiated by Sen. Aquilino Q. Pimental Jr., champion of Philippine local autonomy, with the assistance of the Center for Local and Regional Governance of the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance.

The primary objective of LGLA is to recognize outstanding local officials who initiated and managed successful programs and projects, which significantly improved the lives of their constituents.

Twenty-five outstanding officials were led by Most Outstanding Governor George P. Arnaiz of the province of Negros Oriental, Most Outstanding City Mayor Alfonso S. Casurra of Surigao City, and Most Outstanding Municipal Mayor Jupiter C. Dominguez of Sabangan, Mt. Province.

They were chosen by a distinguished National Selection Committee headed by Senator Pimentel with members coming from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kapisanan ng mga Brodcaster sa Pilipinas, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Development Academy of the Philippines.

Governor Arnaiz was successful in harnessing public-private partnerships for projects benefiting his province, including food production and improved health. Mayor Casurra developed programs for Muslims and indigenous peoples even as he initiated wide-ranging administrative reforms. Mayor Dominguez used traditional community practices to enhance participatory democracy in his municipality.

The awards were not based on paper reports. Technical teams were fielded to validate successful projects. They climbed mountains, crossed rivers, and tirelessly interviewed citizens.

The Local Government Leadership Awards has shown that with commitment, strong leadership and effective management skills, a public official can serve public interest.

Truly, there is hope amid despair.

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