Lessons from Typhoon Ompong

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

Of the 95 fatalities so far reported as a direct result of Typhoon Ompong that slammed into Northern Luzon last week, 16 people perished from the wind and flooding that it brought. The majority of those who perished – 79 so far – was the result of  a landslide that buried a small settlement of miners and their families in Itogon. The relatively low number of casualties in other parts of Luzon can be attributed to the pro-active and pre-emptive actions by the government – at all levels – in evacuating residents at risk to safer areas. Conversely, the high number of casualties in Itogon was as a result of the absence of such preparedness by government.

Cause of deaths

It is not the landslides’ fault that people died. This seems rather harsh to say but not if you consider that disasters happen when hazards intersect with people resulting in the loss of lives or and destruction of property. A landslide in a remote, unpopulated area would be characterized as a natural phenomenon. But the people in Itogon were working and living in harm’s way. They lived on the slopes where they were engaged in small scale mining as their only or main source of livelihood. Limestone is known to be both porous and powdery. One needs to ask why communities were permitted to live beneath them. The same question might be asked of people living in Naga, Cebu and Itogon, Benguet.

What was missing

Overall risk governance was missing. Why were the people left exposed and vulnerable? Apparently there were many warnings from both DILG and the private sector of the need to vacate the landslide prone area. Instead of heeding these, small scale mining was permitted implicitly or explicitly by the mayor in dangerous slopes. The lure of gold that benefit the miners and the local government led the latter to overlook the risks that the local chief executive should have known and who should have designed and implemented the appropriate policies and interventions – including designating no-build danger zones.


Hazard science is needed at Ground Zero.  Watching attempts to locate those buried in Itogon and Benguet brought back memories of the rockslide that buried the town of Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte in February 2006 claiming the lives of over 1,300 people. Had there been base maps that showed where people and buildings actually were before it happened, a more effective search and rescue plan could have been undertaken.


Disaster forensics is needed to inform future action on prevention on resilience. Thanks to advances in scientific research in the DOST and in academe, there is a considerable amount of good hazard science already available. But is anyone in charge of analyzing the hazard data against the exposure and vulnerability of communities and sectors, such as agriculture? Why are people in harm’s way, in the first place? Why won’t people move during a preemptive evacuation? Risk analyses and  new metrics are essential to addressing the complexity of evolving risks and achieving a multi-stakeholder, whole-of society collaboration for resilience.

New metrics needed to guide a multi-stakeholder resilience roadmap. The clear directions coming from the top that I praised in part one of this column were largely undone by poor operational know-how and commitment on the ground.  It is with this realization that the National Resilience Council is working on improving the risk governance capabilities of LGUs. Local chief executives and their teams will use a resilience scorecard and undergo a three-year program on science-based leadership and governance which will enable them to develop innovative public-private initiatives to reduce risk in their jurisdiction.

Aside from poverty, it can be said that those killed in disasters are victims of organizational failure particularly at the local government level to address past, current and future risks. They should be held accountable for such misgovernance and not pass the buck.

“Towards a digital future”

On Nov. 7, the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development will host this conference in cooperation with PLDT and others. I have always expressed concern that the Philippines, once the leader in ASEAN information technology, is now the laggard. On the relatively new challenge of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we urgently need to focus on this from a government and private sector perspective. In a modest way, that is the raison d’etre for the conference.

Two key invitees are the Secretary of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Secretary of Information Communication Technology (DICT). In today’s STAR, the column of DR. Sicat discussed the challenge of the 4th Industrial Revolution.  He described the DOST presentation at a recent PIDS conference as “lame”. He also expressed concern that DICT was focused solely on the plans for a third telco.

On the subject of DOST, I believe that Secretary de la Pena will acquit himself satisfactorily at the conference. During my last meeting with him, I was very impressed with his programs which is a manifestation of his competence.

On the subject of DICT, I sympathize with Secretary Rio because he is under pressure from the Palace on the issue of a third telco even as I express my belief that there is an urgent need for  an e-government portal where all government services can be transacted. I also cite the provision in the law for the creation of a CIO Council. Perhaps the absence of such a council is the reason for no focus on e-government. I hope the Secretary will accept my invitation. The conference is the appropriate venue for discussion of these two topics.

Romulo, R. (2018, September 28). Lessons from Typhoon Ompong, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/business/2018/09/28/1855247/lessons-typhoon-ompong

Opinion: Disaster-prone Asia must not cut corners on critical infrastructure

By Mami Mizutori
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)

Much of the success in reducing mortality from disasters across Asia and the Pacific, particularly in the case of storms and floods, is due to improvements in early warning systems, weather forecasts and timely evacuations. This is a significant achievement.

However, while one can evacuate people, it is impossible at short notice to relocate critical infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, roads, airports, railways, nuclear power plants or manufacturing facilities which end up in harm’s way.

Damage to critical infrastructure is escalating the global cost of extreme weather events, earthquakes and tsunamis, but countries in Asia and the Pacific are suffering inordinately as the level and intensity of disaster events across the region continually raises the bar for resilience

See original post on zilient.org: https://www.zilient.org/article/opinion-disaster-prone-asia-must-not-cut-corners-critical-infrastructure

10 reasons businesses need to build resilience to disasters

By Mami Mizutori
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)

This article is part of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN

Extreme weather events were seen as the most prominent risk in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Risks Report. Whether it’s the threat of a flood, storm, earthquake, pandemic or man-made hazard, building the resilience of your business to disasters is becoming just as important as managing your reputation or testing your products before launching them.

There are strong economic, financial, legal, reputational and regulatory reasons for doing so

Read more on weforum.org: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/10-reasons-businesses-build-resilience-disaster

Huge step towards disaster resilience

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

President Duterte’s earnest call for Congress to pass a law creating a Department of Disaster Resilience during his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) is hopefully the start of a serious effort to address our country’s inadequate disaster management capabilities. The President had made a similar call in his second SONA, although absent a detailed proposal to create a standalone department.

This time around, the President said the Cabinet would be submit its proposal for the creation of such a department. In addition to the Cabinet proposed legislation, I understand that there, in fact, are several bills in the House and in the Senate – with varying approaches to disaster risk reduction and resilience.

The Cabinet proposal seems to be the most comprehensive, even though I also have my reservations about some of its provisions. I do hope it responds pro-actively to meet the requirements of what the President said is “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.” I also hope it will welcome and, in fact, facilitate critical contributions to risk reduction and resilience from the non-government sector, specifically, the private sector, academia, and civil society.

But whatever final version emerges, it is our fervent hope Congress will respond with extreme urgency to what we understand to be growing risk to climate change, natural and technological hazards, as well as, human-induced emergencies. According to media reports records from the House’s official website, it says the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience bills remain pending at the Committee on Government Reorganization since July 2016, which does not augur well.

By a fortuitous turn of events, the new Speaker of the House, former president Gloria Arroyo, is familiar with the issue and has taken the cudgel in moving this bill at this critical juncture. To show that she means business, one of her first act as Speaker was to convene a briefing for lawmakers with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Monday, July 30. During briefing, she announced her intention to create a House Committee on Disaster Resilience to tackle the bills seeking to create the Department of Disaster Resilience. With such forceful leadership, I am optimistic SGMA will be able to shepherd this bill through the House fairly quickly. The question now is how fast the Senate will move and how much gap will have to be bridged between their version of the bill. We anticipate that there will be attempts to produce a compromise bill and we hope that this will not be the cause of further delay.

Resiliency is key

As readers of this column are probably aware, the private sector has been active in promoting disaster resiliency. To paraphrase the UN Office for Disaster Reduction, resilience is defined as the ability of a system, community, or society exposed to natural disasters to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform, and recover from the effects of that disaster. We wish to add to that definition by stating that any recovery from a disaster should be achieved in ways that enhance society’s capacity to respond to future risks. While resilience is our goal, transformation in terms of evidence-informed leadership, knowledge, competencies and skills is critical to achieving it. This type of transformative leadership must be achieved through multi-stakeholder partnerships at both national and local levels.

A number of resiliency endeavors are in place at various levels of government and with the involvement of the private sector. The need to align these endeavors led to the establishment of the National Resilience Council (NRC). The NRC is a science and technology based public-private partnership headed by the secretary of National Defense as the co-chair for government, together with Hans Sy of SM Prime Holdings as the co-chair for private sector. The vice-chairs are DILG Undersecretary Austere Panadero, Ed Chua of Makati Business Club, Fr. Jett Villarin and Ernie Garilao representing the government, business, and scientific community/academe and CSOs, respectively. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga is the president and Malu Erni is the executive director.

Recognizing that local governments play a primary role in achieving resilience, the NRC engaged directly with partners in the the business community, the executive and legislative departments, academia and the civil society sector in order to seek demand-driven solutions that are innovative, science-based, and localized. To date, the NRC is working with eight local government units, namely: Bataan province, and the cities of Valenzuela, Naga, Iriga, Iloilo, Ormoc, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga in a three-year program that combines training in leadership and governance and science and technology. Each LGU has now organized its own Local Resilience Councils. The active participation of civil society groups such as urban poor associations and PBSP, the armed forces and, both private and public universities ensure that multi-stakeholder commitments to bouncing forward, instead of bouncing back to our historical states of exposure and vulnerability.

The NRC stands ready to support the new department in achieving a climate and disaster resilient Philippines.

Science and technology for information integration

While we cannot prevent an earthquake or a typhoon from occurring, or a volcano from erupting, science and technology – particularly information technology – can reduce exposure and risk. Early warnings via social media, damage estimation and risk-sensitive land use planning rely on some form of ground-based and remotely sensed data, analytical tools, and communications technology. What is badly needed, and what we hope will be at the core of the new department is a central platform for information integration incorporating data from all the relevant agencies. This platform should allow us to better understand risk, synoptically and locally, and make timely and informed decisions.

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has made it possible to predict outcomes of natural phenomena before they become disasters. For example, the Taipei City government now has the capability to predict specific areas in the city – down to particular streets – where flooding may occur and its magnitude using algorithms to data collected over time. In some states in the US crunching information from citizens, social media users, and on-the-ground aid workers over time during crises are used to help experts provide early warnings, ground-level location data, and real-time report verification. The new platform for information integration should facilitate these types of preparedness, prevention, and response actions.

The leadership of the new DDR must, therefore, be fully committed to utilize such technologies and be fully resourced to have access to them.

Romulo, R. (2018, August 3). Huge step towards disaster resilience, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/business/2018/08/03/1839051/huge-step-towards-disaster-resilience

A resilient PHL

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

In the book State, Society and National Security”, its editor, Dr. Shashi Jayakumar begins this collection of essays with a conversation. He speaks with Singaporean officials Benny Lim and Peter Ho on, among others, the difference between the concepts of “surprise” and “shock”. They conclude that while we cannot always avoid surprise, we can certainly minimize the possibility of being shocked, and the kind of paralysis that leads to failure.

This reading came to mind for various reasons over the holidays as we heard the news on the destruction and number of deaths caused by Typhoons Vinta and Urduja.

Although this conversation was made in the context of military and cyber security, it applies equally to disaster resilience and the experience of the Philippines as one of the countries who are most at risk to natural climate, weather and geological hazards. As we develop, disaster risk may be generated due to increases in population, urbanization, interdependencies among our technological systems. Disasters are also evolving in new ways, such as the natural-technological disaster that Estancia, Iloilo experienced during Yolanda when the National Power Corporation‟s 35- megawatt power barge rammed into its coast. This resulted in both the loss of power and in a massive oil spill.

As we build our cities, weaknesses in local risk governance affect river flows, air quality and soil quality. When subjected to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions these weaknesses threaten human development and increase the cost of infrastructure. The combination of these hazards, exposure and vulnerabilities constitute the recipe for disasters.

Finally, there is the interaction of hazards such as extreme weather events with exposed and vulnerable populations. National poverty incidence stands at over 21 per cent and Manila alone has approximately four million informal settlers. Unfortunately, the impact of natural disasters on this segment of our population continues to be poorly understood except by policy researchers, civil society organizations and academics. Moreover, the impact of natural hazards in conflict areas – such as the case of Vinta in Mindanao – presents a scenario that is certainly worth of a deeper disaster forensics study.

Given the complexity of disaster risk, the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation, Zuellig Family Foundation, Manila Observatory, SM Prime and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation have formed a science and technology based public–private partnership known as the National Resilience Council (NRC). Our principal partners are local government units as they have the lead role in disaster risk reduction and in achieving development continuity. NRC has simultaneously engaged directly with the business community, the executive and legislative departments, academia and the civil society sector in order to identify and address the factors that contribute to disasters in each LGU.

Already committed to work with us on achieving a sustainable local economy, resilient human development systems, infrastructure and environment are: Bataan Province, and the cities of Valenzuela, Naga, Iriga, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga. We are building upon the success of the Zuellig Family Foundation‟s Health Resiliency Program, the investor presence of large corporations such as SM and Shell, engagement of civil society groups, and private and public universities to ensure that LGUs bounce forward, instead of just bouncing back from a disaster.

Implementation began this year with a significant investment from Mr. Hans Sy of SM Prime. Through his support and the work of the NRC team led by DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the NRC was recently called “global best practice” by UNISDR Special representative of the Secretary-General Robert Glasser.

NRC’s vision is also supported by an action research grant from the International Development Research Centre of Canada. This will enable the Ateneo de Manila, the Manila Observatory and the NRC to conduct integrated risk assessments and establish multi-stakeholder partnerships for disaster resilience with local governments in Metro Manila, Naga and Iloilo.

We close by urging the private sector to support the NRC in the same way the executive branch has provided funding to insure a truly resilient Philippines.

Mr. Hans Sy of SM Prime hands over the pledge of support to Ms. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, NRC President, and Roberto R. Romulo, chairman of Carlos P. Romulo Foundation.

Romulo, R. (2018, January 26). A resilient Phl, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-philippine-star/20180126/282050507492897

Consolidating resilience endeavors

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

I begin this column by quoting Mrs. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga, Chairperson of the International Advisory Board, Manila Observatory:

“The Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) identified four priorities: Understanding risk, Strengthening disaster risk governance, Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience, and, Enhancing preparedness for effective response to build back  better. Perhaps the biggest contribution of SFDRR is to bring into focus the need for collaboration between Government, scientists, civil society and the private sector to accomplish these priorities. The SFDRR goals recognize that socio-economic and ecological sustainability are substantively linked to the exposure and vulnerability of societies to disaster risk.”

With the disastrous effects of typhoon Ondoy in 2009, the government recognized the urgency of having a proactive risk management framework to become more disaster resilient by enacting RA 10121, establishing the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council in May 2010. Likewise, the private sector came together and organized the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and Cardinal Luis Tagle. Then Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan happened in 2013. There were multiple rehabilitation efforts made by civil society organizations, led by CODE-NGO and PBSP, among others.

ARISE (UNISDR Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies) was launched to support the implementation of SFDRR which was adopted in March 2015, at a UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan. The Philippines joined ARISE in November 2015, under the leadership of Mr. Hans Sy of SM Prime.

While these are clearly commendable initiatives, more often than not, these well-intentioned organizations are moving forward on parallel tracks. It was the intention of the conference on “Building a Disaster Resilient Philippines” held last April 25-26 with the hope of integrating all resilience endeavors on the same track.

During the two-day conference, a consensus was reached that there should be a Multi-Stakeholder Disaster Resilient Advisory Council co-chaired by a private sector CEO and the Secretary of Defense. By its creation, the participants recommended the redrafting of R.A. 10121 to turn it into a full-fledged department signifying “unity of command.” But participants also took cognizance of the fact that legislation considers issues deliberately at perceived glacial speeds. As Senator Bam Aquino interjected: “Of course, the process of  legislation takes some time….mahaba pa po iyan, maganda lang ho dyan is that there’s a lot of opportunity to refine the bill further, to improve the bill and to make it truly something that our communities can be part of.”

In the meantime, the Advisory Council can immediately collaborate on partnerships among government, private sector, CSOs and other institutions with clearly defined roles in disaster response, recovery and rehabilitation.

Another point of view was raised by former DND Secretary Gilbert Teodoro: “There is only one person: The President of the Philippines, by virtue of his supervisory power over the local government agencies… he can call Congress anytime…. to a special session to focus only on amendments to the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Agency Bill. If not, these things will be swept under the rug by other matters… leadership must start at the top.”

Other pertinent points were raised for future legislation: provide easier access to DRRM funds by LGUs; increase investment in Science and Technology as part of overall DRRM; empower the barangay level to undertake frontline work and coordinate with civil society and community members in DRRM and the need to amend laws for emergency procurement.

There was further action points cited: applying market-based instruments to retrofit at risk buildings and residences i.e. seismic certified buildings and dwellings as well as a seismic rating system; incorporate DRRM into DepEd curriculum to foster increased awareness among children and their families and develop metrics for tracking progress in building disaster resilience.

Hopefully, these recommendations are realized soon because the country remains vulnerable to natural disasters. But through multi-stakeholder engagement, improvements can be made at a faster pace so the country can have its much-needed disaster resilient system.

THE CONFERENCE ORGANIZERS:(seated, from left) Hans Sy of SM Prime Holdings, Amb. Roberto Romulo of Carlos P. Romulo Foundation, Toni Yulo-Loyzaga of Manila Observatory, Mr. Ernie Garilao of Zuellig Family Foundation, (standing, from left) Ms. Liza Silerio of ARISE Philippines, Malu Erni of Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and Dr. Eric Lacanlale.

Romulo, R. (2017, May 5). Consolidating resilience endeavors, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/business/2017/05/05/1690941/consolidating-resilience-endeavors

Earthquakes: Are we prepared?

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council has enhanced their capability substantially since Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. On the other hand, the private sector pioneered by the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) led by Manuel V. Pangilinan and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala has also done an extremely credible job. Yet neither organization will ever proclaim they are fully prepared, particularly in the case of earthquakes. The key challenge for all is in building a shared scientific understanding of pre- and post-disaster risk in order to jointly develop integrated solutions for national resilience.

Much has been written about the consequences of an earthquake in Metro Manila. MMDA has done as much as can be expected but again much has to be done. The local governments are the front line and much more support and training will be required. More importantly, the general public must be made more aware of their vulnerabilities. The “Bahala Na” attitude must be transformed to a “Be Prepared” commitment. There are also the estimated four million informal settlers in Metro Manila. They deserve much more attention. One important issue that has not been raised in many discussions is whether Metro Manila will be rebuilt (and where?) after it suffers around PhP2.4 Trillion in damage. Is there a there a plan for the region’s disaster recovery? Who will pay for this plan and how?

As previously stated in my last column, it is imperative that the government focus on securing protocols/agreements with foreign governments and multilateral organizations in preparation for future disasters. Allow me to quote from previous columns, examples of how forthcoming foreign countries can be:

“At its peak (Yolanda), the U.S. military efforts included more than 13,400 military personnel, 66 aircraft (including 10 C-130s to augment the AFPs 3 aircraft along with 8 MV-22 Ospreys) and 12 naval vessels. The Americans delivered more than 2,495 tons of relief supplies and evacuated 21,000 people. More than 1,300 flights were completed in support of the relief efforts to approximately 450 sites. American emergency humanitarian aid immediately following the Typhoon helped feed at least 3 million people. They provided basic emergency shelter materials, such as plastic sheeting, tents tools, and rope, to approximately 151,000 households across affected areas. In addition, nearly 38,000 households received support for self-recovery efforts through shelter repair kits, cash transfers and construction materials”.

“Another example would be the case of Yolanda and the South Korean armed forces. After surveying the needs of the population, Korea made a policy decision to stay, on a rotational basis, for a year in Leyte in order to support recovery and reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda”.

Even the Chinese donated $2million and belatedly sent a hospital ship.

I am certain that our foreign partners will be equally forthcoming in earthquakes and other future disasters. I know for a fact that foreign embassies are prepared to work with us. But this time, we should prevent and prepare ahead of time. Fortunately, the new Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ricky Manalo has agreed to jumpstart this endeavor assigning Undersecretary Ariel Abadilla to take the lead.

On April 25-26, we will host a Conference on “Building a Disaster Resilient Philippines”.

The conference is hosted by the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation, the Zuellig Family Foundation, the PDRF, the Manila Observatory and for the first time, we welcome ARISE Philippines (headed by Mr. Hans Sy). During this two day affair, we aim to consolidate all the efforts described above.

There will be more than 30 speakers representing foreign experts, senior government officials and representatives of the private sector, both corporate and NGOs. Drawing on the presentations and discussions, the conference seeks to identify the gaps in current disaster preparedness, prevention, response and recovery plans both within the public and private sectors and between them.Action plans and recommendations for much needed legislation to support integrated, multi-stakeholder efforts will then be advanced.

The session topics include lessons learned from recent earthquake disasters and pathways to enhancing risk reduction measures. The resilience of our health, infrastructure and local government sectors will be assessed and an overview of pre-disaster recovery planning, policy and practice will be presented. Most importantly, the current legislative agenda on both disaster risk reduction and resilience will be examined along with proponents in Congress and the NDRRMC-OCD.

I draw your attention to the local government portion where speakers will be Mayor Abigail Binay of Makati City; Dr. Cedric Daep, Chief of Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office; Mr. Ritchie Van Angeles, Chief of Pasig City DRRM office and Mayor Melchor Mergal of Salcedo municipality in Eastern Samar.

Speakers on the resilience of our critical infrastructure include: Ed Chua of Shell; DPWH Undersecretary Cathy Cabral, President of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers and Undersecretary of DPWH; Mr. Bill Luz, PDRF; Engineer Erick Sison, President of the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines and urban planners Dr. Arturo G. Corpuz, a board director of Ayala Land and Arch. Nathaniel von Einsiedel whose expertise in disaster recovery and urban planning is well-known.

The final session will encapsulate action plans and legislative proposals which will emerge from all the sessions. We have invited members of the House and Senate to react. To date none have accepted. I hope there will be last minute acceptances who are committed to disaster resilience. It has been said that disasters are really failures of governance. Presumably, all of us understand this.

In conclusion, I quote from UNISDR:

“Weak governance is a driver of disaster risk, and is linked to many other risk drivers such as poverty and inequality, poorly planned urban development… To be most effective in reducing disaster risk, an integrated systems approach to governance, featuring strong coordination across sectors and a delegation of responsibilities to the local level is needed.”

Interested parties may email [email protected]

Romulo, R. (2017, April 20). Earthquakes: Are we prepared? Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/business/2017/04/20/1687368/earthquakes-are-we-prepared

Disaster resilience: Getting our act together

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

It is a well-known fact that the Philippines is the third most vulnerable to disaster after Vanuatu and Tonga.

I was delighted to learn that that there is a research project that would like to explore how humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions can be “re-contextualized” as missions aimed at reducing risk in order to support development continuity and social transformation, rather than a one-off humanitarian action.

The proposed partners, Manila Observatory (MO), Ateneo, Sasakawa Peace Foundation and National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) will begin by conducting a comparative analysis of international civilian-military coordination from the perspective of military theory, doctrine, policies and programs in the five founding members of ASEAN and Japan. This process aims to identify initial pathways for collaboration to enhance disaster resilience and development when HADR missions need to be deployed in these countries.

Mrs. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga of MO has shared with me the draft paper of this project entitled “Enhancing Civilian-Military Coordination for Disaster Resilience in ASEAN and Japan”. Allow me to quote extensively:

“The Philippines’ growing interconnection with the global economy, its emerging infrastructure sector, steady population growth, armed conflicts and insurgencies, and, poverty and inequality can increase its exposure and vulnerability to hazards and disaster risk. In the National Security Policy documents of 2011-2016 and 2016-2022 and in the draft AFP Development Support and Security Plan 2017-2022, climate and disaster risk have been identified as impacting national stability and sustainable development. In these policy contexts, both climate and disaster risk are considered as barriers to attaining national security. Moreover, disruption and displacement due to disasters can also impact regional and global relations.

While disasters have historically been able to decrease annual GDP by between 1 and 3 per cent, it is the the increasing human impacts and economic damage from extreme weather and recent geological hazards, the immediate lessons learned from Supertyphoon Haiyan, and, the warnings of possibly PhP2.4 Trillion in economic damage from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that require us to view humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) in a more strategic context.

This would mean aligning mission outcomes along the security, stability and development priorities of each country, rather than just designing the deployment of an urgent mission to respond to emergency needs arising from a catastrophic event – and leaving after the emergency phase is over.

Disasters may be seen as opportunities to strengthen alliances through the sharing and delivery of assets and services with both emergency relief and long-term development value. Designing HADR missions must therefore be considered integral to all phases for disaster risk reduction from preparedness and pre-disaster recovery planning.

To illustrate, the Japanese Self Defense Forces are highly trained, equipped and skilled in road, port and bridge-building and the restoration of communications infrastructure. Pre-disaster agreements with Japan could be initiated for them to support our own AFP’s J-7 in restoring mobility and communications not just during the emergency relief phase, but for longer term use in the reconstruction and socio-economic recovery of the disaster-affected areas.”

Assessing our Strengths and Weaknesses
The paper also stressed that the Philippines would have to pro-actively and realistically confront its resources and knowledge gaps and identify key regional allies who are willing and able to provide strategic support to the government’s national security and development agenda.

One recent model of such collaboration could be the case of Yolanda and the South Korean armed forces. After surveying the needs of the population, Korea made a policy decision to stay, on a rotational basis, for a year in Leyte in order to support recovery and reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda. The Philippines and South Korea share more than 60 years of partnership that is deeply rooted in the sacrifices of Filipino troops who fought in the Korean War in the 1950s.

At the end of the day, we must admit that we are not fully prepared to respond, for example, in an earthquake. Dr. Solidum of PHILVOLCS has been quoted that a 7.2 intensity earthquake in Metro Manila would cause 30,000 deaths and approximately 100,000 injured. Moreover, there would be no electricity, water and telecommunications. As just stated, we have an urgent need for HADR.

Collaboration, as exemplified by the Koreans, clearly indicates that we must coordinate with neighboring countries such as ASEAN neighbors, Japan and Korea. In the recent Yolanda experience, the United States (including the 7th fleet), Chinese Taipei, Australia and EU nations were more than forthcoming in supporting our people. I understand even the Chinese Navy provided a hospital ship.

Even as I commend the research project described above, the reality is there is no coordinated effort to secure in advance agreements/protocols from countries and multilateral organizations for HADR. For example, I understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs is supposed to lead the Philippine International Humanitarian cluster in the response group of NDRRMC headed by the DSWD. To date, the DFA has not been very active and the PIHA guidelines have not yet been finalized. Fortunately, I was able to speak with the new Acting Secretary Ricky Manalo and he has agreed to designate Undersecretary Ariel Abadilla to participate in our forthcoming conference “Building a Disaster Resilient Philippines”. Hopefully, Abadilla will also take the lead in orchestrating a meeting with the AFP/PNP/DND with guidance from NDRRMC to begin planning in coordination with nations and multilateral organizations.

Our Conference just referenced above will be on April 25-26. As a preview of guest speakers from whom we can learn from their past experiences: Dr. Wei-Sen Li, the Jiji earthquake in Taiwan; Dr. Satoru Nishikawa, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan; Mr. Shingo Kochi, the pre-disaster recovery plan for Hyogo Prefecture; and Mr. Chris Balsley, how to cope with post-traumatic disorders from natural disasters.

Our objective is to instill in all that disaster preparedness goes beyond disaster response. In conclusion, let us make haste and get our act together!

Romulo, R. (2017, April 13). Disaster resilience: Getting our act together, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-philippine-star/20170413/282063391832038

Building a disaster resilient Phl

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

As I read this definition, I conclude that the mayors should be the first to prepare and respond to disasters. They are the front line and that is why every city has a Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (DRRMC). They are fully aware that the Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country among 173 countries, only behind Vanuatu and Tonga.

A recent announcement indicated that there has been a risk assessment of the locations in the West Valley Fault by the City of Makati. This is part of the Mayor’s program. It is to the credit of Mayor Abby Binay that she has had the guts to tell residents in danger zones to leave in order to minimize loss of lives and property in case of a strong earthquake. She said that those who leave will receive financial aid for their relocation.

“We will not expropriate. The city will not buy your property; we will just provide help. If you decline our offer, you have to sign a waiver that you are accepting the risks.” Bravo!!! I hope others will demonstrate the same intestinal fortitude.

In view of the country’s continuing exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards, the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation in collaboration with the Zuellig Family Foundation, the Manila Observatory (of Ateneo), and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation will conclude their three-year program to promote multisectoral dialogue and cooperation on building the country’s resilience to natural disasters by holding a conference entitled “Building a Disaster Resilient Philippines” on April 25 and 26. We are pleased to announce that ARISE Philippines has recently joined us in this initiative.

Drawing on the presentations and discussions, the conference will seek to identify the gaps in current disaster preparedness, prevention, response and recovery plans both within the public and private sectors and between them. More importantly, it will draw up proposed measures — action programs and protocols, legislative and regulatory changes, and possibly, a multi-stakeholder institutional framework to promote continuing cooperation, dialogue and information exchange among the key sectors of Philippine society — with a view to strengthening the country’s disaster resilience.

DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will be the keynote speaker. During the first session we have invited foreign experts to discuss lessons learned and best practices in disaster resilience. Dr. Wei Sen Li will cover the experience of Chinese Taipei. Dr. Satoru Nishikawa will discuss the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Dr. Rajib Shaw (thru video) will present the Sendai Framework DRR and resilience. The concluding speaker will be Admiral Pama, formerly NDRRMC Executive Director and OCD Administrator. He will discuss how to incorporate lessons learned into the local disaster risk reduction and management framework.

We will ask each of the speakers to identify the gaps in their own topics and issues and to pinpoint potential action points and legislative proposals, if any.

The three other sessions will focus on enhancing risk reduction measures, disaster resilience in key sectors notably infrastructure, health and initiatives of LGUs and last but not the least, how to incorporate disaster resilience into development planning and policy. For this last session, we will present a summary of proposed legislative input to selected legislators from the Senate and House of Representatives and ask them to comment on the proposals.

In sum, we believe that building disaster resilience means one has to go beyond disaster response.

Revisiting Role of NDRRMC

I have been informed that there has been a multiple agency task force that has produced a draft bill amending RA No. 10121. Quoting from their draft bill: “While RA 10121’s strength lies in its institutionalization of stakeholder participation in policymaking for disaster risk reduction and management, through an expanded membership of the Council, and while this, in itself, is a development by leaps and bounds, RA 10121’s shortcoming is its failure to create an institution that is in a sufficiently high position to oversee the implementation of streamlined disaster risk reduction and management policies nationwide, an institution that has the necessary authority, mandate and resources to lead and coordinate the efforts of different stakeholders towards a more resilient nation. The occurrence of Typhoon Yolanda and other large-scale disasters revealed that problems encountered in coordinating and implementing large-scale disaster risk reduction and management efforts are rooted primarily in the nature of our governance framework for disaster risk reduction and management.”

The proposed amendments will be discussed during our conference and I will not dwell into the details at this time. Suffice it to say that it is movement in the right direction. Hopefully, the conference will be able to provide further input, particularly from the private sector perspective.

As previously stated above, we must go beyond disaster response. I hope that thought will be embedded in the new legislation.

My gratitude and admiration for Undersecretary Toby Purisima of OCD who has managed the development process.

Romulo, R. (2017, March 31). Building a disaster resilient Phl, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-philippine-star/20170331/282136406250641