The ultimate vaccine: A resilient health care system

Source: The Philippine Star – Filipino Worldview | Author: Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo | Date: May 8, 2020

Former health secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral compels us to think beyond today’s crisis. Scientists predict a second wave. The development of a cure and a vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 is going to take time. Even then, new pandemics and disease transmission are going to be a fact of life in a globalized world. Dr. Cabral’s words are simple and challenges us to do the right thing.

“Since the crisis that has caused our economy to stop on its tracks is a health issue, maybe there are things to say on how developing a resilient health care system, able to deal with shocks like this, is the ultimate solution to similar health, turned socioeconomic disasters, that are really just around the corner, threatening our way of life the same way that coronavirus has done.

This makes the case for why increasing our health care system’s capacity should be part of the national stimulus strategy. If we do not, we will simply repeat the experience we are going through now, maybe next year, maybe two years from now, who knows? For sure, however, it will be sooner rather than later.

Let’s get ready by spending on improving our health care system. Spend on improving hard infrastructure, BUILD, build, build! The kind of hospital where you would want to be admitted if you ever have a serious illness. Spend on training, recruiting and retaining more human health resource, Employ, employ, employ! The kind of doctor you would want taking care of you and the kind of nurse who will provide expert assistance to your physician. Spend on research and development of medical equipment, drugs, vaccines, supplies and materials such as personal protective equipment. Spend on production and stockpiling of these so that we are not forever dependent on imports. In a global crisis, we are going to get what we need only after the needs of the producing countries and the richer buying countries are satisfied.

Let’s spend on our health. Invest in family planning, or we will have an extra four million people to take care of when the next contagion comes along. Invest in waste management or we will drown in a tsunami of used personal protective equipment (they are made of plastic) that will pollute the land forever. Invest in water so that we can at least have some to wash our hands with. Invest in housing so that when we call for social distancing and home isolation, they will have some space to do this properly. Invest in data technology so that we can know where we are and can plan our next steps confidently. Otherwise, we will repeat this cycle of spending trillions that we don’t have, to protect business and our workers and revive our economy. As we always say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

“It’s the public health care system, stupid” is what former secretary Cabral is saying – a twist of James Carville’s campaign slogan for Bill Clinton. The key takeaway from what Dr. Cabral says is that a resilient health care system will prevent a health issue – and the next one is just around the corner – from becoming a socioeconomic disaster. A resilient health care system will spare our country the terrible dilemma of choosing between loss of life or loss of livelihood.

Digital response to COVID-19

To me, a key component of health and economic resilience is the application of digital technology to more effectively address the health challenges and its economic consequences.

With lockdowns and other social distancing measures in effect, more and more people are relying on the internet for information and advice and hence, deploying effective digital technologies can help contain the outbreak, meet the needs of people for accurate information and soften the impact of the crisis on their lives.

Data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to give an accurate picture of infections, and allow government and business to react and plan accordingly. Digital applications can help trace and test people who have come into contact with an infected person. I understand IATF has issued a “rapid pass” with digital tracing potential. Digital communication channels can provide reliable information on global and national COVID-19 developments, information about the outbreak, travel restrictions, practical guidance on protection, and governmental response. A comprehensive supply chain data application can facilitate the movement of goods such as food and essential services in an optimal way and avoid long lines at checkpoints. Digital ID and digital signature can help ensure the effective delivery of unemployment assistance, food relief and other social benefits.

But before we can unlock the promise of digital technology, however, we have to feed it with baseline data. One of the most basic data is a unique lifetime ID number for each and every Filipino. I understand that the Philippines and six other countries are the only ones who do not have a national identity system in place. In other places like Singapore and Taiwan, a unique ID number is used for the various cards and permits for health services, social security, passports, tax ID, drivers’ license and many others. That way, data can be consolidated and be easily accessible, while balancing health and public service imperatives and privacy concerns.

As an aged veteran of technology, I can foresee the many uses of a National ID System. But I may have to wait a while. About a year and a half ago, I heard a presentation by NEDA on the planned National ID System to be implemented by multiple agencies such as the Philippine Statistics Authority, NEDA and DSWD.

Frankly, as the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. Worse yet, as of today, the respective agencies are still in the bidding process. I would suggest that President Duterte light a fire under the relevant bureaucracies to give this the highest priority and get this completed at the soonest possible time. According to the timetable, trials are underway and targets to cover the entire population by 2025. Indonesia, with almost three times the population of the Philippines is set to complete their identity card issuance soon.

We fought so hard for a DICT since the time of FVR, Erap, GMA, and PNoy. DICT presence NOW is an imperative.

Quarantine extended

Source: The Philippine Star – Filipino Worldview | Author: Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo | Date: May 1, 2020

President Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine to May 15. Despite sentiments of some including LGUs and businessmen, he personally listened to experts, scientists, and former secretaries of health before he agreed with the IATF. In general, the public supported that decision, although many complained about not receiving the promised food and cash grants to help them tide over the quarantine period.

The appointment of former AFP chief of staff General Carlito Galvez and current presidential adviser on the peace process as chief implementer of the National Action Plan has been widely hailed. The National Resilience Council had a roundtable discussion via Zoom with 200 plus participants. Former Major General Restituto Padilla Jr., the spokesman of the National Action Plan (NAP) COVID-19, was the key note speaker. Padilla emphasized the need for a whole of society approach to addressing this crisis.  Of particular significance was the four measures of success that the NAP had set for itself in fulfilling its mandate: 1) Reduction of new COVID cases. 2) Reduction of deaths. 3) Increase in recovered patients. And finally, 4) Normalization of the economy. These are clear and implementable metrics that the general public can understand and appreciate.

Heavy handed?

However, at the ground level though, there have been instances where overzealous implementation of the quarantine has led to blatant disregard for legal rights and privacy.

There was an incident at the Pacific Plaza Towers. The PNP stormed the condominium complex at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City on Sunday, April 19, and accosted residents who were at the open area of the condo.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said it was illegal for policemen to barge into the premises of a condominium. “The police needs a search or arrest warrant issued by a judge to enter a residential condominium building.”

The Taguig City Police said it was Mayor Lino Cayetano who ordered cops to go to the condo citing reports that residents were not observing physical distancing. Even with the mayor’s order, Carpio said the police still had no legal basis.

Retired Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban opined: The armed intrusion by policemen into the Pacific Plaza Towers in Taguig City, the “house” of the residents therein, may have violated the constitutional “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects,” unless it can be factually shown that their acts were made in conjunction with, or were necessary incidents of, a valid warrantless arrest and search.

I am sure there are many similar cases of such confrontation that have gone unreported particularly in those areas where residents do not have the means to use social media to air their grievances. There are reports of homeless people, vendors and people who needed to go to work being arrested and detained for as long as two days when they should have been released after being booked.

It has also been reported that the DOLE labor official assigned in Taichung in Taiwan had arranged for the “deportation” of a caregiver with her employer and recruiter because she was critical of the Duterte administration’s handling of the pandemic crisis in her social media posts. This is a clear case of overreach and worse, forced a foreign government, who of course would not be a party to such action without a legal process being undertaken, to speak out. MECO resident representative Angelito Banayo subsequently disavowed the labor official’s actuations.

One tragic incident highlights fears that law enforcers may have taken at face value the President’s statement made in a press conference to shoot violators of the quarantine. Corporal Winston Ragos, retired from the Army for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was unfortunate to run afoul of police forces manning a checkpoint in Quezon City. According to eyewitnesses, Ragos was complying with the police officers’ instructions, when he was shot as he reached for his bag, which his family says contained a bottle of water and documents attesting to his impaired mental health.

All of these incidents of heavy handedness raised the specter of martial law when a leaked Air Force memo spoke of getting ready for a martial law type of lockdown. The President himself threatened to declare one, thus, exacerbating the public’s concern.

US helping hand

Although the conversation between the President and US President Donald Trump on bilateral COVID-19 cooperation captured the media’s attention, what has not been given enough prominence is direct US assistance to our efforts to fight the pandemic. The US has, thus, far provided more than P470 million to support the Philippine’s COVID-19 response, in addition to 1,300 cots donated to the Office of Civil Defense and Philippine General Hospital. US assistance is also strengthening the capacity to detect, treat and defeat the virus. This complements nearly P30 billion in assistance the US has provided over the past 20 years to improve health care in the Philippines. This does not count the invaluable role that Filipino alumni of US educational grant programs are playing at the forefront of the country’s  effort against the pandemic.

American companies in the Philippines are also doing their share in the fight against COVID. To cite a few examples, Ford is lending vehicles for medical use; UPS and FedEx are delivering critical supplies; Procter & Gamble and 3M are producing PPE; and Coca-Cola and Pepsi are supplying beverages for frontline workers. US companies CapitalOne, Marriot, Dow, Cargill, AIG, Google, Airbnb and Facebook are also providing assistance.


During WWII “Lebensraum” became the ideological principle of Germany providing justification for territorial expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. They justified it as necessary for their survival.  There is an amazing similarity to China’s actuations in the Spratleys.

Aftermath of earthquakes: Immediate focus

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

The recent conference on “Megacities at risk: Engineering resilience to seismic hazards” by sheer coincidence took place a few days after the magnitude 6.1 earthquake that shook Central Luzon, followed by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter this time in Samar. No doubt this made more topical and urgent the importance of earthquake engineering and land use to minimize the casualties.

Majority of the casualties from the temblor that hit Central Luzon were the result of the collapse of a four-story building and a few private dwellings. As in earthquakes around the world, most casualties and property damage were not from the original movement of the ground – collapsing buildings were the primary killer. This is a combination of three deadly factors – poor structural design, bad construction, and location in vulnerable areas. Porac is located on soil that is prone to liquefaction which amplifies the shaking from the original quake.

While no structure can be entirely immune to damage from earthquakes, the goal of earthquake-resistant construction is to prevent the collapse of the building while minimizing the loss of functionality even though there may be some damage. Earthquakes have affected millions of lives in the last 100 years, and despite the improvements in technology and enactment of earthquake building codes, more continue to be killed by earthquakes than by climate related hazards. The failures seem to lie in the intersection between the cost of proper design and structural engineering, risk awareness, and lax enforcement.

In the Philippines, the Building Code specifies the construction method, appropriate size and spacing of beams, posts, and steel rods so that a structure can withstand up to Intensity 8 shaking, said Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) director Frederick Sison. According to Phivolcs executive director and DOST Undersecretary Renato Solidum, “with Intensity 6, we do not expect significant damage on a building. If it followed the Building Code, it should not have collapsed. Only cracks, minor damage are expected.”

Uniform regulations and enforcement

And there lies the crux of the matter, the implementation and enforcement of regulations concerning construction and land use. Most high rise development benefit from structural engineering with earthquake and typhoons in mind. Many existing buildings, however, need to be retrofitted. The problem is exacerbated outside the Metro Manila area where even though there is a preponderance of low rise buildings, these and residential buildings, are built in violation of the original approved building permit and without the application of proper structural design.

The conference reached important conclusions which support this reality where science, policy, and practice do not work in conjunction, particularly in the Philippine context.

  • While scientific data is available to aid risk assessment, there is a need to further localize data and to reduce this to language understandable to the layman. Although information is available, sharing and reach are limited. Universities, research institutes, and professional associations are largely untapped as sources of expertise. We can also learn lessons from the expertise and experience of our neighbors in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
  • Attempts to capacitate and communicate risk, however, do not always guarantee results. Knowledge is not translated into action by community due to lack of ownership. It does not facilitate a shift in mindset. Local knowledge is not fully embedded in the decision-making process and capacity-building is limited to training. There is hardly any monitoring and evaluation of how the training is consumed and applied over time and in the local context.
  • Although enabling policies abound for earthquake engineering (RA 10121, Building Code, etc) enforcement is weak at the local and national level. Policies need to be contextualized at the local level. Policies are also duplicating and conflicting to some extent. Public and private partnerships and investments in science to those exposed and vulnerable members of society need to be highlighted and proper enforcement needs to be jointly monitored and validated.

Department of Disaster Resilience

It became apparent during the discussion that there were many national and local authorities involved, sometimes at cross purposes. It was proposed that the National Resilience Council (NRC) may act as the facilitator in linking science, policy formulation, and implementation and practice. It was recommended that the immediate next step is to convene the academic institutions, professional associations, CSOs, and the private sector as a resource pool and plot the roadmap for multi-stakeholder partnerships for community resilience.

This might do for now, but my personal view is that it urgently requires a Cabinet level authority. Ideally, this should reside in a Department of Disaster Resilience. It has almost been two years since President Duterte’s enjoined “both houses of Congress to expeditiously craft a law establishing a new authority or department that is responsive to the prevailing 21st century conditions, and empowered to best deliver an enhanced disaster resiliency and quick disaster response” during his State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. Both the Senate and the House have filed various bills answering the President’s clamor, but so far none has been enacted into law.

It was heartening to see the level of importance that the national government and LGUs attached to good earthquake resilience by their participation in the conference. Fifteen national government agencies participated, as did 12 LGUs. The LGUs are the vanguard of earthquake preparedness and resilience. Residents of those areas covered by the LGU participants should find comfort that their public officials are on the ball. These include: Cagayan de Oro City, Naga City, Zamboanga City, Iriga City, Iloilo City (who are all NRC partners) as well as other LGUs – Rizal Province, Quezon City, Mandaluyong City, Bulacan, Muntinlupa, Marikina City, and Taguig City. The private sector was also well represented by major developers including Araneta Group, Ayala Land, Vista Land, Meralco and Robinsons Land Corp. Representatives from CSOs, university faculty and students as well as structural engineers, urban planners and architects were in attendance. We expected 150 participants, but the final count was 200.

The conference and workshops were organized by the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and the NRC, which is co-chaired by Mr. Hans Sy and DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. It was held with the cooperation of Phivolcs, MMDA, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience of Japan and the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction of Chinese Taipei. Experts from Japan, the US, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia and Singapore, as well as from ADB, shared their knowledge with the participants.

A more detailed presentation of the conference and workshop outcomes will be published shortly.

Romulo, R. (2019, May 3). Aftermath of earthquakes: Immediate focus, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from

The shock of earthquakes

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

It is pure coincidence that our conference on “Megacities at Risk” takes place two days after the Zambales earthquake which affected Metro Manila.  Personally, I was just as shocked as the rest of Manila. Many hotels, apartments and office buildings had evacuation procedures in place and they should be commended.  On the other hand, many were unprepared and in a state of panic.

According to official sources, Manila experienced a 4.0 earthquake magnitude.  Imagine if we are hit with a 7.2 magnitude as estimated (in 2013) by Phivolcs director and now DOST Undersecretary Rene Solidum.

The most important concern is the number of deaths as a resulted of an earthquake.  In 2010, Chile was hit by an 8.8 earthquake that result in 700 deaths. In the same year, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude that resulted in 200,000 deaths. The difference in those death tolls comes from compliance and building construction and technology.

It is fortunate that we can learn from past earthquakes and start preparing for the “Big One.” Our conference last Thursday is the beginning of such an endeavor.  It is not a one-off event. We plan to have more implementing what will be the result of the conference. On behalf of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and the National Resilience Council, I would like to express our gratitude for the support of the Japanese and American ambassadors as well as the all-out support of Prof. Haruo Hayashi of the NIED from Japan and Dr. Wei Sen Li of Chinese Taipei. Without them, we would not have had the presence of the distinguished scientific experts who will share their experiences with us.

Further, I would like to express our thanks to the following private corporations who are generously supporting our endeavors in resilience: Araneta Group, Ayala Land and Ayala Corp., Meralco, Vista Land, AIG Philippines, Asian Development Bank and the Government of Canada, Green Event Technology, Metro Drug and Zuellig Pharma, Starr International Philippines and Robinsons Land Corp. A special thanks to Philippine Airlines, our official airline partner who ensured the participation of the nine scientists from Chinese Taipei, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. We will continue to focus on the challenge of earthquakes. Once again, I appeal for the generous and conscientious private sector to support our ongoing programs. All of us now understand the imperatives of being prepared for the “Big One.”  A “bahala na” attitude is unacceptable.

The columnist with Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda, American Ambassador Sung Y. Kim and Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, president of the National Resilience at the Megacities at Risk conference yesterday.

Romulo, R. (2019, April 26). The shock of earthquakes, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from

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

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

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

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

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