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The Future that We Want for Mindanao

February 18, 2012

Two months after Mindanao endured tropical storm Sendong’s whiplash of death and destruction, a critical opportunity is presented before us – the opportunity to learn from the painful lessons of the disaster, to build back a better Mindanao and to make the right choices for our people.
It is on this note that I am pleased to be part of this important initiative, a laudable show of political unity and resolve for disaster risk reduction.
I wish to congratulate my colleagues in the Senate, Senator Koko Pimentel and Senator TG Guingona, whose significant efforts made this event happen.
I am particularly impressed with the sincerity and readiness of stakeholders in Mindanao to cooperate in raising awareness in disaster mitigation among local government leaders and in encouraging local governments’ commitment to action.
The alarming human losses and economic damages inflicted by the recent disaster made it clear that the fusion of socio-economic realities and extreme climatic events is confounding gallant attempts by governments. We cannot, however, be caught off-balanced and be discouraged. Instead, we must strive to match our best intentions and expressed commitments with scaled up efforts in reducing disaster and climate risks. Ultimately, the actions that we take and the decisions we make will define the future that we want for Mindanao.
The Philippine legislature has taken a proactive stance in building the nation’s resilience to disasters by passing the Climate Change Act of 2009 and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.
The National Climate Change Action Plan and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan both will serve as blueprints in mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in the government’s plans and programs, from the national down to the local level. Just yesterday, I co-convened with the National Economic and Development Authority a Multi-sectoral Consultation to ensure that the Philippine Development Plan is sustainable, climate adaptive and disaster-resilient.
While significant achievements in policy formulation are evident, the challenge to sustain these gains and to do more does remain. The important starting point is political commitment, and our measure for success is more disaster-resilient development investments and, fundamentally, better and greater quality of life for our long-suffering people.
I believe that the greater challenge of translating policies and plans into concrete actions has brought us to assemble in this hall, fully aware of our capacity as leaders to protect our people and secure future generations.
Our actions should enable us to institutionalize a new brand of governance — the kind of governance that ensures environmental, climate change and risk reduction laws and regulations are fully implemented.
Our actions should be able to engage all key stakeholders and sectors, to promote cooperation and coordination among themselves.
Our actions should be able to promote greater risk awareness in communities.
We know our respective constituents — their aspirations, concerns and needs. We know their capacities, vulnerabilities and risks.
Our political will, clear understanding of risk, genuine regard for environmental protection and disaster prevention, preparedness for effective response, good governance, and our concern and vigilance — all these will prevent natural hazards from turning into disasters.
Given all of these, how do we move forward?
The challenge we face now is “how to build back a better Mindanao.” We need to rebuild communities with the confidence that we are not rebuilding the risks again; we need to ensure that reconstruction of homes and infrastructure will be in safer ground following sound construction standards; we need to soon re-start and create livelihoods; and restore normalcy in people’s lives with a stronger sense of hope and confidence for the future.
As we enter the recovery and reconstruction phases, we must ensure that the social aspects for community recovery are fully known. While we address infrastructure needs, equal attention must be given to the social needs of affected communities, including alternative employment and livelihood opportunities.
Related to schools and education, over a hundred thousand students, which may have been affected by Sendong, are spending too much time waiting rather than learning not just because some schools were destroyed, but because many schools are, and will continue to be, used as evacuation centers. The prolonged occupation of schools as evacuation centers prevents the resumption of regular classes, and affects the long-term development of our children. While the Department of Education looks after schools in these difficult periods, it is unsure who looks for alternative evacuation or transition centers to ensure the regular resumption of classes. And their teachers? At least 220 are now homeless and more than 2,000 others displaced. Special support will be needed for them as they are not presently able to access the government’s re-housing program.
In building permanent housing, the government and members of the private sector have made strong commitments to give support. However, the challenge is to find suitable land and ensuring the stability of the structures to be able to withstand the future impact of natural hazards.
On early warning, the recent joint report by JICA/DPWH revealed that while Severe Weather Bulletins were issued by PAGASA, warnings were not enough for people to take action.
It is often said that early warning systems are only as effective as the “last mile” of the system – the translation of the warning information into suitable action by communities – to evacuate and take shelter. We must ensure that there is a balance between information provision, dissemination, and understanding of the communities, coupled with preparedness and accountability. Our early warning systems must facilitate early actions.
There is also an urgent need to empower local institutions that would lead the way in building back a better Mindanao. This will include the building of the capacity of the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils, not just in preparedness but also in disaster mitigation activities.
Local government units (LGUs) must also be assisted to utilize existing local financing for reducing and managing disaster risks, and to access additional financing, including from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund.
Further, to ensure that the Climate Change Act and DRRM law are fully understood and implemented in the local level, an important first step is the development of risk-sensitive and participatory Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs). We need to remember that local governments are the first line of defense against disasters, and we need to capacitate them, work with them, and ease administrative burdens where necessary, so that they can take the necessary actions to reduce the impacts of disasters to the lives of people and communities.
Finally, there is an urgent need for cooperative efforts in watershed or river-based planning and actions. I recently filed Senate Bill 3105 or the proposed “Philippine River Basin System Administration Act”, which recommends a framework to establish a comprehensive river administration system for flood control, water use and environmental conservation.
While we re-build the lives of our people in disaster-stricken areas of Mindanao, it may be good to reflect that a similar disaster is likely waiting to happen in hundreds of other places, maybe known already to us. We have to completely abandon the old mindset of waiting for the next disaster to strike, and instead, focus on acting decisively now to mitigate the future impact of natural hazards.
In addition, a smaller portion of the money we are spending now could be more efficiently spent in dealing with some of the underlying causes of these types of disasters – stopping environmental degradation and reversing the situation where the poor is left to fend for themselves in the most vulnerable locations.
We must build homes, schools, and hospitals that are safe and secure amidst natural hazards.
We must design and construct roads, bridges and other infrastructure that helps spur economic growth with disaster risk reduction in mind.
We must recover and rebuild from any disaster impacts with building-back-better-and-greener as objective.
We must commit to make cities and municipalities disaster-resilient, to increase our investments in disaster risk reduction, to conduct and share risk assessments, to establish effective and efficient early warning systems, and to protect our ecosystems, among other actions.
As I have committed to the convenors of this Summit, I furnished everyone copies of a summary of the local and international funding facilities that support ground-level work of local governments and communities for environmental protection, disaster risk reduction, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, which was summarized by the Department of Finance, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Economic and Development Authority and the Senate Committee on Climate Change which I chair. I hope that through this information, local governments will be more proactive and resourceful and take inspiration from fellow LGUs who were able to secure funding for much-needed projects.
In closing, let me reiterate that the best choice we have is to make our nation disaster-resilient to free us, once and for all, from the exhausting and costly cycle of rebuilding our communities every single time nature unleashes its wrath.
The time to act is now.
Disaster risk reduction is an investment that pays back significantly. Let us not wait for the next calamity to happen.
Within a few kilometers from this hall are families in evacuation centers, who bore the brunt of Sendong, paying with their homes, livelihoods and hopes for a better life the costs of this disaster.
We must ensure that in the years to come, families will need not leave their homes when natural hazards strike as they reside in safer communities; farmers and fishermen are assured of better yield; parents can send their children to school with the assurance that they are safe inside their classrooms; local development need not be stalled by massive destruction; and future generations can feel the warmth of nature and the abundance of our resources.
Closest to the people, local government leaders have the privilege to translate national policies, plans and programs into concrete and visible actions for the people. Much is expected from you by the people.
The people expect good governance. But let me assure you that governing with effective disaster risk reduction is certainly a mark of good local governance.
Now is the time to face bravely the many challenges ahead.
Let this Summit be not our finish line, but rather our starting point for more meaningful and successful action at the local level.
Let it be said that with this once-in-a-lifetime chance, we secured the future that we want for Mindanao.
Thank you and good day.