Keynote Speech: Agos Summit on Disaster Preparedness: Preparing Vulnerable Communities for Climate Change and Disaster Resiliency

July 8, 2017

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Agos Summit on Disaster Preparedness:
Preparing Vulnerable Communities for Climate Change and Disaster Resiliency
8 July 2017 | SM Aura, Taguig City

(Standard Greetings)

Future communities in the Philippines will vastly differ from the ones we live in today. As we witness the 21st century unfold, our nation faces a new set of technological, socioeconomic and global challenges that are more complex than any of us have ever experienced in our shared history. They dramatically alter the way we live in our communities, and at stake is the quality of life, not only of ours, but also of future generations.

In a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company and the Oxford University Institute of Climate Change in late 2009, the Philippines registered the highest level of concern for climate change among 54 countries surveyed. Seventy eight percent (78%) of Filipino respondents said they were very concerned about climate change.

That year was when typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng inundated almost the whole of Metro Manila. It was also the year when the Climate Change Act was passed into law.

Eight years hence, that concern is no longer an abstract understanding of climate change. Over the past years, our people have experienced climate change and its worst impacts, primarily through extreme weather events, with thousands of lives and properties lost. Today, we confront climate change, as well as terrorism, as one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our time.

Reducing disaster risk and climate-proofing our communities, livelihood and development gains and goals have become a moral imperative for governments and a social responsibility for all especially now—when having less in life means losing life.

Our laws are unequivocal in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in development plans, programs and budgets at the national and local levels.

The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act mandates a paradigm shift from reactive to proactive strategies that will strengthen our defense against disasters. The Philippine Climate Change Act and its amended version creating a People’s Survival Fund mainstream climate change into government policy and urge the private sector to set up counterpart funding for programs and activities in their respective establishments.

Even our budget policies reflect strengthened disaster risk reduction and management efforts. Aside from increased allocation for DRR investments in the national budget, what was then the ‘Calamity Fund’ intended for post-disaster activities has been renamed as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund and can now be used for preparedness and risk reduction programs. Our government also tags climate change expenditures in the national budget.

There has been significant progress from the Executive Branch of the Government of the Philippines in implementing adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction initiatives at the local level, supplemented by a strong support from the Legislature. However, more work needs to be done in terms of comprehensively integrating a low carbon pathway into national socio-economic policies and in strengthening the capacities of key actors in enhancing the resilience of our communities. A “whole-of-nation” approach is needed in employing this action plan.

This is why the Philippines is pursuing a transformational strategy by adopting the Sustainable Integrated Area Development Framework (SIAD)—a holistic poverty reduction framework that localizes development by building economies of scale to generate livelihood and other equitable income-generating activities, while addressing climate change and disaster risks, within our communities. This framework harnesses the efforts from the national government, local government units, civil society, private sector, academe, and other stakeholders to collaborate in identifying appropriate project components that would address the needs and risks in a locality.

But in order to build resilient communities, the participation of citizens is very much crucial. They need to understand the risks. Building resilience cannot happen without the support and cooperation of the people on the ground. They cannot only be involved. They need to lead.

We have local government units (LGUs) that have established their own climate adaptation and disaster resilience initiatives at the community level.

In November last year, during the Climate Change Consciousness Week, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) announced the winners of the inaugural Climate-Adaptive and Disaster-Resilient (CLAD) Awards for Cities and Municipalities.

Ten LGUs were awarded for implementing innovative strategies to manage climate and disaster risks in line with Philippine environmental laws.

I was able to visit one of them—the Municipality of Carmona, Cavite.

The Solid Waste Management Program of Carmona is among the most innovative in the country. The Carmona Ecology Center has been a regular study destination of various LGUs, students and other institutions. Aside from maintaining a clean environment, among the highlights of their initiative include more than 60% waste diversion, high income generation from recyclable collection, and compost production provided to constituents.

Aside from this, the LGU has been distributing LED lights among its poor constituents. It started in 2012 and in 2015, all LGU officers, barangay halls and street-related lights within the municipality have been converted to LED.

In Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, a CLAD awardee in Mindanao, the LGU adopted the Isang Litrong Liwanag program, which uses homemade solar bulbs as intervention to conserve energy. Aside from providing cheap light source for unventilated low-cost residential houses, it promotes recycling since the light bulbs are made from empty plastic bottles.

The Municipality of Dumangas in Iloilo, one of the CLAD awardees from Visayas, has set up a Climate Field School to teach farmers and fisherfolks strategies to cope with climate variability affecting the crops and fish yield. The methodology used in teaching is participatory in nature, which plays a crucial role in implementing the program.

In Canaman, Camarines Sur and Sorsogon, Sorsogon, they also have a Climate Field Schools, which provide farmers and fisherfolk with practical skills and knowledge about adjusting their practices to climate change impacts.

In Legazpi, Albay, they plant mangroves, which serve as buffer from the effects of storm surges and tsunami, and fruit-bearing trees to combat increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and urban heat island effect, among other programs.

In Malolos, Bulacan, they have formulated standard programs of instructions, training modules and conduct of trainings and simulation exercises on disaster preparedness, which increased understanding and application of risk reduction measures, eventually leading to disaster-prepared communities.

In New Lucena, Iloilo, they implement the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law and promote pesticide-free products and environment-friendly technologies in farming. Their Municipal Eco-Park has become an ecotourism site where students and private groups visit for educational purposes specifically on environmental protection and promotion of organic agriculture.

In Palompon, Leyte, they promote environment-friendly farming through their organic agriculture program and coco-based farming system program.

In Tublay, Benguet, they have the Carbon Stock and the GHG Sequestration Enhancement Program, which includes Coffee-based Agroforestation, wherein communities are empowered to participate in environmental conservation, climate change adaptation and disaster mitigation initiatives while gaining economic benefits from the program.

Climate change may be a complex issue, but these initiatives show that we can all do our part no matter how small or vulnerable we are.

As a long-time environmental advocate, I know how hard it is to convince people to protect our environment. People act when there is threat and fear; but that is not how we should live. People need to be inspired and feel that they are part of a shared cause.

Building resilience should be everybody’s attitude.

Local governments and communities must embrace environmental policies and translate them into action. This means that land use plans should be risk-sensitive; cities and human settlements must be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; multi-hazard early warning systems should be in place and strengthened; and the public must know the risk from hazards and the appropriate action to take to prevent the loss of lives and livelihoods.

The government and the private sector must work together in setting and observing development standards that comply with resilience benchmarks. There should be better investments in flood control, forest management, hazard identification, mapping and assessment, research and development, and risk financing. The private sector has the potential to bring in core competencies for shaping innovative and sustainable solutions and therefore plays a vital role in building resilience.

We must likewise tap the unique contribution to disaster resilience of different groups in our society—women, children, the elderly, people living with disabilities, and indigenous peoples—as we address their specific vulnerabilities.

The media also has a crucial role here. The media has the duty to create awareness and disseminate information about natural hazards and how we can prepare and reduce disaster and climate risks, as well as to constantly remind so that preparedness and resilience become a way of life.

As a powerful force that can promote a change in mindset from one that is reactive to one that is proactive, the media should engage the public to effect positive action to mitigate the climate crisis through a change in lifestyle and strengthened environmental conservation efforts.

Disaster and climate resilience is not a seasonal issue. It is always timely and relevant. That is why I salute Rappler for organizing these kinds of events and for initiating programs that engage communities in resilience efforts. I also commend other media institutions that give importance to climate issues.

In closing, I wish to stress that we must all adopt a risk-informed lifestyle, mindful of the need to reducing risk to life, livelihood and property.

The road towards resilience may be tough, but with the right attitude and a strong resolve, we will be able to weather the many challenges of our fast changing environment.

Thank you.