Privilege Speech: One Year After: Ondoy’s Wake-Up Call Remains Unheeded

September 27, 2010

In a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company and the Oxford University Institute of Climate Change late last year, the Philippines registered the highest level of concern for climate change among 54 countries surveyed. 78% of Filipino respondents said they are concerned[1]. In fact, VERY CONCERNED.
They have good reasons to feel that way. Let us review our records.
Looking Back
The Philippines was severely hit by three successive tropical cyclones: “Ondoy”, “Pepeng”, and “Santi” between September 24 to November 2, 2009.
It is said that Typhoon Ondoy (KETSANA) brought a month’s volume of rain in just 12 hours. This, according to government executives, was the culprit behind the unprecedented level of flooding which submerged much of Metro Manila, Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna, Central Luzon and parts of Regions I and II. Hundreds died.
As if the damages inflicted by “Ondoy” were not enough, typhoon “Pepeng” (PARMA) was next to enter the country, barely three days after “Ondoy” had exited.
Thereafter, two other typhoons of lesser magnitude — Quedan (MELOR) and Ramil (LUPIT) – also visited our country.
Then on October 28, typhoon “Santi” (MIRINAE) — the fifth typhoon to visit us in a span of one month and four days – brought heavy rains and flooding once again. Despite the pre-emptive evacuation carried out, still 802,155 people were affected[2].
Since Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi, more than 10 million affected lives[3] have been changed, some of them in this very room, Mr. President. The rest of us watched in utter despair and helplessness.
We have to make an effort to revisit, not so much the pain that Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi have inflicted upon us as a country, but the efforts undertaken in response to the lessons learned.
Impacts Revisited
The statistics are staggering:
• 2 million families or 10 million individuals were affected in the flooding or landslides[4];
• Nearly a thousand perished: 464 due to Ondoy, 492 due to Pepeng, and 34 due to Santi[5];
• Total damage and losses amounted to USD 4.4 Billion or the equivalent of 2.7 percent of the country’s GDP[6];
• The education sector’s total damages and losses are at Php2.7 billion covering 3,417 schools, 36 colleges and universities, and about 2,800 day care centers[7];
• The Agriculture sector alone lost Php29.38 Billion covering 30 provinces in 7 regions[8];
• Totally or partially damaged homes reached 220,000[9].
The list goes on.
Have We Learned Enough?
What invites interesting discussion at this time, however, is not so much what happened during those fateful four weeks of 2009. Rather, we need to answer the question, “What have we done since?”
This is certainly not an academic question. This is a question that will help us achieve our most urgent objective of ensuring preparedness when the next calamity strikes.
We debate publicly on national issues – public health, security, education, the economy, and development in general. In engaging in such discourse, we seek to find ways by which we can provide social and economic security to our people.
Today, I wish to talk about the most basic form of security. That is the need for our people to feel secure when they sleep at night. To feel safe when they go to work. Or even in just simply living their lives amidst threats of disasters.
Such security emanates from having confidence and trust in our government and its systems — that when the next typhoon strikes, we will be better prepared to meet the challenges head on.
There will always be typhoons. Probably far worse than what we have experienced thus far. And our people should feel confident that even in the worst of situations, they would have a fair chance of returning safely to their homes. That was not the case in Ondoy and Pepeng.
They also need to feel secure that their loved ones would be safe in their homes notwithstanding the rains. And if there should be flooding, government should be prepared to rescue them and offer decent temporary shelter worthy of human dignity. That, again, was not the case in Ondoy and Pepeng.
On July 13 of this year, Basyang inflicted damages — 102 people dead, 46 missing, and 91 injured[10]. It took 3 days for electricity to be restored in most of Metro Manila. Estimated cost of damage to infrastructure and agriculture was Php 378 million.
But the most telling damage was the psychological trauma on those who survived the onslaught of Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi. Most of them could not sleep as Basyang battered the country. They said they would rather be awake, than be caught sleeping by what might be another close encounter with death.
Why should they fear of ill-preparation a year after Ondoy? Let us find out why.
Where is the Supplemental Budget?
One month from Ondoy’s onslaught, Congress, on 14 October 2009, passed Joint Resolution No. 5. This resolution authorized the use of unprogrammed funds in an amount not to exceed Php12 Billion for relief operations, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of areas affected.
The Unprogrammed Fund for 2009 was Php75.9 Billion[11]. Of this amount, Php23.5 Billion constituted “Support to Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs” which covered relief, reconstruction, and rehabilitation activities[12].
One year since, the Department of Budget and Management has allocated Php 339.1 million[13] to fund relief and rehabilitation efforts on the strength of this Joint Resolution. This is only 2.83% of the entire Php 12 billion that was authorized by Congress to be utilized.
Is the loss of nearly 1000 lives not enough, Mr. President, to convince our NDCC-member agencies particularly the DND, DSWD, DILG, DPWH and DBM that action is long overdue?
More Funding, But Where are the Results?
As of September 25, Mr. President, 27 evacuation centers continue to exist in many barangays along the shores of the Laguna de Bay and several areas in Region IV-A, Region III, and Region I[14]. These serve as “temporary homes” to 1,783 families or 9,271 people. DSWD estimates that 42% of them are children.
Funding came, Mr. President, but how could it be that one year after Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi, we still have people living in evacuation centers?
We need not look far away. They are just in Antipolo, San Mateo, Angono, Pililia[15], among many other places just 26 kilometers away from where I stand now. There are thousands more in Pampanga, Pangasinan, Zambales, and Benguet[16]. Initial information gathered by my office indicates the following funding sources:
• A total of USD 409.5 million worth of direct loans[17] acquired from:
1. Japan International Cooperation Agency for the Short-Term Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project;
2. Instituto de Credito Oficial & Deutsch Bank S.A.E. for a Bridge Construction and Replacement Project; and
3. the World Bank for Food Crisis Response Development Policy Operation and Supplemental Support for Post-Typhoon Recovery.
• This is on top of the Php 14.8 billion that had been released to various departments in relation to emergency response, relief and rehabilitation efforts for Ondoy and Pepeng[18].
It is crucial to ask, “What have we done with the money so far?”
Initial reports indicate that since the change of administration, the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission (SNPRC), whose task, by virtue of Executive Order No. 838, was to oversee and raise funds for the rehabilitation of affected sectors has yet to convene. We would like to know how this Commission, along with the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation as its private sector partner, has helped in the rehabilitation effort. We certainly hope to build-on their initial gains.
An accounting of what we have done and what we have spent is in order. This is the very least we can do in honor of the people who, by their death in Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi, would have hopefully issued a wake-up call for everyone.
Alarming Facts
Mr. President, we recognize that funding is a major problem. But that problem is multiplied many times over if funding already available is not used in a timely manner.
What are these lessons?
Let me share the findings contained in the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Report produced by the International Organization for Migration and local government units. The Report presents a survey conducted from April to 31 May 2010 covering 31 evacuation centers in Region 4-A, Region 3, NCR, and CAR which hosted 12,947 evacuees. The salient findings are as follows:
• 40% of the evacuation centers were found to be susceptible to climate hazards and risks or further flooding[19];
• 58% of the evacuees did not know of government relocation plans for them[20];
• 61% of the sites reported that they did not have electricity[21].;
• 36% (4,771 people) of the total displaced population are accommodated in makeshift shelters, mostly in Region III[22].
Eight months after Ondoy, Mr. President, the situation of nearly 10,000 evacuees has not yet improved.
That leads me to my next question: “Are we prepared to face the next ‘Ondoy’?”
My office has been furnished by NDCC with a consolidated list of funding requests for rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts following typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng, and Frank.
• The first list involved a funding request of Php 14 billion pesos[23]. These requests have been referred to SNPRC as of February 2010. • The second list totaled Php10.8 billion. As in the first list, all of the requests were marked “pending with the Commission”[24].
These requests involved funding for “early recovery and rehabilitation” projects of DSWD and reconstruction projects of DPWH. It is ironic that twelve months after Ondoy, the “early recovery” projects have yet to be funded.
Policies Wanting of Heightened Action
Our policies are well in place for us to equip ourselves for the next disaster.
In October 2009, the Philippine Climate Change Act (Republic Act 9729) was enacted. No less that the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction observed that our climate change law is the most comprehensive and the most integrated legislation so far in Asia-Pacific.
In May 2010, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (Republic Act 10121) was signed into law. Its primary task is to develop a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework and Plan.
Congress was not remiss on passing the joint resolution allocating funds for immediate rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas affected by Ondoy and Pepeng.
Mr. President, we can no longer deal with disasters and calamities on an ad-hoc basis.
In carrying out our rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, and our preparedness programs, we need to reckon with facts, figures, and expert advice.
Rehabilitation and reconstruction are necessary; but risk reduction is a MUST. Our disaster risk reduction and management system needs to be more proactive, coherent, and effective. The quality of scientific data available to government agencies and local government units for predicting and forecasting disasters requires urgent improvement. We therefore need to strengthen them.
Government needs to provide political leadership that will facilitate and synchronize efforts of government with those of non-government organizations, donors, and civil society.
Standing against the background of Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi, we all know what we want. We want to be able to say: “We will be prepared the next time around.”
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, this is not a matter of choice. This is a matter of survival.
[1] Nielsen Global Omni Online Survey – October 2007 – October 2009.
[2] Concept Paper, Rising Above and Beyond Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi: Lessons Learned Workshop, NDCC
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng: Post-Disaster Needs Assessment
[7] Ibid.
[8] NDCC Update: Situation Report No. 52, 23 November 2009
[9] Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng: Post-Disaster Needs Assessment
[10] NDCC Update: Final Report re Effects of Typhoon Basyang, 9 August 2010
[11] 2009 General Appropriations Act
[12] Ibid.
[13] Releases for Repair/Rehabilitation of Infrastructure Facilities Damaged by Typhoons Ondoy and pepeng against FY 2009 Unprogrammed Fund, Purpose 6- Support to Infrastructure Projects (DBM)
[14] DSWD’s List of Existing Evacuation Centers on Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, as of 31 August 2010
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] DOF List of National Government Direct Loans (Rehabilitation/ Reconstruction/ Recovery Activities in Areas Affected by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng), as of 24 September 2010
[18] DBM Secretary Florencio Abad’s letter to Senator Loren Legarda dated 24 September 2010
[19] Displacement Tracking Matrix Report, April – June 2010
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Consolidated list of Funding Requests for Ts Ondoy, Pepeng and Frank endorsed by NDCC/OCD to SNPRC for Funding Support, as of 8 February 2010
[24] Consolidated list of Funding Requests for Ts Ondoy, Pepeng and Frank endorsed by NDCC/OCD to SNPRC for Funding Support, as of 26 March 2010