Speech: 5th Top Leaders Forum

November 8, 2016

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda

5th Top Leaders Forum

Science and Technology Towards Business Resilience

8 November 2016 | SMX Convention Center, Pasay City

I congratulate the organizers of the 5th Top Leaders Forum for getting our stakeholders together to inform and stimulate public conversation on the theme, “Science and technology towards building resilience.”

I have one message to everyone in this forum — We should not assume that science, research, and the tools they offer will just automatically find their way into the drawing boards of policy makers, planners, and those charged to lead action in building more resilient communities.

We need to face the fact that science, in the field of disaster risk reduction and management, more often than not, is ignored.

Decisions that impact on millions of people, regrettably, are oftentimes made with very scant consideration for scientific and academic research.

I am a policy maker and I interface with people from our bureaucracy and local executives everyday.  I have seen how action, often times, are guided by what is popular, by what is easiest to undertake, or by least cost considerations.  This has to change.

We need to accept the fact that the disaster risk landscape requires a more focused, evidence-based assessment of hazards, vulnerability and disaster risks—and this can only be done through science.

This forum should focus less on understanding the role of science and technology in building more resilient communities and businesses.  We all know that by now.

The bigger question should be “What is stopping us from using science and technology in our bid to build more resilient communities and businesses?”

Future cities are not built after our time. We start building them today. Communities, fifty years from now, will look different and people will live differently. Their realities will not be defined in their time, but in the lifetime of generations before them.

Communities and businesses that withstand one or two disasters do not define resilience.

We need to build communities that will withstand the greatest disaster risks of our time; and this is only possible if we are guided by an understanding of climate variability and change, as well as their impacts, and the processes that control the climate system and how it evolves.

We need to map our natural resources so we can promote the protection and stewardship of our resources.

We need to understand the impact of businesses on the environment because, while they create opportunities for our communities, they can also undermine efforts to promote sustainability.

Land use plans that are risk sensitive are vital. Hazard maps can provide a good foundation for the work of our planners and builders.

With high reliability of disaster data, the private sector will also be better equipped to carry out its role in disaster risk planning, preparedness and response, and will be more confident to enter into risk financing schemes without fear of massive losses.

Knowing when, where and in what magnitude a typhoon will strike is fundamental to keeping our people prepared.

In all of these, science, research, and technology have an indispensable role.

Exactly three years ago today, Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) shocked the world as it decimated the communities that lay directly in its path, leaving a trail of death and destruction that compounded poverty in the countryside, slowed down rural development in affected provinces and region, and, on the national level, scaled back economic growth.

An assessment of Tacloban, which greatly bore the brunt of the storm’s impact, showed that the city’s location is highly susceptible to disaster risks. The geo-hazard map for Tacloban showed a province massively covered by color purple on its outskirts and red within—meaning to say, the coastal areas were susceptible to flooding, while the inland was highly susceptible to landslides. The map’s color coding scheme represented susceptibility to landslides and flooding; but the people of Tacloban came to know of that ONLY AFTER THE FACT.

Days before Haiyan hit land, there were public warnings from the weather bureau and preemptive evacuation was carried out in the coastal areas.  Those who did not heed the warning, tragically met the same fate of the thousands who moved to evacuation sites. Still, those who were supposed to oversee disaster risk management operations also became victims themselves.

Emergency relief resources were prepared and prepositioned, including more than 84,000 family food packs, assorted medicines, medical supplies, cot beds, and other essential materials worth P328.7 million.[1] As we have seen, those preparations were not enough.

What went wrong?

A disaster management expert said that “even the best- prepared nation would have a hard time bracing itself against the effects of such a storm.”[2]

We cannot, however, submit ourselves to utter helplessness in the face of mounting disaster risks. We need to be in control, and the only way that can happen is to embrace the lessons learned from Haiyan and to move forward not just with the resolve, but with the tools, to do better.

Government and businesses cannot just be enablers of research.  They cannot just be facilitators for knowledge creation.  They need to be users of the knowledge that science and technology creates.

Each year, billions of pesos are being channeled to finance scientific research, a significant part of which funds climate research, environmental mapping, meteorological research, establishment of GIS hub for disaster risk reduction and climate change, air quality monitoring, land use mapping, just to name a few related initiatives.

How much of these are carried out in partnership with our scientific and research community?  And how much of their outputs actually find their way into our planning?

There is a saying that organizations are only as good as their weakest link.  I would rather focus on the positive, and say that we can only be stronger and better if we recognize the value that all stakeholders can bring to the table.

The only way we can build more inclusive and resilient communities is by getting everyone to participate and contribute to the task of building more resilient communities.

We have some of the best scientists and academic institutions in the world. Government and businesses need to reach out to them.

I also wish to address myself to the scientific and research communities.

I understand that the gold standard of a researcher’s output is the publication of peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals.  Our scientists and research community, however, will also need to communicate the practical value of what they are doing.  The end should not be focused on publishing a paper; but making sure these contribute to creating knowledge that serves the needs and interests of communities today, and in the future.

Our biggest challenges include those of getting all “hands on deck,” providing the resources to make science work for building resilient communities and businesses, and translating knowledge into practice.

We need a science-based governance in building disaster resilience and in managing hazard-associated risks.

The government’s Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards or Project NOAH is a good start but we need other stakeholders to be involved in this project.

Our Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has also completed the geo-hazard maps at a scale of 1:10,000. This is an important tool for crafting local disaster risk reduction and management plans.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction tells us, managing the risks is key to resilience.  We acknowledge this and our resolve to build more resilient communities is more pronounced than ever. In all of these, science is our ally.

The changing environmental landscape poses various challenges that would likewise change the business landscape, but forward-thinking companies will see adaptation as an opportunity to innovate and contribute to improving the environment.

We must not rebuild the risks. If we build strong and wise today, there will be no need to rebuild in the future.

Thank you.


[1] FAQ: Government’s Immediate Response to Typhoon Yolanda, Presidential Management Staff (http://gel2014.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/faqs-governments-immediate- response-to-typhoon-yolanda/), 2014

[2] Kathryn Hawley in Conversations with disaster experts by Marites Vitug, Rappler.com