EDITORIAL: Man-made disaster

Editorial Desk in Manila/Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asia News Network

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Howling like unleashed demons over the oceans, typhoons have become every Filipino's experience, especially between June and December of every year. Some of these typhoons are painfully etched in the nation's memory for their ferocity. Names like "Ondoy," "Falcon" and "Milenyo" still strike fear in many of those who fell victim to their blade-like winds and endless rainfall.

Fortunately, we learn. So government now tries to get ahead of typhoons by planning evacuations, suspending classes and sending out evacuation and rescue patrols. The horrors unleashed by 2009's Typhoon "Ondoy" in particular have spurred government agencies into preemptive action.

In the Aquino administration, preemptive action has taken form in the "zero casualty" policy, the execution of which is coordinated by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), acting on forecasts made by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa). But somehow, despite all that planning, despite all that readiness, people still die. That's because you can never "outplan" the fury of nature.

"There are those who ask us why 'zero casualty' is often the policy of the Aquino government... Even if there are preparations, there really would be [casualties]," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press briefing regarding Typhoon "Pedring's" effect on the country. "What the government can do is to ensure as much as we can, according to our capabilities, the security of those people who are in the path of, and who would be affected by, these types of calamities."

The numbers speak for themselves, as of this writing, Pedring is said to have left 50 dead and over 5 billion pesos in damages to property. The figures could have been so much worse if not for the palpable, coordinated efforts of the NDRRMC and other government units, including LGUs, in evacuating people out of harm's way and in sending boats and trucks to rescue those affected by the really bad weather. It cannot be doubted that the orchestrated government plans enabled the Filipino people to better prepare for these weather disturbances. But government can only do so much.

In the wake of Pedring, and right in the path of the next, Typhoon "Quiel", many towns and cities in Central Luzon have been left underwater; thousands of people are stranded and billions of pesos worth of crops have been wiped out. The problem is, while many of those stranded were simply overwhelmed by the swift rise of water after the intense rainfall, followed by the simultaneous releasing of water from dams, there are also those who openly defied the government's evacuation order.

Unfortunately, some of us never learn. There is a variety of reasons for staying behind despite the order to evacuate. One very common, and understandable, has been to protect their homes from looting. But perhaps the worst we hear is that townspeople feel their local government is simply overreacting, that Pagasa got it all wrong - or simply, that they don't think the waters will rise high or fast enough to merit leaving their homes. Often, they exacerbate the situation by keeping their loved ones with them, trusting in their own estimates instead of what the government and its agencies are saying. Another terrible example of stubborn miscalculation, fishermen would lay sail despite the Philippine Coast Guard's order to stay away from the increasingly stormy seas, their need to earn trumping their common sense, and so many of them go missing in the gale.

"Kung tumutugon lang sila sa advisories ng Pagasa at ng council na ito, maiiwasan natin ang casualties (If only they heed Pagasa's advisories and this council, we can avoid the casualties)," NDRRMC head Benito Ramos told reporters.

The Aquino administration's efforts to mitigate the harrowing effects of the typhoons may not be perfect, but they are active measures meant to minimize the death count, damage and destruction. True, the agencies can do better, but they are doing their part, forecasting and preparing, as best as they can.

It is thus left to the citizens themselves to have faith in their government's efforts, to believe that the government has their best interest in mind when issuing evacuation orders and bans on putting out to sea. Faced with the sheer force of nature, it is up to everyone to make sure a natural disaster is not made much worse by disastrous decisions made by man.