Bracing for disaster

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The occurrences of scattered to at times widespread rainfall associated with the southwest monsoon (habagat) during the past few days confirmed indeed the onset of the rainy season in our country. Last Friday, our very own Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) even made an official declaration on the start of rainy season.

For a tropical country like ours, the month of June has always been our fixed period of the typhoon season when storms and typhoons come in and out of our country one after the other. An average of 20 tropical cyclones and storms enter each year in our so-called Philippine area of responsibility (PAR).

According to PAGASA, the peak of our typhoon season is normally from July through October when nearly 70 percent of all typhoons develop. During this period of time, intermittent rains and thunderstorms break out even if there is no typhoon. Although it is already the rainy season, our PAGASA weather forecasters reiterated the El Niño phenomenon, or the long dry condition remains a threat in our country.

That’s the irony of climate change when the normal weather pattern becomes abnormal.

In fact, we had had already two typhoon visitors one after the other less than two months apart. Tropical storm (TS) “Amang” first made a landfall in Catanduanes on April 11 and subsequently crossed the usual typhoon belt areas in the Bicol and Quezon provinces. Then “super typhoon” Mawar that wrought devastation in Guam, locally named “Betty,” later on entered the PAR on May 27.

But long before TS “Betty” could reach the PAR, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) announced having mobilized and organized concerned government agencies. The OCD, presently headed by DND assistant secretary Ariel Nepomuceno, is an attached agency of the Department of National Defense (DND). The OCD serves as the implementing arm of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Incidentally, erstwhile Tarlac Rep. Gilberto Teodoro officially made a comeback in his old post at the DND. President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) swore him into office yesterday at Malacanang along with newly appointed Health Secretary Dr. Teodoro Herbosa.

Nepomuceno welcomed the appointment of his new boss Teodoro at the DND. A Reserve Major in the Armed Forces, Nepomuceno belongs to Class 1987 of the Philippine Military Academy. As DND Secretary, Teodoro sits as the vice-chairman of the President at the NDRRMC while the DOH Secretary is among the members of this inter-agency body.

But it is the OCD that supervises, monitors, and evaluates the implementation of disaster management programs to ensure their effectiveness. It is also tasked to coordinate the activities of various government agencies and instrumentalities as well as of private institutions and civic organizations devoted to public welfare.

In my column “Climate change trips” published in this corner last May 29, I credited the so-called “whole of government” approach in the early preparations and pre-positioning of men, equipment and resources as part of the disaster risk reduction (DRR) practices implemented to mitigate potential damages of super typhoon “Betty.”

That column mentioned the OCD chief was among the official delegates of the Philippines who flew to New York for a three-day conference held at the United Nations from May 18-20. The information was based on the official press and photo release of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

It bandied about DENR Secretary Antonia Loyzaga being designated by PBBM to head the Philippine delegation to this UN High-Level Meeting on the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). The photo release showed Loyzaga and several other officials who included DENR Undersecretary and Chief of Staff Marilou Erni among the Philippine delegation to New York.

Nepomuceno, who writes “Perceptions,” opinion column pieces for The STAR and the BusinessWorld sought to clarify his personal circumstances in this New York trip. In particular, he took exceptions to his having participated in a “junket” as described in that column.

In the spirit of fair play, pertinent portions of his rejoinder are reprinted below:

“I’ve read your column re ‘Climate Change Trips.’ I’m sad because of the ‘junket’...I fully understand your concern. But if I may explain, to at least clear my name on this.”

“1. I paid for my own plane ticket and hotel. I used my credit card which means I’ll pay for these in installments for few months. I’m mindful of your concern on how to use government funds properly po. I have the card receipts...”

“2. Until the last two weeks prior to the trip, I wanted to stay in Manila because of the huge workload that I have...which will still be there after the trip.  But my staff and other officers explained that as head of OCD, I must attend to show respect to my counterparts whom I’ll also need to strengthen my network. And that I would learn from the important discussions during breakout sessions (not only the ‘reading’ of commitments). Truly, I’m thankful that I attended. I learned a lot from the trip. I made strong contacts for OCD.”

“3. Lastly, my messages and call logs would show that I was still working daily with my staff in Manila while I was in the US. The time difference worked for me. Mam, I’m clearing my name not with your readers or the public. I’m messaging you because I want to clear my name with you po. I’m not expecting anything more than to explain with you that I’m doing my best to serve our country well... Ariel”

Postscript: “Even my personal staff who was with me, Atty. Jek Casipit, paid for his own ticket and hotel also. But I promised him that I will try to pay him back (not soon though),” he added.

Meanwhile, tropical depression “Chedeng” has started unleashing rains and thunderstorm while another potential eruptive episode of Mt. Mayon in Bicol is brewing. We always pray in times of our worst fears but let’s get OCD-scale preparedness for disaster.

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