Is it ‘Wilma’ or ‘Agaton’?

By Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos December 31,2017

Atty. Gloria Ramos

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) announced another storm brewing, which can be named either “Wilma” or “Agaton,” depending if or when it decides to enter the Philippine area of responsibility in 2017 or in the start of 2018.

“Wilma” it is, if the tropical depression comes before 2017 ends. As of press time, there is still no news about it. It will then become the 23rd typhoon to wreck devastation in the lives and livelihoods of people, and billions of pesos worth of properties.

If the typhoon takes shape within this week, it would be named Agaton, the first for 2018, in our archipelago known for bracing against an average of 22 typhoons annually.

Still reeling from the devastation brought recently by typhoons Vinta and Urduja (known globally as Tembin and Kai-tak, respectively), and whether it is “Wilma” or “Agaton,” the indubitable facts remain that stronger and more frequent typhoons are here to stay, and we are still so utterly unprepared for them.

Knowing the progressive legal framework that we have for climate action and disaster and risk reduction and management which includes accountability, the first two questions that crop up in my mind when deaths occur during typhoons are the following:

Are the geo-hazards maps of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources distributed to all the local government units? Second, did the LGUs concerned act, use the budget for preparing their constituents to the contingency happening, and do they engage the stakeholders to be participative in the journey towards resiliency?

A good question to ask and serious response should be taken in the beginning days of this new year is, what are we doing about it?

Just making public announcements and reacting zombie-like, disasters after disasters post-Haiyan (aka Yolanda), known as the strongest typhoon to hit land, and where zero-death is still a dream to be attained, is not the way to go and protect the lives of our people.

The best preparation comes years and months ahead of any weather disturbance and in fact should be made a way of life, just like what Japan is doing.

It is frustrating that the budget for national disaster risk reduction and management fund for 2018 was cut by P11.1 billion, from a proposed P30.7 billion to P19.6 billion.

In the 2017 budget, “National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (Calamity) Fund… experienced a large cut – from a proposed budget of P37.255 billion to a mere P15.755 billion in the signed 2017 budget law.

That’s a cut of P21.5 billion.” (https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/159002-2017-national-budget-duterte-promises)

Being geographically in a place where typhoons recur regularly puts an eerie sense of normalcy of its occurrence in the minds of people and public authorities alike. Deaths and destruction are seen as inevitable, a fortuitous event, an act of God, where disaster preparedness is taken lightly.

Accountability is almost nil, especially in remote areas, by those tasked to ensure that disaster risk reduction and management is integrated as a service to be delivered to the constituents. Residents in those communities do not even realize that they should be involved in the crafting of the DRRM plan.

Many do not know that these officials in gross dereliction of their duties can be held liable for their inaction, wasteful expenditure of DRRM funds, or engaging in fraudulent transactions that divert the Funds from the very purpose of its allocation, among other prohibited acts.

Blessed are those with community leaders who take the initiative of moving their local government authorities and national agencies to action and start the ball rolling for disaster management which can only lead to saving thousands if not millions of lives.

Will we take DRRM and saving lives seriously, in 2018, and onwards?

Writing during the beginning of the year, I find it to be one of the most challenging. Valid or not, there is a perceived expectation that the message starts the new year on a positive note.

I am taking a different path to emphasize the urgency of action in preparedness. A quote alluded to Benjamin Franklin is worth remembering: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Thanks to all for inspiring and keeping my column going. I am most grateful with your feedbacks and special thanks to my family, Oceana, co-workers, partners and dear friends, Cebu Daily News family for being so understanding and the huge support and to the Globe Media Excellence Awards for Visayas 2017 for the deeply appreciated “Columnist of the Year” award.

Let’s make sure 2018 will be a Year of Action for a Sustainable Future!

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