At the rate the country is being battered by natural calamities, perhaps it is time we revisited the idea of converting the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council into a line department to better respond to natural disasters.
This year alone, we had volcano eruptions, flooding and mudslides due to typhoons, and a couple of strong earthquakes causing so much misery in lives lost as well as property damage.
When PBBM assumed office, there was a proposal to make the NDRRMC into a line agency.
Presidential sister Senator Imee Marcos, however, commented the current agencies dealing with disaster response already have the authority and sufficient capabilities to deal with the situation.
According to her, what was needed was to institute reforms or something to that effect.
Predictably, that proposal was shelved. With due respect to the good Senator, there is wisdom in trying new ideas to replace and archaic and unresponsive system.
As we have been witnessing over the years and in the most recent typhoon, our responses have not been up to par.
There is a saying in the military that for a unit to perform well when employed, that unit must be organized, trained and equipped to accomplish its given mission.
Responding to emergency situations by its very nature requires quick responses with prepositioned equipment and supply materials ready for distribution as the situation demands.
It also presupposes that the agencies involved are always continuously planning and doing exercises so that they will be ready when the disaster strikes.
From the way the NDRRMC or Civil Defense have been responding in the last several natural calamities, there is much to be desired, and it is not entirely their fault.
It is simply because the NDRRMC is not organized, trained and equipped to respond the way it should.
We have a system which is a drawback to martial law when the military played a lot of roles in civil government.
It is time for new ideas in the manner of responding to natural calamities which have been getting more frequent and destructive.
The way the NDRRMC is currently managed is not ideal.
It is being administered by the Office of Civil Defense which is under the Department of Defense.
Every time there is a natural calamity like a typhoon, earthquake or volcanic eruption, however, it is the local government units and other line agencies that become the front liners.
This is because the NDRRMC or the OCD do not have the personnel to do the rescue work themselves.
This was clearly demonstrated in the way the emergency response was implemented when typhoon Paeng devastated large parts of Maguindanao and other areas in the country.
The recovery of the remains of those buried by mudslides in the town of Datu Sinsuat has now been abandoned although all the remains have not yet been recovered.
Part of the reason why it has been difficult was that almost those in the locality were affected and the natural human tendency is to take care of one’s family first.
There is also apparently lack of equipment to use in the recovery operations. The rescue in this instance should have come from the outside together with the relief.
There are many ways to reform disaster management in this country.
One is perhaps to organize, train and equip five company-size units of about 250 personnel each and preposition them in Mindanao, Visayas, Southern Luzon, the National Capital Region and all the provinces north or the NCR.
They should be trained in all aspects of rescue and relief work and must have the infrastructure to perform their mission.
This means the proper facilities to store supplies, maintain the prepositioned equipment and last but not the least construction of training facilities.
In a way, this would be very similar to the way the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was conceptualized.
The agreement was meant to construct facilities where supplies and equipment can be prepositions so that when there is a natural calamity, all the necessary equipment are all ready to use.
The difference in the new disaster response concept is that the personnel are already in the facility ready for deployment at a moment’s notice.
The formation of a 1,250 plus strong highly trained search, rescue and relief unit should not be such a big burden to the national government considering what is at stake.
Typhoon Paeng alone killed at least 151 people, not to mention the property damage – and that is not the end of it.
We will be having stronger and more destructive natural calamities in the future that we should be preparing now.
Whatever new organization that will be formed should include as part of its duties to train and exercise with local government units to achieve cohesion of efforts.
What is clear in the years gone by is that we need a new and more effective system of responding to emergencies and the earlier we get to it the better for the country.