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Southwest Monsoon

Disaster Preparedness

Here’s hoping that all our readers were unscathed by the recent rains brought by the Southwest monsoon. Since my family and I live on a small hill, we were otherwise untouched by the rain even if at some point, the strong water somehow found its way into our drainage. But that was nothing compared to the miseries that the rains brought to a whole lot of residents in the metropolis and in the surrounding provinces. It seems that while we have learned to live year in year out with no less than 20 storms per year, we still have a lot to learn in terms of crisis management to minimize the risk for many of our countrymen.

For instance, my good friend Mahar Lagmay has long advocated strong public awareness about potential landslide-prone areas in Metro-Manila. And yet, despite the existence of these scientific data, both local government units and private developers, including the buying public, appear oblivious to the risk attached in developing and residing in these areas.

Elsewhere, despite the repeated flooding arising from clogged esteros and drainages, there does not appear to be any visible improvement in terms of communities preventing their solid waste from finding its way to our estuaries. How many more deaths arising from flooding should we have before our communities realize that while nature may not be controlled, its adverse consequences may be aggravated by our acts?

And yes, there is also the matter of weather forecasting, The problem with this latest rain is that it unleashed more water than typhoon Ondoy and yet, there was no typhoon. Seems to me that even I the absence of a typhoon, there has to be a better way of warning the people about the possible dangers that may be caused by continuous outpour of rain.

One good new behind the recent catastrophe is the state of preparedness of the Philippine media to give the general public up to date reports about what is happening. Kudos to the men and women of the news industry who risked their lives and limbs to provide us with necessary information is responsible for saving a lot of lives and property. Government should take heed that it was the media and not government that harnessed their resources to mitigate the damages of this natural catastrophe. I’m hoping that President Aquino will remember this before making yet another tirade against the media.

But the message is clear: we live in a disaster-prone country. As such, we need to prioritize disaster preparedness as part of our national policy. Every community must draw up its own community preparedness plan to deal with what we know is a certainty — natural calamities — even if we do not know when it will actually strike. Government must likewise give priority in acquiring equipment and other infrastructure to mitigate natural catastrophes. In this regard, perhaps, the Ombudsman should now prioritize the investigation of graft cases involving the procurement of these life-saving equipment, such as rubber boats and the like. Already, we seem to have forgotten that part of the sins of the past administration was the procurement of rubber boats that cannot be used in the metropolis in case of flooding. This is the worst type of corruption since they feed on the misery of the people in times of natural calamities. These cases should be prosecuted with dispatch so that we can teach others, by way of example, that bottom feeders in our society will be punished.

A final point on class cancellations. While I appreciate the dispatch by which local government units have cancelled classes, I am now alarmed at how much time our students have lost in their studies. This is particularly relevant to me since as a teacher myself, I now have to recover a whole week of course work which can only happen if I hold classes on weekends or if we prolong our academic calendar. I’m not suggesting changing the start of the school year from June to September as is the case in the United States for a practical reason: it will be too hot to teach and study in the dry seasons of April and May. But perhaps, what we need to have is more flexibility in terms of prolonging the school calendar to make up for lost days of school owing to inclement weather.

Hence, if we cancelled 10 school days per semester, perhaps, we should have a longer semestral break in October-November so that in case make up classes are required, we could do so during the semestral break. As to the second semester, there will be the summer days to make up for these days. My experience is that make-ups on weekends are not so conducive to learning especially when Saturdays are not enough to make up for lost time. Schools hence should be more flexible in their academic calendars.

Meanwhile, here’s hoping that all of our readers stay safe and warm!