Palpable absences in disaster preparedness: investigator

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER / ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – It took a long time for Filipinos outside areas of mass destruction to realize the extent of the misery inflicted by supertyphon Odette a week before Christmas.

For days, reports of what the typhoon had wrought in the Visayas and parts of Mindanao and Luzon could only present scraps of the tragedy; travel to the devastated areas was almost impossible, and communication lines had been destroyed as well as houses, buildings, transmission poles and trees.

It was yet another catastrophe, an eternal mark of life in this “Land of the Morning”. The offices of the Inquirer and other mainstream media have attempted to present a holistic picture of the aftermath of the typhoon, with winds of 195 kilometers per hour (gusts reaching 240 km / h) and rains above that. that the supertyphon Yolanda brought in 2013.

It was truly disheartening, exacerbated by the slow pace of the central government as a responder, as well as President Duterte’s initial remark about government coffers supposedly depleted by pandemic-related spending. (In fact, there are funds to be spent on relief and rehabilitation, including those “parked” in some departments.)

Online, Filipinos have grown irritated at being ignorant of the gravity of the situation on the ground – for example, the appalling shortage of food and clean water in affected areas. The typhoon survivors themselves, in addition to literally picking up the pieces, somehow managed to herald the lack of means by which information about their hardship could reach authorities, loved ones, n ‘anyone.

It took members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives to officially pinpoint what was visibly missing: information from the regional ABS-CBN press group, which would have quickly mobilized the disaster response and helped alleviate the suffering of the people. survivors.

At a press conference, Bayan Muna representative Eufemia Cullamat spoke of the palpable absence of the network at the start of Odette’s fury. She spoke from experience, being from Mindanao which is no stranger to all kinds of disasters, and being aware of the critical differences in reporting yesterday and today.

Posting online, writer Jerry Grácio described the once huge, and now bygone, reach of the closed network: stations in key cities in Visayas and Mindanao that collected 24-hour data and reported crucial information in dominant languages even in remote areas through radio and television.

All of these were shut down when the network’s license expired in May 2020. With its broadcast operations cut off, the network has focused on its digital and cable businesses, which much of the population does not have access to. .

Perhaps the government would have thumbed its nose at the public reaction to the subsequent 70-11 vote by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to kill the network’s franchise renewal application and, to date, would have masterfully filled the created void? Mr Duterte had, after all, more than once threatened to shut down the network, and then Palace spokesman Harry Roque had sniffed that his shutdown was no big deal because, he sly asserted, his line main was entertainment.

But the Philippine news agency has never been of importance in reporting in the past, and even now, despite operating under the aegis of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, funded by one billion pesos.

Despite reduced resources and the difficulty of accessing multiple terrains, Zero-Odette made landfall nine times in its stint – the collective efforts of the media networks not only highlight the appalling scale of the destruction that gravely impedes the long run. – sought an economic recovery after the pandemic, but also the urgently needed measures to save lives.

The Inquirer reported on the rigorous steps taken by the city of Surigao to prepare for Odette, and her sad discovery that she had underestimated the strength of the typhoon. Reuters reported that meteorologists initially warned of “considerable damage” resulting from winds at 165 km / h but that there was no model on which they could have predicted Odette’s rapid intensification. In the end, Odette “exceeded all of our forecasts,” said forecaster Nikos Peñaranda. He said the lack of real-time data and case studies of similar storms in the Asia-Pacific region made it difficult to predict how much Odette would intensify.

Bayan Muna’s representative, Carlos Zarate, calls on the Senate to speed up Bill 8990, which was passed by the chamber last March and mandates the creation of permanent evacuation centers across the country. The Deputy Minority Leader is also raising loud and clear the need to integrate satellite phones into the mandatory arsenal of local government disaster units.

These are smart steps to make up for palpable absences in disaster preparedness and the fatal turn of fierce weather disturbances.

  • The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of the media partner of the Straits Times Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 media entities.