Former disaster victims now heroesBy Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Once disaster victims, now they’re disaster heroes.
A 53-person group from calamity-prone Albay province has arrived in Metro Manila, bringing with it pieces of equipment and experience culled from years of disaster response in the Bicol region.
“Team Albay,” as the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has come to dub them, arrived on the scene on Wednesday afternoon, after traveling by land bearing two trucks, a fire truck, three rubber boats, water purifying equipment, utility vehicles and a busload of experienced rescuers.
The team, deployed under the Bicol Office of the Civil Defense, was sponsored by Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, who has become a pioneer in climate change adaptation endeavors in the Philippines.
The team came in the midst of torrential rains and deep flooding in Metro Manila, brought by the southwestern monsoon.
Salceda seems mighty proud of his team. Aside from taking care of their food and lodging while they are deployed, the governor has also been updating his Facebook page with reports and photos of Team Albay’s movements in the metropolis.
The team has been previously deployed to Cagayan and typhoon-prone provinces in Bicol such as Masbate and Catanduanes.
“Region 5 is a disaster-prone area …. And most of the team are Bicolanos. I am impressed with them. I don’t have any problems handling them because they’re already good at [disaster response],” said team leader Rommel Jason Galang, also the deputy commander of the Naval Forces Southern Luzon.
With disaster response units in Metro Manila still swamped with calls for help, augmentation forces from the provinces come as a welcome aid. MMDA General Manager Corazon Jimenez said they were currently deploying rescue units to Quezon City, Marikina, Pasig, Malabon, Rizal and Taguig.
Hours after they arrived, volunteering their services to
MMDA and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Team Albay was already deployed in the evening to rescue those stranded in flooded homes in Quezon City.
Other regions have also sent their own teams, but Galang said with Team Albay, “we’re not just for search and rescue.”
“We are a stand-alone group. We came here with our own equipment. We came here to help without agencies here in Metro Manila having to arrange things for us,” he said.
The team is divided into three groups: one for search and rescue, another for water and sanitation, and a third forthcoming medical team. The team is a composite force with members coming from the Southern Luzon Naval Forces and Air Force, Albay provincial government and even the regional office of Department of Health.
Galang said Team Albay was Salceda’s brainchild. “I think it’s his way of thanking people for helping Albay back when it was ravaged by disasters. Now that they have the equipment and capacity, it’s their turn to help,” Galang said.
The team is currently hoping to see more action. When Inquirer interviewed Galang over the phone, his team had been on standby for two hours in Marikina. He also said the team’s water purifier, which could render potable a fire truck full of water, has yet to be assigned to an evacuation center.
But Galang was also all praises for rescuers in the metropolis. “Wherever we went, someone was always ready to brief us. They are very structured,” he said.
The MMDA noted that, aside from Albay, local governments outside Metro Manila had sent rescue teams like those from Cavite and other LGUs that were sent to UERM Medical Center, Manila and Pasig, Marikina, Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Quezon City.
Team Albay, as of 2 p.m. on Thursday, had been deployed to a Valenzuela evacuation center, bringing its water filtration system with it.
The MMDA has also deployed rescue teams from the agency’s own groups, as well as the national police, military, Red Cross, the public works and highways department, the fire department and volunteer groups.
They have, as of Thursday, rescued more than 20,000 residents in different parts of Metro Manila.