Red Cross: Not just about bloodlettingBy Cynthia D. Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It is a universal organization that revels in helping people in need and whose humanitarian mission transcends the figures who run it.
From an organization set up to ease sufferings during wartime, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has evolved into a mini-government, providing full services even in peacetime.
“It’s a very straightforward organization. We’re not charitable because we don’t say, ‘Can we ask for money?’” PRC Chair Richard “Dick” Gordon said in an interview with the Inquirer.
“We don’t provide doctors but we have doctors during calamities but they are volunteers. We have doctors in the blood bank and we have a lot of nurses,” he said.
But Red Cross is not just about bloodletting and providing ambulances, although these are stressed because of its beginnings in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the additional protocols, statutes, and those of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Gordon said.
“Because there are wars, we give blood. So the Red Cross went into that because it alleviates human suffering. During disasters, such as earthquakes, civil wars, tsunamis—the Red Cross is there,” said Gordon, a former senator and mayor of Olongapo City.
The PRC has 22 blood centers, which are among the 32 centers in the country that provide safe blood to victims. The PRC has 65 blood collection units, more than the government’s blood collection capacity, and they are allowed by the state to test and collect blood for banking.
The Red Cross is an independent, impartial and humanitarian organization whose work is anchored on the principle of unity that is older than the United Nations.
Its symbol, a red cross on a white field, and other similar symbols, such as a red crescent (for Muslims) or red crystal (for Israel), means the bearers cannot be harmed. As such, they are allowed to care for the wounded or visit prisoners and help other victims of armed conflicts.
We have to be ready
The Philippines has to be prepared, as disasters are becoming bigger, Gordon said.
Among the most feared disasters, he said, is a powerful earthquake hitting Metro Manila. The metropolis has a population density of 18,650 people per square kilometer (latest figure available), compared to Central Luzon’s 450 people/sq km and Calabarzon’s 750 people/sq km.
Gordon cited a Japanese study that projects casualties of at least 1.2 million residents if a big one hits Metro Manila. The study expects up to 1,000 10-to-30-story buildings and up to 200 30-to-60-story buildings to collapse.
“[We] have to be ready for that,” Gordon said.
The Red Cross came to the aid of the victims of the 1990 earthquake in Cabanatuan. It also aided survivors of the sinking of the MV Doña Paz, which collided with the MT Vector on Dec. 20, 1987, off Mindoro Island, killing 4,375 passengers—the biggest peacetime maritime disaster in the world. The Red Cross was also there for the survivors of the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars on June 21, 2008. The vessel capsized off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon, at the height of Typhoon “Frank,” killing 100 passengers and leaving 500 missing.
Gordon said the Red Cross also provided humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the communist and Muslim insurgency wars and government military operations against terrorist groups.
Gordon credits his mother, former Olongapo City Mayor Amelia Gordon, for his 45 years of service in PRC, which is 65 years old. It was she who taught him to have compassion for the poor, he said.
Amelia Gordon served in PRC for 63 years. She adopted more than 50 children, changing the lives of thousands more children by establishing the Boys and Girls Home, which provides shelter and opportunity for orphaned Filipino children of American descent. For her work, she received the Pearl S. Buck International Woman Award, becoming one of only three Filipinos to receive the honor. The other two were the late President Corazon Aquino and Rosalinda Wee.
Gordon said that when he was chosen for the highest Red Cross award, he refused it because his mother was still alive and still chair of PRC. Amelia Gordon died in 2009 at the age of 89.
Gordon aims to expand PRC’s readiness to respond to disasters. PRC now has ambulances in nearly 100 chapters, two amphibian boats (which serve as mother ships for dispatch help during floodings), field hospitals and tents.
Although PRC accepts donations to sustain its operations, it gives contributions to Red Cross organizations of other countries hit by disasters. It gave $25,000 to help victims of Hurricane “Katrina” in the United States in 2005; $85,000 to help Indonesian and $10,000 in aid for Pakistani earthquake victims; $20,000 in assistance for earthquake victims in China; and $15,000 in aid for earthquake victims in Burma. Its biggest contribution was $2.4 million, given to help the victims of last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
PRC’s funding comes from donations during disasters, but Gordon tries to raise money for the chapters all year round. When he was still senator, he gave part of his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) allotment to PRC. Today PRC has a budget of $800 million.
Phases of response
PRC’s response to disasters, Gordon said, comes in phases: preparedness, rescue, relief, and rehabilitation.
Gordon aims to make every barangay in the country ready for any disaster.
“With 44 volunteers per barangay (one team leader plus 43 members), we will be able to predict, plan, prepare and cope with every situation. Everyone has a role to play,” Gordon said.
When disaster strikes, PRC mobilizes disaster equipment—amphibian vehicles, ambulances, rescue trucks, rubber boats, aluminum boats—to take people to safety.
After a disaster, PRC distributes relief—food, blankets and sleeping pads, water and clothing.
Once the disaster has passed, PRC helps rebuild communities through housing, livelihood and other social services.
Since 2005, Gordon said, PRC has built or rehabilitated more than 44,000 homes in about 40 provinces for victims of typhoons, floods, landslides and other disasters. It has spent more than P1.2 billion on these housing projects, Gordon said.
Money for housing projects comes from funds given by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements, other Red Cross societies all over the world, international humanitarian aid agencies, corporate donors and other private donors.
The houses can range in size from 24 sq m to 100 sq m, depending on the size of the property. They may be made of wood or concrete, depending on what material is suitable for the area and on funds.
Gordon said the houses were designed to maintain the dignity and privacy of the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries help build the houses, he said.
For livelihood, PRC helps disaster victims learn and get into soap-making, candle-making, and food preparation.
PRC is well known for its medical assistance program. Only recently, PRC helped a 4-year-old girl in Isabela, Niel Lomboy, get surgery that gave her an anus. With PRC’s help, 8-year-old Joshua Asumen of Surigao del Norte has had surgery for the removal of a facial mass at the Philippine General Hospital. He is being prepared for a second surgery.
Gordon’s four children are also active in the Red Cross and regular blood donors. His youngest grandchild, aged 4, helps in packaging relief for disaster victims.
“This is a great organization,” Gordon said. “Every kid should join it. We have Red Cross Youth.”
PRC has 2 million volunteers. “We will break the Guinness [World] Record, which at present has 112,000 volunteers for the Sagip Ilog of Gina Lopez,” Gordon said. “We will apply for the Guinness,” he added.
“Everything we do in the Red Cross is for uplifting human dignity,” Gordon said. “In the end, you can see how remarkable their characters change.”