‘Yolanda’ was a game-changer
(Third of five parts)
The Philippines is remarkably advanced in legislating climate policies.
But bureaucratic inertia and apathy coupled with misplaced priorities of the government—at the local and the national levels—became a combustible mix that exploded on Nov. 8, 2013, the day Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) ravaged Eastern Visayas.
Before the passage of three landmark laws—the Climate Change Act of 2009, Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA) and People’s Survival Fund (2012)—there was a palpable absence of a clearly articulated Philippine climate change policy.
Prior to 2009, the government’s response to climate change was temporary at best. There was no concerted effort to build national resiliency to climate change.
It would take four more years before notable policy changes could reach implementation stage, and these happened in the aftermath of Yolanda.
Although the laws were enacted before Yolanda, it was the devastation wrought by the monster storm that proved to be the game-changer.
Yolanda hastened the implementation of the climate action mandated by the three laws, starting with unlocking funds for disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs and projects as policy shifted from response to preparedness.
In assessing Yolanda’s onslaught in 2013 and the corresponding response of the government to battling climate change, this writer reviewed the legislation and policy action during two relevant periods: from 2009 through 2013 (first phase) and 2013 through 2015 (second phase).
The research generated data sets from various primary sources such as legislation, executive issuances, climate action plans, field visits and personal interviews with survivors of Yolanda, government officials and representatives of NGOs.
The wealth of available data pointed to a breakthrough in legislating DRR policies, plans, programs and strategies as early as 2009.
The passage of climate legislation in the country became crucial following the back-to-back devastation wrought by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (Ketsana) and Typhoon “Pepeng” (Parma) in 2009. This was the context of the passage of climate change legislation.
First, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 9729, or the Climate Change Act of 2009. The law principally authored by Sen. Loren Legarda, the UN Global Champion for Resilience, calls for “mainstreaming climate change into government policy formulations, establishing the framework strategy and program on climate change.”
According to Legarda, mainstreaming refers to a holistic effort to make climate change adaptation and risk reduction efforts front and center of government policy.
Section 2 of the Climate Change Act explicitly defines the country’s framework strategy for dealing with climate change: “Mainstreaming such policies and measures that address climate change in the development planning and sectoral decision-making” of both the national government and local government units (LGUs).
The Climate Change Act superseded several executive issuances that were limited in scope and authority: Administrative Order No. 220, issued in 1991, and Administrative Order No. 171, issued in 2007.
Formal legal structure
Second, Congress a year later passed PDRRMA, or RA 101211, creating a formal legal structure to “strengthen the Philippine disaster risk reduction and management system” by providing for a DRR management framework, institutionalizing a national DRR and management plan (NDRRMP) and providing funding for the latter.
But a noticeable lag in the execution phase was noted, with the much-vaunted integration of climate change adaptation (CCA) and DRR policies unable to reach the LGU level.
The executive branch also suffered from bureaucratic inertia, unable to speed up the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected LGUs and harness the government’s political capital—and largely unspent funds—to require LGUs to institutionalize DRR policies and programs in their respective areas.
Command and control
For instance, in Tacloban City, it took the national government a week to reestablish security as the humanitarian crisis stoked fears of unrest and anarchy.
Then Interior Secretary Mar Roxas fielded to Tacloban, Samar and Leyte some 1,000 police officers and 247 fire marshals from neighboring regions to secure vital roads so that aid could begin to flow to starving residents of interior and mountain villages.
But the emergency response led by the national government was characterized by snail-paced and disorganized distribution of relief goods despite the prompt response—and deluge of aid—from international relief and donor agencies.
The Inquirer reported that some survivors in Tacloban looted shopping malls and stores because of lack of food and water in the days following the disaster.
The research conducted by this writer led to a disturbing finding: Instead of a primary role in emergency response, the LGU of storm-ravaged Tacloban was regrettably sidelined, with the Aquino administration dictating the phase of the emergency response and recovery.
In such situations, LGUs should have been empowered—through the quick (a) influx of budgetary subsidies and logistics from the national government, which has more funds and resources to deal with a burgeoning crisis, and (b) by the LGU asserting a primary role in emergency response.
The study explained that the main goal of both DRR and emergency responses is to save lives and thus the success of both preparedness and response heavily depends on the ability of the LGUs to bounce back and recover faster from the effects of natural hazards.
The study noted that politics should have taken a back seat while the humanitarian crisis played out, as a disaster such as Yolanda impacts both rich and poor. It stressed that climate change affects everyone, regardless of political affiliation.
(To be continued)
IN THE KNOW
Section 2 of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA) defines DRR as “the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyze and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events.”
PDRRMA created the government’s disaster risk reduction and management apparatus at the national, regional and local levels, with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) at the helm.
The council has grouped its National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (NDRRMP) into four thematic areas (e.g., disaster prevention and mitigation, disaster preparedness, disaster response, and disaster rehabilitation and recovery) to correspond to the structure of the NDRRMC.
The NDRRMP has clustered national government agencies or departments along these four themes, providing specific mandates for these agencies. These Cabinet groupings for DRR were still in the planning or organizational stage when Yolanda struck.
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