A continuing conversation

published 24 January 2016
In Tacloban City on Thursday, Jan. 21, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, DRRNet and the Australian Embassy-The Asia Foundation held what they called “Ideas Exchange Forum: The Concluding Community Conversation.”
It was the culminating event of a project that sought to generate insights from various sectors and recommendations on the scheduled review of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. The activity was held to present the results of the project, which had three components: an online survey, community dialogs, and the generation of good-practice stories from the field, all designed to reflect on the effects of the law. 
The DRRM law, passed in the final weeks of the Arroyo administration in 2010, distinguishes among four thematic areas in dealing with disasters: prevention and mitigation; preparedness; response; and rehabilitation and recovery. Different government agencies are in charge of initiatives for each area: the departments of Science and Technology, Interior and Local Government, and Social Welfare and Development and the National Economic and Development Authority, respectively. 
Out of the law arose the NDRRM framework, which envisions a country of “safer, adaptive and disaster-resilient Filipino communities toward sustainable development.” A 15-year plan— a road map—was also drafted with 14 objectives, 24 outcomes, 56 outputs and 93 activities. 
But as we Filipinos know too well, what is on paper could be starkly different from how the law is actually implemented on the ground. After Yolanda and the many other disasters that took place since then, it was necessary to evaluate whether the law provided enough basis and was implemented adequately to address the needs of the people. 
The ones in the best position to provide input to the review of the law are not lawyers, legislators or technical personnel, but the citizens. It is the citizens’ and communities’ actual experiences that serve as legitimate basis for assessing the law’s strong and weak points alike, and how it may be improved. 
What the survey reveals is something that can be worked on. Between May and August 2015, at least 187 respondents from media, government and civil society said that majority has enough general knowledge of the existence of the law but not its particulars and that just a few are aware of the actual composition of local DRRM councils and of the fact that the law says CSOs MUST be among the members of these councils. 
How do they know these?  Not from media, but from formal activities like seminars and training sessions.
Most of the respondents also said they knew the council to help in the coordination of disaster efforts; just a few knew these could actually exert influence at the policy level. DRRM plans were not entirely based on risk assessment activities, and many said just a handful had a direct participation in its crafting, defeating the participatory nature prescribed by the law. 
Many of the respondents also had just a vague idea how DRRM initiatives are funded at the local level. 
Note that the respondents are workers/ members of the media, government and CSOs. Imagine how much less the average citizen is likely to know. 
From the community dialogs emerged challenges recommendations in structure, plans and CSO participation. For example, local councils are not regularly convened, DRRM officers are appointed without commensurate qualification, and many of them hold other concurrent positions in the LGU when DRR is supposed to be a full-time concern. 
If there are plans to begin with, these are not disseminated to the barangay level. Much less are CSOs involved in planning. Local media are remiss in the duty to spread information and education.
Then again, it’s the narratives that bring out how communities work to achieve resilience, with or without the guidance of the law. 
In a town in Eastern Samar, a mayor just four months into the job dug up the files of his predecessor and used an old disaster preparedness plan as his bible just so he would know what to do given the threat of a coming strong typhoon. This ran counter to the practice of politicians of rejecting everything that belonged to the previous administration especially if they came from different political camps.
Two Samar towns empowered their women after Yolanda by revitalizing a weaving industry that enabled them—and their families—to recover after the typhoon. The provincial DRRM office of Leyte also shared its experience—highs and lows, really—in building a reliable early warning system that would alert residents if it was time to evacuate. 
Finally, the city DRRM officer of Zamboanga City talked about how they are trying to bounce back from the horrifying experience of the September 2013 siege. After all, disasters are not just brought by nature—they can also be human-induced. 
In the end, these stories and experiences lent a human face to the process of reviewing where the law succeeds and where it fails. This becomes more and more urgent as the effects of climate change are more pressing, nay, threatening. 
Let’s keep the conversation going by continuing to tell stories—painful, happy, heartbreaking, redeeming—and by electing only leaders who show an appreciation of how crucial DRRM truly is.