OPINION | Unbalanced tides: Local Initiatives demand government accountability
By Natalie Luning
As an archipelago situated in the Pacific, the Philippines is no stranger to typhoons. With almost 20 typhoons ravaging the country in a span of 4 to 5 months every year, the Filipino people have gone through its worst effects. Just recently, in a span of 3 weeks, 5 typhoons ravaged different parts of the country, leaving little to no room for immediate recovery.
As the onslaught brought by destructive typhoons disrupted the lives of people, stories of suffering and pleas for help became relentless. Many communities were left submerged, thousands of people displaced, properties and belongings destroyed, and many unrescued. For the most part, those who suffered the most took their suffering to social media as they await rescue and relief operations. The luckier residents, having to watch the rest of the country drown through their screens, could only do so much by resharing and reposting.
In an effort to counteract the effects of the typhoon, local governments have been at the forefront in dealing with its damages and conducting rescue operations. Almost immediately and without hesitation, private organizations and individuals took it upon themselves to initiate donation drives to provide what little help they can give to the victims. Funnily enough, many citizens prompted a nationwide query asking the whereabouts of President Duterte, having missed multiple opportunities for a national briefing about the typhoon.
While calamities and typhoons are beyond our control, one would think that a country so familiar with the workings of a typhoon would have designed a better disaster risk reduction plan in place. But when local initiatives and donation drives become the primary source of immediate help and action during disasters, all while the national government remains silent, we ought to question why the burden falls upon the least capable. We ought to question the system that places them in a difficult situation in the first place.
The issue goes beyond disaster preparedness. The worsening effects stems from a culmination of years of neglecting climate justice, silencing environmental activists, slashing the budget on calamity funds, and protecting capitalist ventures that continue to engage in development aggression.
Just this year, under the Duterte administration through the Congress cut a huge portion of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) initial budget proposal of P20 billion to P16 billion. Prior to this year’s cut, the NDRRMC budget last 2017 decreased in half to P15.8 billion. Meanwhile, other agencies such as the National Task Force to End Communist Local-Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) received high ends of the national budget amounting to P19.1 billion, and a staggering P8.2 billion for Intelligence funds.
In 2017, the government shutdown the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, simply called Project NOAH, which aimed to provide a comprehensive disaster mitigation and prevention program. To add to this, the shutdown of the largest network, ABS-CBN, paved way to an even more drastic effect due to insufficient dissemination of the necessary knowledge to inform people about the coming typhoons.
The national government, as a response, pins the blame on climate change and paints a picture of the typhoon being beyond their control. Its misplaced priorities, continued negligence and slow and ineffective response sends a clear message: we are left on our own.
The burden, as usual, falls upon the citizens. Why should it be that disaster response primarily focuses on the after effect? Where are the infrastructures that could have prevented such disasters? Where are the government funds to properly address such calamities?
While the government sleeps through the night, thousands of people have lost their lives. While our national leaders refuse to open their pockets, thousands of victims are left to depend on donation drives and local initiatives. This becomes problematic in a sense that in a situation where the government, in its full capacity, authority, and resources to address typhoons, the people have to beg for help in order to fend for themselves. But no amount of small scale initiative will ever solve the problem. Instead, it serves as a clear manifestation of a failed government response.
Until our leaders are held accountable for state negligence and structural violence, we can expect the same old stories of suffering again.