In the wake of the minor damage left behind by tropical storm “Paeng” last Oct. 29, 2022, not a few Catandunganons were surprised that the provincial government, through the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, declared a State of Calamity over the entire island.
They thought that a state of calamity may only be declared in the province if at least three municipalities had already declared the same.
As early as 2019, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council had already issued revised guidelines for the declaration of a State of Calamity.
In Memorandum Order No. 60 of June 19 that year, it listed the new criteria under which a city, municipality, province or region may be declared under a State of Calamity.
According to the memo, the declaration may be made when any of several conditions are brought about by natural and/or human-induced disasters are present.
These are: a) at least 15% of the forecasted affected population based on science-based projection are in need of emergency assistance; b) at least 30% of the means of livelihood on agricultural, business, and industrial sectors are affected; c) damage to critical and lifeline infrastructure/facilities such as major roads and bridges, power stations, potable water supply systems, and telecommunication facilities that may hinder emergency response, paralyze LGU basic services and disrupt services for more than a week; d) widespread destruction of fishponds, crops, poultry and livestock, and other agricultural products; e) disruption of lifelines such as food supply chain, electricity, potable water system, other transport systems, communication system, access to health service, and other related systems that cannot be restored within one week or within 24 hours for highly urbanized areas; f) when there is extremely high incidence of a certain disease whether communicable or non-communicable within a community, in a specific period of time, specific health-related behavior, or other health related events clearly beyond normal expectancy; and, g) significant degradation to environmental and natural resources based on the recommendations of government agencies.
These are in addition to the previous conditions for the declaration by any LGU, i.e., two or more affected barangays in case of municipalities, and two or more municipalities in case of provinces.
In case of “Paeng,” the storm poured only 47 millimeters of rain in 24 hours, just a tenth of the more than 400 mm brought by Reming in 2006.
In terms of gusts, the storm managed only a high of 65 kph, which locals described as “pambatag” (fit for bananas).
Still, damage to over 300 houses in five municipalities were reported, although some found it strange that three towns closest to the storm’s track – Virac, San Andres, and San Miguel – reported no destroyed or damaged houses.
Based on the situation report of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council as of Nov. 2, 2022, the damage to public infrastructure was limited to minor landslides and eroded roadbeds, with no flooding reported.
It was in agriculture that the storm inflicted some punishment, with millions of pesos lost in High Value Commercial Crops, rice and abaca plantations.
The PDRRMC may be right in recommending the declaration of a State of Calamity, assuming it used “science-based projection” to determine the need for assistance or effect on livelihood.
But the tendency of LGUs, from barangays to the province itself, to give each and every family, whether rich or poor, the same food pack, is what makes post-disaster relief operations a disaster in itself.
True, Catanduanes may be a model in preparing for typhoons and in disaster resiliency, but it fails in ensuring that the needed aid is given to those who need it most.
This has been the problem faced by the Philippine Red Cross for decades now: people demanding to be included in the list of recipients of relief assistance despite being relatively untouched by the calamity.
Sad to say, this predominantly Catholic island does not follow the Biblical admonition that it is better to give than to receive, especially during calamities.
And the humanitarian organization has rightfully insisted on its goal to give assistance to the most vulnerable population, wherever they are and regardless of the politics involved.
To marshal and conserve its limited resources, the LGUs should learn to insist on limiting calamity aid to those who have less in life and thus need it most.