With the provincial government’s inauguration of the warehouse and office building for use of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) last June 1, 2023, the chances of survival of calamity victims in the island have increased significantly.
No one will get hungry in Catanduanes during a calamity, DSWD Norman Laurio vowed, citing the department’s prioritization of island provinces in the prepositioning of Family Food Packs (FFPs)
As Governor Joseph Cua pointed out, with some bitterness in his tone, there were numerous instances in the past that the province lost out to Albay in the allocation of relief goods.
He noted the propensity of a former governor reporting bloated damage estimates to get the lion’s share of calamity assistance from the national government.
While such incidents have in fact occurred, the main reason behind the delayed and often inadequate relief assistance is the province’s geographical isolation as well as its leaders’ failure to speedily communicate the initial damage reports as soon as a typhoon’s winds die down.
Most will remember that Catanduanes was “lost” to the outside world for almost three days after super typhoon Rolly in November 2020 as no word as to the fate of its inhabitants managed to get out.
Cellular communications were down, satellite phones did not have loads due to neglect and sea travel was suspended, with only PAGASA personnel managing to contact the mainland through an ancient radio transceiver.
Nearly three years since, the island province is in a better position to withstand the next powerful typhoon thanks to the satellite warehouse and the arrival of the Starlink satellite internet service.
As demonstrated by the Sinag Kabataan before interested local leaders and in isolated barangays, the Starlink device would be game changer during emergencies and disasters, allowing affected residents to contact the municipality as soon as practicable.
A number of towns have already expressed interest in acquiring the device and subscribing to the service, with the capital municipality of Virac reportedly angling for three units.
These two welcome developments will positively impact the LGUs’ handling of pre-and-post disaster situations, as it would equip them not only with the certainty that they would not be cut-off from the outside world but also ensure that the highly vulnerable sector of society will not starve to death.
Setting the good news aside, perhaps it should be time for LGUs to regularize most of the personnel assigned to Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices.
The LDRRMOs run the Emergency Operation Centers together with the local chief executives and partner agencies like the Philippine National Police, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Philippine Coast Guard.
The problem is that most, if not all, of these disaster management offices are manned by only one or two permanent personnel.
The rest of the emergency response team are job order employees who have to renew their contracts of employment every six months despite their being essential to the LDRRMO operation as trained responders.
This is the reason why the Commission on Audit (COA) regularly cites the LDRRMOs for violating government accounting and auditing rules in allowing non-permanent staff to undergo training.
For those who have served as key members of disaster and emergency response units, the hesitance of the LGUs to create adequate plantilla positions in the LDRRMOs does not do justice to the life-saving work of the trained responders.
In these times of even more powerful typhoons, torrential rains, long droughts and flash floods brought by climate change, local leaders should be able to see that paid volunteers of the disaster and emergency response units deserve job security for their invaluable service to the public.