By ARNOLD PADILLA
MANILA — “A President must be on the job 24/7, ready for any contingency, any crisis, anywhere, anytime.”
“As a country in the path of typhoons… we must be as prepared as the latest technology permits to anticipate natural calamities when that is possible; to extend immediate and effective relief when it is not.”
“The mapping of flood- and landslide-prone areas is almost complete. Early warning, forecasting and monitoring systems have been improved.”
These were the confident words of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address (Sona) last July 27 as she vowed that her government will continue to invest in environment even as, according to her, the country is “safer from environmental degradation”.
But on that fateful weekend of Sept. 26-27, all these talk about disaster preparedness – and sadly along with it more than 280 lives and more than P5 billion in properties (and counting) – were deluged by tropical storm Ondoy, which brought the heaviest rains and flooding in the country since 1967.
As expected, Malacañang quickly warded off criticisms for its obvious lack of prompt and organized response to Ondoy. In an attempt to explain the unprecedented devastation caused by Ondoy, Anthony Golez, one of the presidential spokespersons, noted that “When you try to scientifically observe the data… we will find this year and last year as very strange years, and we can only presuppose that this is due to climate change.”
Indeed, there is no disputing the fact that Ondoy, in less than half a day, brought rains in Metro Manila and nearby provinces a volume that was even higher than the usual rain that falls on the metropolis for the entire month of September.
But while there is no debate about climate change, which explains the abnormal typhoon patterns and intensity in recent years, accountability still falls on the Arroyo administration, in particular on Arroyo herself as President and “climate change czar” and her 2010 presidential bet Defense Secretary and National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) chairman Gilberto Teodoro Jr.
More than two years ago, Arroyo created the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change (PTFCC) as government recognized that “being an archipelagic country and located in the typhoon belt” the country “is highly vulnerable to the adverse effects resulting from climate changes and has been experiencing unusual number of high-intensity typhoons that have wrought devastation and anguish to our people.” In December 2008, Arroyo appointed herself the head of this task force so she can have a “hands-on approach in crafting and implementing initiatives for environmental security.”
Among the PTFCC’s tasks is to design concrete risk-reduction and mitigation measures and adaptation resources, especially to address short-term vulnerabilities, on sectors and areas where climate change will have the greatest impact. This entails among others preparedness to respond to devastation or impact of extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change such as Ondoy’s.