Instead of building disaster resiliency by improving the lives of the Filipino people, the Philippine government romanticizes the so-called ability of Filipinos to rise above crisis after crisis, in an attempt to absolve itself from criminal neglect.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – As one typhoon after the other battered the nation in recent weeks, a myth has been shattered – that of disaster resilience and of economic development that – almost five years since a promise of change was ushered into the presidency — should have already trickled down to the poorest of the poor.
A recent viral video showing a Philippine Air Force helicopter dropping relief packs in the middle of nowhere in flood-stricken Tuguegarao, a city in northern Philippines, followed by Filipinos scrambling and rushing to get it, is quite telling of where the country is at now, as far as disaster resiliency is concerned.
In 2017, the World Bank noted in its study how the poor are not only most affected by natural hazards but are also likely to receive less support to cope and recover. It also noted the vicious cycle of how disasters have kept people in poverty. As such, among its recommendations is to provide people with financial inclusion and social protection to address the “obvious synergies between efforts to reduce poverty and build resilience.”
Many other local and international environmental groups have long pointed out the need to uplift the social and economic conditions of the poor to reduce the impacts of disasters.
With the yearly typhoons and other natural hazards in the country, the Philippine government, with all its mandate and resources, could not claim that the devastation is “unexpected” or it is caught flat-footed.
Yet, one administration after the other, the Philippine government continues to bank on the so-called resiliency of the Filipino people, as if it is a magical prowess, when in reality, they have no other choice but move forward than forever wait for the much-needed assistance that may never come.
The Philippines has also been a signatory to various multilateral cooperations, aimed at addressing the growing concern on climate change. Among these are the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to name a few.
In 2018, the country ranked as the third most disaster-prone in the world, for infamously experiencing nearly all natural hazards such as typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. As such, the Philippine government, at least on paper, has undertaken steps to improve its disaster resilience even before the Duterte administration.
Before a high-level forum before the United Nations, the Philippine government in 2018 claimed it has “significantly shifted from disaster response to disaster risk reduction” in its policies and programs. This includes the creation of a National Resilience Council the year before, which the World Bank funded for a whopping $206 million to provide the first-ever natural disaster insurance program.
The Philippines, through its permanent representative before the United Nations, pushed for the adoption of Strategic Framework on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters in 2018. The said resolution, which the Philippines tabled along with its working group co-chair Jamaica, stipulated the supposed blueprint on how to engage stakeholders in all phases of disaster-risk management, including governance and policies, awareness raising and capacity-building, data management, common infrastructure and services, and resource mobilization.
In September 2020, the Asian Development Bank approved a $500-million policy-based loan allow the Philippines quick access to emergency financing in the event of disasters triggered by natural hazards or public health emergencies that result in a declaration of a state of calamity.
But how these commitments, both then and now, are able to reach people on the ground remains unseen. Local governments have appealed for national government support, as their calamity funds were already used for COVID-19 response.
Socio-economic conditions on the ground
Kalikasan – People’s Network for the Environment said in a 2015 paper that, coupled with globalization of policies of deregulation, privatization, and liberalization and the plunder of the country’s natural resources, the country’s poor is “in extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.”
The apparent helplessness in the aftermath of typhoons that recently engulfed the poor shattered the remaining attempts at posturing that the country is prospering under the current administration. Early this year, the Presidential Communications Operations Office launched the “Duterte Legacy” to showcase how the lives of Filipinos purportedly improved due to government programs and policies, particularly on peace and order, infrastructure, and poverty alleviation.
Ibon Foundation noted that more than any administration since the Marcos era, the current administration has been “extremely dependent on public infrastructure spending” to boost economic growth. This includes a budget of P8 to P9 trillion from 2017 to 2022 to fund construction of highways, bridges, roads, to name a few.
In its 2018 report, the World Bank said the Philippines had a 2.3 percent decline in terms of poverty incidence. The Department of Finance, early this year, even said that the country is on track to reduce poverty by 14 percent in 2022.
“Disaster happens when a community’s vulnerability to natural hazards is high but the capacity to recover is low,” Cora Jazmines, who heads the local partnerships of the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center, told Bulatlat in an online interview.
However, Ibon Foundation said the country has plunged into the worst crisis of mass unemployment, with 14 percent unemployed and 22 percent unemployment rate in April 2020. Its Executive Director Sonny Africa said that the combined 20.4 million unemployed and underemployed make up 40 percent of the presumed labor force in the country.
The independent thinktank also noted the “worst economic collapse in the country’s recorded history” with a 21.9 percentage point drop in the country’s growth rate during the second quarter of 2020. This is still much lower compared to neighboring country Indonesia whose economic growth lowered only by 5.3 percentage point despite a higher recorded number of COVID-19 cases, which is an all-time 467,113 compared to Philippines’ 407,838, according to John Hopkins University.
During the pandemic, an SWS survey revealed how hunger incidence has doubled during the pandemic. Typhoons have exacerbated the difficulties that the people have been put through from decades-old problems and recent policies that are deemed as anti-poor.
Yet, even amid the pandemic, the independent thinktank noted that the government’s recovery plan is more concerned with supporting big businesses than Filipino workers who lost their jobs, with over $13.8 million worth of proposed corporate tax breaks.
Government data showed that Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco) alone brought agricultural and infrastructure damage at $24.7 million and $9.7 million, respectively.
No more band-aid solutions
While the Philippine government has apparently learned no lessons from the past, the people have learned to stand on their feet. Such resiliency, therefore, should not be a cause of celebration for government officials but rather a testament of their apparent ineptness.
Kalikasan PNE said addressing the people’s vulnerability to the climate crisis will require more than just technical solutions but more importantly building a self-reliant economy that will advocate for pro-people, pro-environment, and corruption-free governance. In instituting policies, the group added, the country needs a “government that has the political will to prioritize and stand up for the safety and welfare of its people.”
Grassroots initiatives have taken to heart the lessons learned from past disasters as they organize communities to become resilient. Jazmines said development and humanitarian agencies like the CDRC begins with reaching out to the most vulnerable, “whose situation even before a natural hazard comes into the picture can already be described as disastrous.”
In providing capacity-building to the vulnerable, Jazmines said communities, not individuals, are organized. The role of the non-vulnerable must also be looked into as they build disaster-resilient communities, she added.
“It is not enough that people are able to rise above the rubble. How can we build back better if we were never in a good situation to begin with? The kind of resiliency we want to see is where people have access to social services and can enjoy their rights,” Jazmines said.
The Filipino people will not to sit around to wait for the glorious day of reckoning. Instead, they will lay the ground for it, struggle for it, and see to the day that excesses, abuses, and criminal neglect of those in power would be paid.