[X] "Agrobiodiversity and Monoculture Homogenization in Agri/Culture" (UP Forum, 2011). [X] "The Fight for Education as Dress Rehearsal" (UP Forum, 2011). [X] "Community Sterilization and the Cataclysm" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Pamana at Pagkalinga ng mga Inang Makabayan" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Beyond the Bark: Reexamining our Roots" (UP Forum, 2012). [--] "Enabling Law Disabling 'Small Dictatorships'" (UP Forum, 2013). [--] "Power Switch: Reconsidering Renewable Energy" (UP Forum, 2013). "Fortun, Forensics and the Yolanda Aftermath: Recovery, Storage, System Restore, Repeat" (UP Forum, 2014). "General Education at Globalisasyon: Isip, Salita at Gawa Para Kanino?" (UP Forum, 2014)
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Community Sterilization and the Cataclysm
From all over the archipelago, the University of the Philippines (UP) is among the institutions which took the initiative to help the victims, not just of the wrath of nature, but also of a defunct social system preserved by its engineers, agents and administrators, who shall be held liable for the loss of lives and properties. Unlike hypocritical bureaucrats and profiteers washing their hands clean, branding relief goods with their names and flaunting their perverted version of helping, UP went beyond broadcasted charity.
In its capacity to live up to its mandate to serve the people, the UP Padayon Disaster Response Team responded to the need for human resources and technical knowledge when TS Sendong hits the South. Its report “provides a starting point for more studies and exchanges on disaster response and related work in various academic disciplines in the university,” as its overall team leader UP Vice-President for Public Affairs J. Prospero De Vera III put it; an inquiry into the roots of societal problems is called for, by starting with the report of the public health group, one of the four groups of UP Padayon—that gives us a glimpse into how our system generally deals with natural disasters and their aftermath.
“I see the sun, and if I don’t see the sun, I know it’s there. And there’s a whole life in that, in knowing that the sun is there,” writes Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. Despite Sendong’s wreaking havoc before Christmas, the skies of Northern Mindanao eventually gave way to the sun: with our sense of bayanihan—not the mere lifting of houses, but rebuilding homes. The livelihood of the people may have been in tatters, but they may take the incident and look forward to a fresh start, while still being critical, so as learning may be extracted. In The Politics of Experience, Laing wrote that the perspective of a man “alienated from his source creation arises from despair and ends in failure,” not having “trodden the path to the end of time,” of space, of darkness and of light, he is not aware that “where it all ends, there it all begins.”
“People shall be taught how to recover, how to make things normal again and how to cope with the situation,” said Dr. Buenalyn Teresita Ramos-Mortel, head of the public health team. She said that though constituent units and their respective departments have been involved in relief operations, this is the first time that UP as a system took the lead in lending a hand to typhoon-ravaged communities. In its report, the public health team pinpointed the needs of the particular community in Northern Mindanao designated by the Health Emergency Management Staff (HEMS) of the Department of Health (DOH). Mortel added that coordinators know how to organize things at the area because of the training course called Public Health and Emergency Management in Asia and the Pacific (PHEMAP), which was organized by the DOH-HEMS, in coordination with UP College of Public Health, prior the catastrophe.
The public health team reported that during their visit on December 28 last year, there were fifteen evacuation centers and “the six most populated evacuation centers and their respective families,” as of January 24 were: Digkilaan (442), Mandulog (400), Ubaldo Laya (353), Sta. Filomena (333), Luinab (311) and MSU-IIT Gym (241). The team visited four areas that served as evacuation centers of affected barangay residents. The sites recommended by HEMS and their respective barangays are: Don Juan Actub Lluch Memorial School (Pala-o and Hinaplanon), Ubaldo Laya D. Memorial Central School (Ubaldo Laya), Iligan City East High School (Sta. Filomena, San Roque and Upper Hinaplanon) and Luinab Elementary School (Luinab). The existing facilities, Mortel said, were school buildings which were supposedly for children and were intended for use during school hours and not for overnight stays.
Mortel added that besides tasks concerning “rehabilitation and structural integrity,” civil, sanitary and chemical engineers were also tasked to check whether the water contain traces of chemical contamination. “They recommended regular monitoring of the poso negro and other sources of water because the water system was destroyed,” she said. Water availability varied, according to the report: “In Juan Actub Lluch Memorial School, the ratio is one 350mL bottled water per person per day,” while in Sta. Filomena, the locales said that water is so adequate that “some evacuees use bottled water to wash their hands,” in Luinab, however, bottled water is only given to children.
Besides sustainable source of drinking water, other “expressed needs of the community” that the group mentioned were permanent shelters, jobs, comfort rooms, megaphones, displacement and psychosocial support. “They have psychosocial support for different groups: the victims, the children, the community and the responders,” said Mortel. She added that like the survivors, even the responders needed to cope because they “get burnt out, too and needed debriefing.” Other than therapy for the traumatized is the primary recommendation of the public health group: “adopt a camp management protocol that emphasizes a clear command post and information center that is coordinated with the Operation Center.”
Among other recommendations cited by the report are as follows: develop a more coordinated relief effort; develop risk communication messages to different publics; provide health promotion activities; develop capacity building programs; conduct a physical and microbilogical testing of water supply; provide more water purifiers; monitor the distribution of drinking water; monitor the status of comfort room septic tanks and siphon them frequently; encourage waste segregation; and organize a university disaster response team with competencies on: nutrition; maternal, newborn and child health; communicable diseases; non-communicable diseases including mental health; water sanitation and hygiene; health services; pharmaceuticals; and mass casualty management.
The report stated that in their visit to Iligan City, they found 7,447 individuals in the evacuation centers, of which 999 were five-year olds. Besides chronic illnesses and medical disorders that were already endemic in the area prior to Sendong, the medical group said the problem of “suddenly-orphaned children,” and “ensuring the safety of these children,” required therapy . As Erich Fromm points out in his essay “The Influence of Social Factors in Child Development,” “Mental illness is always a sign that basic human needs are not being satisfied; that there is a lack of love, a lack of reason for being, a lack of justice.” Had there been a health infrastructure strong enough to protect them, and education that prepares them for such a situation, the children wouldn’t have had to suffer mentally and physically.
As Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region’s (RMP-NMR) call goes, “Climate Justice Now! Change, not Charity!” Other than the medical, the need for psychosocial help was a manifestation of injustice. Evidences of neglect left indelible marks on the lives of the affected communities, and perhaps, even the generations that shall follow. As Laing wrote, “Only experience is evident. Experience is the only evidence. Psychology is the logos of experience. Psychology is the structure of the evidence.”
The ruin brought about by Sendong has never been experienced by Iligan before, so they were not prepared, according to Mortel. She added that some people who train for disasters cannot help other people because they themselves are victims. Mortel said that among the things the psychosocial group noted was the need to clean the area to relieve the people of the memories of the disaster. Dr. Anselmo Tronco and Dr. Carlo Paolo Castro prepared the psychosocial group report dated December 28, 2011. According to their report, Tronco observed that “reminders of disaster such as fallen trees, debris, mangled cars, have not been sufficiently cleaned up.” Castro noted that the people’s “perceived needs” are “still basic needs like food, clothes, underwear, detergent soap, tooth paste, and utensils for their homes” and that, at least in Digkilaan, the people “feel frustrated that local government in the delivery of relief goods have not been felt in their community” thus making them “very appreciative of the response from outside of their community.”
“I noticed that the people have their own way of coping,” said Mortel. She said that people make use of “markers,” probably approximating that their family members died. Preparing a few hand-picked flowers and crumbs of bread for their departed loved ones serve as their outlet, their expression of grief, according to Mortel. “These (rituals) are actually for the living.” Categorized as defence mechanisms, Laing wrote, that “psychoanalysis describes a number of ways in which a person becomes alienated from himself.” Citing “repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjections” as examples, he added that these mechanisms are “often described in psychoanalytic terms as themselves ‘unconscious,’ that is, the person himself appears to be unaware that he is doing this to himself.”
One of the problems Tronco and Castro identified is the absence of “long term mechanism for the management of the psychological and psychiatric sequelae of the disaster,” while among the strengths they noted are: organization and partial implementation of a psychosocial-spiritual program by the local planners together with volunteers; and planning of a psychosocial program for caregivers. The report also noted that there is a “direct link with the regional head of the psychosocial programme for region X (Dr. Benson Go, a UP-PGH alumnus) for Sendong.” The report stated that, in Digkilaan, farmers “were already forward looking, planning the rehabilitation of their homes/community with an appreciation that outside help is needed, but they have to be the ones to mobilize themselves” and people “have enough to eat and food has not been a problem for the last 11 days.”
Tronco and Castro listed their recommendations: “1. Sustain the relationship between UP System and local disaster response teams (evacuation center managers, and eventually resettlement teams). 2. Identify training needs for teachers and local health workers, who are commonly the first responders in disaster and take care of survivors. 3. A consistent schedule of relief efforts and a clear plan on the rehabilitation (participated in by the community, local government unit, and other stake holders) are needed to possibly allay anxiety, fears and sense of lost among other members of the community. 4. There is a need for rituals for grieving and healing for the people.”
Though the situation in Iligan was as bad as having a 1:50 to 1:100 toilet-person ratio (the ideal is 1:20, the public health group said), grave conditions already existed even before the deluge. The Aquino government did not stop at slashing the budget for basic social services which include health and education; it also vetoed the disaster preparedness calamity fund in 2011. Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino said that Aquino and his cabinet should be held accountable for “criminal neglect.” Though UP Padayon has expressed its long-term commitment “to finish what it started” and help came nationwide, the victims of Sendong are not mere victims of Mother Nature.
These aforementioned “expressed needs of the community” noted by public health group are indeed basic needs—decent homes, employment, food, communication and education. Dr. Giovanni Tapang of Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) includes the reduction of poverty, “one of the most important determinants of vulnerability to disasters,” in his “Top 7 ways to reduce disaster risk.” Other suggestions from Tapang include the improvement of our disaster response plans, having proactive warning systems, cancellation of the operations of corporate logging firms and mining companies, stopping the liberalization of mining, a moratorium on the construction of coal-powered plants—and the institution of a nationwide emergency response system. “We can emulate Cuba in its storm preparations,” said Tapang.
In Weathering the Storm, Oxfam America said that the “United Nations Development Program and the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies have repeatedly (cited) Cuba as an example for other countries to emulate in risk reduction” despite its being “a small and poor country whose geographical location gives it a high and recurrent risk of hurricanes.”
The report noted qualities that “emerge as significant and proven risk reduction measures:” (1) Universal access to services; (2) Policies to reduce social and economic disparities; (3) Considerable investment in human development; (4) Government investment in infrastracutres; and (5) Social and economic organization. Cuba’s 95.9% literacy rate that Oxfam noted in 2004 and the 0% child malnutrition that the United Nations Fund for Children confirmed in 2010 are important factors in risk reduction measures.
In an interview with the UP Forum, Cuban Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Juan Carlos Arencibia Corrales said that whenever there is a hurricane, they deal with it as if they were on a war footing. “Our comprehensive system works like a clock—a military clock, taking the preventive measures to protect human life. If we have one casualty, it is a loss for us.”
We also have a local model when it comes to disaster management. “The people (of Bicol) have the consciousness, so they would not need to be pushed (to evacuate),” said Mortel, pertaining to the routine of Bicolanos during disasters. The public health group reported that “it is noteworthy to point out” the “extensive experience” on disaster preparedness of the Albay medical group. “They were familiar with disasters, which is why they established a warning system in Bicol,” said Mortel. According to her, they knew when to evacuate, and which household goes to what evacuation center. She added that they were so organized that they have assessed the situation, established methods wherein they are seemingly on “autopilot” upon hearing warning signals.
Another model Mortel cited was Japan, which documented the turn of events during the Kobe earthquake. She said that there is a museum dedicated to the victims of the earthquake, with video documentation of the personal experiences of the victims and simulation of how people went through the earthquake, complete with furniture that let visitors feel different intensities as indicated in the Richter scale. “There is a combination of technical information and human interest,” added Mortel. She said that Japan also provided evacuation centers and relief operations; strengthened the structure of their buildings as a result of their assessment; launched intensive education campaign; and quickly rehabilitated because “the people are willing to help.”
Mortel said that we need to help people “understand what the risks are, what the importance are and what to prepare; to develop risk communication; and” to launch education campaigns. She added that people shall also be aware of “related health conditions like leptospirosis, measles and chickenpox” that arise from the situation. She said that hygiene, water supply and toilet facility shall also be monitored. According to Mortel, the medical team indicated that, there were already existing illnesses, but among those that could be acquired in the evacuation camp are diarrhea, influenza, and chickenpox. She said that they remedied the situation through vaccination, but ideally, “it should have been done before, during the schedule of the children.”
The data provided by UP Padayon, Oxfam America, AGHAM and other concerned groups only show that we (except the Albay team which we may also opt to emulate) still have a long way to go in responding to disasters. With thirteen out of eighteen river basins having no flood warning system, as ABS-CBN reported, and the government spending P1.25 per capita for health and P6.55 for our education daily, as reported by Bulatlat , we would need “a serious overhaul of our climate change and other environmental laws that have not qualitatively done anything for the improvement of our communities’ climate resiliency,” said Meggie Nolasco of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE) in a press statement.
Illnesses and deficiencies, whether medical, psychological or social, have root causes we have to engage and eventually eradicate, if we want all-encompassing societal sanitization.