Gordon: Culture of preparedness must be instilled in Filipinos

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — A lawmaker said Filipinos need to be made more aware of how to prepare and respond to calamities.

Speaking to CNN Philippines On the Record Thursday, Senator Richard Gordon said in the case of Typhoon Ompong, he had foreseen that people who live in the Cordilleras would be the hardest hit.

"In the mountains, landslides ang kalaban. Ang sabi ko nga...ang kalaban natin [I said we would be up against] wind and water and ground collapsing. And that's what happened," added Gordon, who is also chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross.

Ompong hit Luzon over the weekend, and Benguet was among the provinces hardest hit by the storm.

In the mining town of Itogon, landslides buried miners who sought refuge in bunkhouses.

The incident spurred President Rodrigo Duterte to once again voice his opposition to mining, and the Environment Department to stop small-scale mining in Cordillera.

Gordon added, poverty was also a contributing factor to high casualty rates during calamities.

"Poverty is an absence of choice... Bumubulwak ang populasyon natin. Habang bumubulwak, dun na lang sa pinakamalapit sa kabuhayan ang pupuntahan nila. Kung wala, talagang titira sila halimbawa dito sa Manila, diyan sa may Baseco area. Pag tinamaan yan...marami na kaming sinabi diyan pag tinamaan yan ng storm surge, e maraming mamamatay diyan," he said.

[Translation: Poverty is an absence of choice... Our population is boobing. With this boom, people will choose to live near where they can earn a living. If there isn't one, they will live, like here in Manila, in the Baseco area. If that area gets hit by a storm surge, a lot of people will die there.]

He was referring to the sprawling shantytown at the compound of the Bataan Shipping and Engineering Company (Baseco) near the Port Area in Manila.

To avoid disasters, Gordon said, authorities not only have identify which places are safe for people to stay in, but also create opportunities for them.

Oxfam Philippines Country Director Lot Felizco also said poor people are most affected during calamities, and that evacuations are complex decisions.

"If we put ourselves in the shoes of families who are also not certain where they will be evacuated to, how they will be housed, what provisions there will be, how long they will be away –  it's a decision they weigh against just staying there looking after whatever little property they have, and saying 'dito na lang kami kasi andito yung ari-arian namin, yung bahay namin, hindi naman namin alam kung saan kami dadalhin," she said. [we will stay here because our property and our house is here, we don't know where we will be brought].'"

A lot of effort also has to be put into gaining people's trust, Felizco said.

Gordon, however, said people should also learn what dangers can happen in the communities they live in and what measures should be taken when calamities happen.

Michael Vincent Mercado, communications coordinator of the Center for Disaster Preparedness, said they constantly consult with communities about such issues.

"Sa mga community partners namin, yun talaga yung main na tinuturo namin, kung paano maguusap-usap yung mga tao sa community at magdecide ano yung signal kung ganito nang klase ng bagyo ang paparating sa atin," he said.

[Translation: We teach our community partners how to coordinate and decide what to do and what signals to give when they these kinds of storms are coming.]

Gordon said Filipinos should predict, plan, prepare, practice for times of disaster

"You have to stop this cycle of disaster and poverty. Put the science with the people who are supposed to be handling local government, put the science dun sa NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council), and make sure you organize the people," he said.

Felizco added preparedness doesn't just happen before a calamity happens.

"It's really making sure na people have the means to be able to survive a disaster and recover," she said.

Help must be given to farmers

Gordon said aid must be extended to farmers affected by the storm.

It could be hard to plant, he said, if farmers' primary concern after a calamity was shelter and the safety of their families. This, he said, is something that should be addressed immediately.

"Right now, padating na yung roofs. We brought in about 7,000 roofs – we wanted 30,000 bubong right away. Pero kung meron kang nakatindig na apat na poste, ilagay mo na muna yan. Saka na na natin ayusin ng husto para may titirhan," he said

[Translation: Roofs are arriving right now. We brought in about 7,000 – we wanted 30,000 roofs right away but if you have four posts ready, just put it up and we can fix it even further later on.]

Godon said 95 percent of corn in Cagayan were damaged by the typhoon.

Felizco said three hundred thousand farming families were affected by Typhoon Ompong and there is an urgent need to assist them.

"They lost their harvest now means they do not have the means to sustain their families and they do not have the means for the next cropping season," she said.

"Unless someone is able to provide services, manguutang yan [they will borrow money]. So, it's a cycle of falling into a trap of deepening poverty," Felizco said.

Farmers have immediate as well as long-term needs that must be addressed, she added. 

Watch the full episode here.