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Albay is Best PDRRMC, Now Also Gawad KALASAG Hall of Famer

LEGAZPI CITY–Albay was inducted to the 2012 Gawad KALASAG Hall of Fame for being one of the Best Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (PDRRMC) in the country in 2009, 2010, and 2011. According to various news sources, Albay is the first province to have been bestowed such honor from Gawad KALASAG.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda (first from right) during the 2012 Regional Gawad KALASAG Awarding ceremony on September 26, 2012. Photo Courtesy of the Office of Civil Defense 5.

Albay Governor and PDRRMC Chairman Joey Salceda accepted the award from Secretary Voltaire Gazmin of the Department of National Defense and Secretary Manuel Roxas II of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Based on the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) memorandum circular dated February 4, 2008, the Gawad KALASAG (KAlamidad at Sakuna LAbanan SAriling Galing ang Kaligtasan) award is a recognition  scheme of the NDCC since 1998  “in  its  search  for  excellence  on  Disaster Risk Management (DRM)  and  humanitarian  assistance… by recognizing exceptional contributions  of  the  various DRM  practitioners  in  rebuilding  the  resilience  of  nations  and  communities  to disaster.”

Section VI of the same memorandum circular states that the Hall of Fame Award is granted to entities that achieved the Gawad KALASAG recognition for three consecutive years with excellent ratings of 91% to 100% from the National Selection Committee since 2001.

Albay PDRRMC Executive Officer Cedric Daep, in an interview with SecurityMatters, attributed the Gawad KALASAG Hall of Fame Award to (1) institutionalizing disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation; (2) zero casualty performance in different calamities; and (3) real time warning on possible flood, landslide, and debris flow.

He particularly emphasized the significance of having established an office dedicated to disaster risk management with permanent personnel that is funded by the provincial government, regardless of the changing political administration in the province.

Albay maintains the Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) “created as an independent department so that the province will have empowered disaster risk management programs” for sustainable economic growth, according to the website of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in Bicol.

Daep, who also happens to be the APSEMO department head, narrated that, the office “even started in 1995 because of so many experiences, and forecasts, and predictions that Albay will never be safe against calamities so we need to create an office.”

With its geographical location, Albay is frequented by natural disasters. Years before this award, the province had been beset by tragic natural disasters characterized by typhoons, volcanic eruptions, flash floods, and debris flows, which is why the recent victory came in sweet.

The Japanese Embassy in the Philippines said in a statement that it has even recognized the vulnerability of the area to calamities being “often plagued by pyroclastic flow caused by eruptions of Mayon Volcano and mud flow and floods caused by frequent typhoons” during the time that it extended financial aid to the province equivalent to PhP398 million in August 2012.

Learning from the past

As experience is the best mentor, there is no doubt that the province of Albay has learned from the best. The streak of natural disasters, particularly typhoons Reming, Milenyo, and Seniang, has left some handy notes and references for the PDRRMC and the APSEMO for future calamities.

The NEDA website in fact revealed that, “The series of typhoons (Milenyo, Reming and Seniang) that hit the Bicol Region during the last quarter of 2006 had devastating impact on the lives and properties and the productive sectors of the economy.” It was characterized by 3537 total casualties, of which 655 were dead, 2437 were injured, and 445 were missing, affecting 98.6% barangays across the province of Albay.

Most, if not all casualties resulting from natural disasters, were triggered by poor evacuation measures. As Daep put it, “failure to evacuate will mean casualty,” particularly “failure of the community to cooperate to evacuate.” Nonetheless, he also asserted that communication failure crippled the disaster management system during those times.

It was on September 27, 2006 when Super Typhoon Milenyo inflicted serious disaster management issues in the province. Daep recalled, “We could no longer communicate with the people that they need to evacuate because the communication was destroyed by Milenyo.” He also claimed that “river system was silted” so the debris flow was directed along residential areas.

As with Super Typhoon Reming, which devastated Albay on November 29, 2006, Daep had this to say, “The strength of the hazard was beyond our capacity.”

Apparently, there were no contingency plans left as soon as super typhoons Reming and Milenyo slammed communication and river systems in the province. Evacuation procedures, as a result, had never been more challenging.

Learning from the challenges of the past, perhaps the PDRRMC and the APSEMO know better this time around. According to them, they have strengthened monitoring as well as warning mechanisms with real time hazard updates, coupled with pertinent course of actions. After all, they intend to achieve zero casualties by focusing on evacuation instead of rescue operation.

APSEMO, in particular, developed its own criteria “when to prepare, when to evacuate, when to suspend classes… when to evacuate people on landslide based on the amount of rainfall.” Daep said that each criterion has corresponding decision-making measures, communication protocol, and evacuation procedures, too.

But household evacuation, along with other DRM procedures, is never meant to be shouldered by the APSEMO alone. Daep emphasized that, “Disaster risk management requires full participation and cooperation by the victims themselves. If they fail, the government will fail.” Besides, he also said that the office implements efficient communication system to relay updated hazard information down to barangay captains.

Take it from the province of Albay, there’s no better way to rise from the remnants of the gruesome past but to strive toward DRM excellence so as not to go through the same experience all over again.

SecurityMatters asked Public Information Officer Jay Ramos of the Regional Office of the Civil Defense 5 on what he thinks about the PDRRMC’s recent victory,  he said it sweet and simple: “Job well done!”