MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino spoke before representatives of local government units (LGUs) nationwide at the SMX Convention Center on Thursday, confronting governors, mayors, NGOs with the the question: "Tapatan Tayo: Handa Na Ba Kayo?"
This is the slogan of Tapatan, a forum on disaster preparedness at the local government level.
Aquino said that in the context of natural calamities that have become part of life in the Philippines, Filipinos -- both government and the public alike -- should no longer be sitting ducks, leaving to fate whatever tragedies may beset us.
He cited 2 strengths that the country can use, which that together can help people better prepare to handle disasters before, during, and after they hit: 1) technology, and 2) the mastery of local officials about their respective areas.
He said disaster preparedness is not just the national government's problem but everyone's concern.
He added that local governments are in the best position to take action.
Aquino mentioned the ingenuity of Project NOAH, or the Nationwide Operational Assesment of Hazards, which culminated into a website open to all that shows flood maps, amount of rainfall, and storm tracks at any particular time and place.
He also expressed support for Department of the Interior and Local Government's (DILG) move to designate the suspension of classes to barangay chairmen, in the event that strong rains or flooding occure when no storm warning signals are issued.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo also spoke about environmental threats -- illegal logging in particular -- and that whatever efforts in preparedness any local government initiates will only be stunted by disasters brought about by abuse of the environment.
He cited the need for more rescue equipment to be distributed to more municipalities, and for national government to assign a point person devoted to disaster risk reduction, as opposed to the current setup where people will only be designated when disasters are already there.
Aquino and Robredo mentioned achievements and efforts in disaster preparedness at the local level. By their count, 70% to 80% of LGUs are prepared; 1,580 LGUs have alarm systems (from electronic to the simple bell), 86% of LGUs have evacuation centers, and 78% of all LGUs already have organized disaster preparedness teams in place.
A contingency fund will also be made available to LGUs who will show preparedness and organization in disaster risk reduction.
Oriental Mindoro Governor and Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines President Alfonso Umali, meanwhile, said preparing for disasters should no longer be knee-jerk, but institutionalized.
He said preparations should extend until after the calamity itself, when the communities need restoring and reviving.
Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas, Department of Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo, Undersercretary Benito Ramos of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino also attended the event.