The Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s actions relative to typhoon “Ruby” has raised concern not only among Facebook users but also among local disaster officials.
On December 3, when the typhoon was still more than 1,600 kilometers away, the provincial board chaired by Vice Governor Jose “Bong” Teves Jr. declared a “state of imminent disaster” and subsequently granted Governor Araceli Wong the authority to effect the purchase of relief items for prepositioning to enable the province to provide immediate relief to families that may be affected by approaching Typhoon Ruby.
“According to weather advisories and projected tracks, there is a possibility that Catanduanes will be among the provinces affected by the approaching typhoon with international name “Hagupit,” the SP reasoned. The declaration allowed the utilization of 30 percent of the Calamity Fund as Quick Response Fund (QRF) “for relief operation and recovery programs especially to constituents living near the sea, flood and landslide prone areas, as well as farmers and fishermen and those whose livelihood might be affected.”
Of course, the SP action is legal and above board. As pointed out by a national newspaper three months ago, the Philippines is the only country in the world where a place can actually be placed under a state of calamity even before a calamity happens, if it happens at all.
As the people of this island soon found out, Hagupit chose to go to Samar and head northwest to Southern Luzon through the Masbate islands. At no time did Catanduanes suffer typhoon-strength winds from Friday, when storm signal number 3 was raised, until early Monday morning when the storm’s circulation area finally left the island.
What was doubly intriguing was that the very same SP, with PBM Edwin Tanael as temporary presiding officer, declared a state of calamity on Saturday, Dec. 6, when “Ruby” was 200 kilometers away and bringing winds that any hardened typhoon survivor would describe as “pambatag” (good for toppling banana plants).
“Typhoon Ruby has caused floods and landslides as well as undetermined damages to infrastructures, and required the evacuation of residents near shores, flood-and-landslide-prone areas, necessitating rescue and relief operations,” the honourable members of the board stated in the resolution.
Let it not be said that this editorial seeks to belittle banana farmers affected by the typhoon nor does it desire to poke fun at our elective officials for finding a reason to spend funds when there is none. What this seeks to point out is the undue haste in declaring a state of calamity, when the calamity has yet to happen and when there is no solid basis to declare that the typhoon caused floods and landslides.
Whether the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) discussed the typhoon’s effects that very same Saturday afternoon and recommended the declaration, the SP resolution did not say.
What is very clear is that as of Monday afternoon, Dec. 8, the PDRRM Office itself issued a partial report stating that total damage to agriculture was just P244,000.00. The report listed as damaged infrastructures a fallen flagpole at the Panganiban municipal hall, ripped-off fascia board and ceiling at the same building, a 10-square meter portion of a barangay road eroded by waves at Viga, and a total of eight meters of PPC water pipeline damaged by floodwater. Of the 54,701 persons allegedly affected by the storm, only one was injured while only two houses were damaged as reported by Virac MRDDMO.
The fact that the capital town of Virac, which is the most affected by the typhoon since it was closest to storm’s passage through Bicol, is not declaring a state of calamity speaks volumes about how utterly unnecessary was the provincial government’s action.
Perhaps, the honourable governor and the board members present during the special session on Saturday saw something in Ruby’s storm clouds that most citizens failed to notice. Or is it just that these servants of the people know for a fact that the Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity”?