MATI CITY, Davao Oriental, Philippines–It won four awards for disaster preparedness but a week after Typhoon “Pablo” struck, this province is still groping in the dark and reeling from the storm’s onslaught.
On Aug. 1 this year, Gov. Corazon Malanyaon received the Gawad Kalasag as Best Prepared Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in a ceremony at the Apo View Hotel in Davao City.
The award was sponsored by Regional Risk Reduction Management Council and the Office of the Civil Defense.
But it was not the first for Malanyaon’s administration to receive such distinction. In 2009, it was named third best prepared local disaster coordinating council all over the country, next only to Albay and Antique. In 2010, it again placed third, next to Bulacan and Albay.
Last year, the province also received an award for being the best prepared local government unit in Mindanao in disaster management.
On its official website, Davao Oriental boasted the awards, and even went farther to say that it has “considered public safety as one of its priority concerns.”
“The province has allocated funds for equipment, rescue trainings, fire and earthquake drills in schools and workplaces, and lately on the construction of the PDRRMC Headquarters and Operation Center,” the province’s website said.
Then, Pablo struck. As of Sunday night, the PDRRMC has recorded a total of 337 people killed– most of them hit by fallen trees at the height of the typhoon.
Malanyaon in an interview said she was “in command” before the typhoon made a landfall, calling the town mayors to implement preemptive evacuations in risk areas.
“We were ready,” she said.
Some residents, however, said they were not warned.
“We were only told to monitor what’s happening over the radio. We did that but power was down at 8 p.m. of December 3,” a resident of Baganga town told the INQUIRER.
A village councilwoman in Baganga also said there was no order for them to evacuate.
“Wala talaga, (Absolutely none),” she said.
There were indeed forced evacuations in some areas, people being hauled to schools, municipal gyms and churches. This move, however, was found to be also dangerous as the typhoon did not spare what should have been a safe haven for the evacuees. Many were either killed or injured when strong wind ripped off roofs and walls of designated evacuation centers. It was like gathering people in one unsafe place.
The municipal gymnasium in Baganga town was twisted, folded like a tin can. The Cateel Central Elementary School was wiped off, with only the flagpole left standing. Churches and government buildings in both towns were also damaged. People had nowhere to run to.
“No matter how prepared you are, the force of super typhoon Pablo is simply overwhelming. It’s beyond our control,” Malanyaon said in a statement released Monday.
The province also was not ready for what the typhoon has left behind– deaths, injuries, the missing, the homeless.
It took more than a day before relief goods finally arrived in the affected areas. This after the Baogo Bridge, which connects the towns of Caraga and Baganga, collapsed at the height of the typhoon.
Vice Governor Jose Mayo Almario said it would have been easier to transport goods from Mati City, the seat of power of the provincial government, to the affected towns eastward if the bridge was not destroyed.
Almario over the weekend had to cross the river using a bamboo raft to transport the relief goods that he and his family had prepared for some evacuees in Baganga town.
The provincial government has been sending relief goods, being repacked at the capitol, to the affected towns of Baganga, Cateel and Boston using a Philippine Navy boat. The boat, however, has to travel eight hours from Mati City before it reaches the isolated towns.
“We used to be typhoon-free. That’s no longer the case now. In rebuilding our houses, we really have to make sure it is built to withstand super typhoon,” Malanyaon said.
There was no mention about building typhoon-proof evacuation centers or bridges that could withstand logs being swept away by swollen rivers.
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