Out of the Rubble
I am deeply saddened by the devastation caused by the strong earthquake that hit Türkiye and Syria. As I write this column, the death toll has already passed 28,000 per the report of the BBC. The death toll regrettably includes two Filipinos who died as the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake violently shook Türkiye where they work. President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has expressed his commiseration to the families of the victims. The President also reported that embassy officials in Türkiye are working “tirelessly to verify any and all information on Filipinos affected by the quake,” as well as attend to the needs of 34 evacuees composed of Filipinos, their spouses, and children who are in Ankara.
The President is in Japan for a working visit but even while preparing for meetings, the President has been working overtime directing government officials to ensure that our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the affected areas are given the full attention they need. The President has decided to send an 85-member team to help in rescue operations in Türkiye. As part of the business delegation here in Tokyo, I can report that the President is deeply concerned about Filipinos in the devastated areas and have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to inform him of all developments.
Out of the rubbles in Türkiye, the miraculous rescue of a 33-year-old OFW 60 hours after the earthquake struck has provided a ray of hope amidst the devastation. It was nothing short of a miracle that Julieva Benlingan was found alive under the rubbles of an apartment building in Hatay, Türkiye.
Even while we deal with the impact of this tragedy to Filipinos working in Türkiye, we need to look at our own vulnerabilities and preparedness in case the same devastating earthquake hit the Philippines. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has noted that we are located inside the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” so-called because it is the most earthquake-prone region in the world — experiencing more than 100 earthquakes per year. The Philippines itself has five major earthquake fault lines.
Several studies and simulations have already pointed to the possibility of apocalyptic scenarios should a 7.2 or stronger tremor hit the Philippines, specifically the heavily populated Metro Manila. Even as government agencies regularly conduct earthquake drills, we need to improve the preparedness level of our people especially those in the most vulnerable and highly populated areas. In Japan, Disaster Risk Reduction is deeply and effectively integrated in the school system. Risk awareness at school is part of their strategy “to increase the capacities of students and schoolchildren of all ages to actively contribute to DRR initiatives in their local communities.” In fact, Japan serves as a role model in the world in fostering resilience in individuals and communities in terms of DRR and education.
I am confident that Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte will address the need to integrate disaster preparedness in our schools more effectively. In my many conversations with VP Inday Sara she has said that this is one of her priorities. She understands that effective preparedness plans are crucial in saving lives, considering the level of risk the country is facing in terms of natural calamities, earthquakes. The idea is to create a culture of preparedness where these drills and exercises would become a habit or even “automatic reflexes” during disasters.
The President has made this a priority at the onset of his administration when he ordered the review the standard operating procedures (SOPs) during disasters to create a uniform and coordinated approach. He has also ordered disaster management officials to study the best practices of the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). With our strengthened relations with the US perhaps this is an area of cooperation where we can benefit greatly. Organizationally President “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. has proposed placing the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) under the Office of the President in order to streamline disaster preparedness and response efforts.
Psychologically, it is difficult to instill disaster preparedness when there are no disasters. This is the reason why we experience the urgency only after experiencing a disaster or after witnessing a similar tragedy in other places. But as Benjamin Franklin warned us, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”