Volunteer centers like the DSWD repacking site at the DPWH Panacan Depot in Davao City are among the most uplifting places to be during these trying times. You see people who care deeply about the plight of those who have suffered so much because of Typhoon Yolanda channeling their energies in ensuring that more relief goods are repacked and prepared for shipment the soonest possible time.
I came back to the repacking center this morning fully expecting a much bigger volunteer turnout since it is a Saturday. But I was still caught off guard by the number of people I saw queuing to sign-up at the DSWD registration tables. Groups of students, volunteer organizations, the military, a busload of people from a certain municipality, barkadas, foreign and local tourists, and individuals registered as early as 8:00AM. By my calculation, there were over 500 volunteers by 9:00AM and there were more coming in.
The turnout was overwhelming, especially as I observe the people around me. Everyone’s on a mission to do something, anything, even if just a little, for those who are in dire need of help.
It was while I was standing there waiting for my turn to sign my name on the volunteer list that I thought to myself, if there are wishes I would like to be granted by our government, it would be these:
- Learn lessons well. I think most Filipinos understand that we were essentially unprepared for the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda. While predicted to be the strongest typhoon to ravage a country in history, no one could have imagined the scale of damage it can cause. But while we struggle to comprehend what happened, many of us hope that our government would learn, and ensure that we all learn, the lessons this tragedy taught us. Learn them well and use them to mitigate the risks and losses should something like it ever happen again.
- Listen. I have repeatedly seen several social media posts in the past suggesting what types of relief goods to send to those affected by typhoons, floods, and other calamities that hit the country. But as I was repacking rice, canned goods, packs of instant noodles, and sachets of instant coffee, I realized that the suggestions I have read many times seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. I was expecting that the initial wave of relief goods would be comprised of easy-to-open canned goods, ready-to-eat meals in tetra packs, high-energy biscuits similar to what the UN World Food Programme distributes for emergencies, and water. Because, really, how can victims get the much needed relief as quickly as possible if some of them, if not most, do not have the cookware and the means to cook the food they get from DSWD? I think it is time that the DSWD improves its responsiveness and systems in addressing victims’ needs. Sense of urgency should always outweigh bureaucracy and political influence.
- Be more responsive to people’s (realistic) needs. This is related to #2. Filipinos are not a demanding people. Many even suffer poverty with stoicism and patience. But it is hard not to ask ourselves, and yes, the government, if there is indeed no money to spare for our basic needs if we keep seeing and hearing stories of corruption. Napoles’ alleged 10B scam is just one of the many frustrating cases of corruption that has plagued our country. As citizens of a nation vulnerable to calamities like we have had in the past, would it be too much to ask that the government invest on disaster relief equipment that Japan has? But if the government does not have the money for it, we will try to understand. But please work on the rampant corruption that’s bleeding the country’s financial resources dry.
- Prepare for the worst. Typhoon Yolanda gave us a glimpse of the devastation that unpredictable weather disturbances and disasters can cause. Please help us prepare for the worst. I find these disaster experts’ take on the matter seem to support the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework. The real challenge is how to implement it.
- Empower your people. We are not asking the government to solve all our problems for us. But we expect you to take the lead on how we can better prepare ourselves to survive in times of disasters. Better yet, empower us to minimize the losses they can cause. Now is a good time to look around. Everywhere in the country people are doing their share to give aid in whatever way they can. Harness those people’s desire to help in doing volunteer work not just for relief but in supporting and promoting disaster preparedness.
- Your critics are not essentially your enemies. Try not not attack your most vocal critics. They may just be advocating for something we could all benefit from. Discern and differentiate genuine concern from mere rantings. Help those people channel their passions and convictions in creating positive changes instead of marginalizing them.
- Be creative in finding solutions. Some of us compare our disaster response to Japan. Some of us wish that we have the same capabilities. But we are fully aware of the huge gap between Japan’s resources and ours. We know we have limited resources. But I strongly believe that comparing ourselves to Japan is an opportunity to be creative in finding solutions to aspire for the standards they have set. Japan is just one of the countries that actively provide scholarships, training, and exposure for government people. It would be great if we see those training cascade down to the farthest reaches of the country. Enable local leaders. Put lessons learned to good use or tweak them to suit our abilities and needs.
- Climate change or not, let’s take better care of our environment. Because when disasters strike and all else are gone, the quality of our environment will help us rebuild.