Typhoon Ondoy

(Photo by Jason Gutierrez/IRIN)

Typhoon Ondoy was an unprecedented natural disaster that was worse than Hurricane Katrina. Ondoy dumped 455 mm of rain within 24 hours in Quezon City alone, compared to the 250 mm of rain dumped by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The United States government, with all its resources, struggled to cope with Katrina in 2005. It is no surprise that the Philippine government, which has much fewer resources, struggled to cope with Ondoy, which was a lot worse than Katrina. It was impossible to respond to all the calls for help all at the same time, given the magnitude of the natural disaster.

(I repeat, NATURAL DISASTER. Blaming Gibo for Ondoy is like blaming Cory Aquino for the 1990 earthquake and the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.)

When Sec. Teodoro issued a flash appeal for international aid through the United Nations, the UN reviewed the status of the government's relief efforts. The UN's objective assessment was that the government had done a good job given its limited resources and the scale of the disaster.

From USA Today, October 6, 2009:
U.N. representative Jacqueline Badcock said the government responded well to the calamity but was clearly overwhelmed. "The government has really tried its best," she said. "When you get something that really is unprecedented and catastrophic like the Manila flood, the government is not able to cope."

From Philippine Star, October 13, 2009:
United Nations Undersecretary General John Holmes said, “I admire the efforts of the Philippine government. We are trying to support the relief efforts of the government as much as we can."
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Sec. Teodoro, the chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), absorbed much of the public's frustration over Ondoy. What most people did not realize was that under the law (PD 1566), it was the local government units (LGUs) who were supposed to have been the primary responders during the disaster, not the NDCC.

The NDCC is just an ad hoc committee. It is not a permanent organization. It does not even have a regular budget because it does not directly handle operations.

Local governments are the ones who are allotted a budget for disaster relief (5% of their total annual revenue is reserved for disaster management). The law placed the budget and the primary responsibility on local governments for the simple reason that local governments are the ones closest to affected areas when a disaster strikes.

Section 1 of PD 1566, the law on disaster preparedness, states that:
- Responsibility for leadership rests on the Provincial Governor, City Mayors, and Municipal Mayors, (and Barangay Chairman), each according to his area of responsibility;
- The national government exists to support the local government.

The NDCC's role as defined in PD 1566 is actually very limiting. PD 1566 is an old law that was passed in 1978 when Defense Ministers had more powers. This is why there are pending Disaster Risk Management bills right now in the Senate and Congress. The bills seek to replace the ad hoc NDCC with a permanent Disaster Risk Reduction Council (DRRC) that will be given the right powers and resources to correct the weaknesses of the current law. Sec. Teodoro brought up this same suggestion to members of the House before the bill was filed.

(Source: "Teodoro welcomes replacement of NDCC with new agency", Philippine Star, October 8, 2009)

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Sec. Teodoro did not delay the purchase of rubber boats. Records at the Department of National Defense show that Sec. Teodoro authorized the purchase of 100 rubber boats on March 6, 2009 (7 months before Ondoy) through a negotiated procurement if necessary, and requested delivery within 4 months instead of the usual 8 months.

Because the NDCC does not have a budget, the purchase had to be made through the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), which is administered by another official. The OCD decided to conduct a regular public bidding to ensure transparency and accountability.

The OCD, as of December 2008, had distributed 182 rubber boats to different local government units (LGUs) and government agencies. Priority was given to LGUs that have fewer resources and are known to be flood-prone.

The more well-funded LGUs could have acquired their own rubber boats, since they are the primary responders designated by law and have the budgets allotted for disaster management.

(Source: "'Don't blame Teodoro on boat purchase'", Philippine Star, October 15, 2009)

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Our armed forces make many sacrifices for very little pay. They put their lives on the line to rescue people during the flood. They spent weeks sweeping away garbage and carrying sacks of relief goods to evacuation centers. This was all beyond the call of duty, and some of them lost their lives. People who say they didn't do enough should watch this.

Typhoon Ondoy was worse than Hurricane Katrina. We Filipinos got through it through a joint effort of the government, the NGOs, and private corporations. We should be proud that we got through it together. Stop sowing hate for the government. It doesn't help anyone.

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From an assessment of Sec. Teodoro's performance during Ondoy by Marichu Villanueva, Philippine Star, October 2, 2009:

While others were busy nitpicking on the sidelines, it is noteworthy that Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. did not allow himself to be distracted from doing his job as chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

It is no easy job to be on the shoes, rather on the rubber boots of Gibo.

The immediate task before him is to mitigate the devastation wrought by Ondoy in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite. But given the available rescue resources at his disposal at the NDCC, Gibo had to make the hard decision “to give priority” to areas at most risk of being wiped out. At the height of Ondoy’s onslaught, Gibo identified the cities of Marikina and Pasig and Cainta as the areas where the rescue efforts must focus first.

We are again faced with the threats of “Pepeng” which weather experts fear may develop into a “super” typhoon. Barely coping with the continuing demands of relief operations, Gibo is changing tack. This early, he has deployed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to implement a “pre-emptive” evacuation of residents living in high-risk places or those prone to severe flooding and landslide. As the NDCC chief, Gibo also mobilized the Philippine National Police to help implement the “pre-emptive” evacuation, especially of women and children and those less physically able to move them out of harm’s way.

Of course, such forced evacuation is an extreme measure. For sure, a forced evacuation would certainly be met with stiff resistance. The natural instinct of people would be to stay in their homes and protect their remaining valuables. This was the same dilemma of rescuers at the height of Ondoy’s wrath. We could not blame these people when looters are all over the place taking advantage of the calamity situation.

After taking stock of the extent of damage wrought by Ondoy all over Metro Manila and nearby provinces, Gibo raised the call for help to the international community. A leader does not pussyfoot in calling for outside help when faced with odds beyond one’s reach.

Fortunately, there was immediate response on humanitarian relief assistance that started pouring in from our neighbors and allies. The United States was the first to come to help. Friends from the international community later responded one after the other like China, France, Australia, the European Union, Singapore, Germany, Canada, and many other countries heeding the SOS call of the Philippines.

Last Tuesday, Gibo had a close call of sorts with Mother Nature. Accompanied by PNP Deputy Director General Leopoldo Bataoil, Gibo took a morning flight on board a Vietnam-vintage UH-1H helicopter from Camp Aguinaldo to conduct aerial survey of Ondoy’s damages in Central Luzon. Safely landing at an Army camp in Arayat, Pampanga, they proceeded to the site where the landslides happened killing 12 persons. After they visited the affected residents and condoled with their families, they took off for Manila by noon. But by that time, bad weather started to develop.

While airborne, the Huey chopper struggled through thick clouds battered by strong winds and heavy rains. I’ve ridden many times in a Huey chopper and I know the feeling inside such a rough ride. A certified fixed-wing pilot, Gibo agreed not to push their luck. They diverted instead to Clark Field where Teodoro and his party planned to proceed to Manila by land.

With already zero visibility, the pilot was forced to take a precautionary landing at the first clearing he saw. It turned out to be the Ayala Mall in San Fernando City. The chopper had a safe touchdown near a garbage area. Hence, garbage trashes were flown all over the place by the whirring of the huge chopper rotor blades.

Wearing a ball cap, Gibo was initially accosted by the mall’s security guard and asked them: “Mga sino kayo?” It was only after Gibo removed his cap when the guard finally recognized him. The guard later told Gibo he has seen him on TV during the past few days. While cooling their heels at the mall’s coffee shop, some people started to recognize Gibo and gathered around posing for photographs with him. The group took off an hour later for Manila taking the same Huey chopper.

If it is any source of comfort for Gibo, at least there is now some increased awareness by people of who he is. But in fairness to the guy, he has resisted using this crisis situation he is busy with, as a platform for his presidential bid. He has the propriety and decency to keep politics aside for now.
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From Manila Bulletin, February 5, 2010:
At the first council meeting of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII), Alfonso Uy, FFCCCII national president, said Teodoro’s extraordinary crisis leadership typifies the spirit of Filipino-Chinese volunteerism that is geared at mitigating the effect of disasters on peoples' lives without media fanfare and mileage.

“That is extraordinary leadership, when you do something good without expecting public adulation in return,” he said.

Teodoro was welcomed warmly by an enthusiastic gathering of the influential FFCCCII, which has 170 member-organizations nationwide.

Uy said that Teodoro, the assembly’s guest speaker, has been an active partner of the FFCCCII in the chambers’ activities in the latter’s capacity as chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) until November of last year.

"During relief operations for typhoons Frank and Ondoy, we saw how effective, methodical and hardworking a crisis manger Secretary Teodoro is," Uy told the meeting to resounding applause by participants.