Ring of Fire
Our hearts go out to the people of Mindanao specifically those from Sarangani, Davao Occidental and General Santos City which appeared to have taken the brunt of the magnitude 6.8 earthquake that hit the region last Nov. 19. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) they are still verifying the casualty figures but initial reports indicated that three deaths were recorded in General Santos City; two in Glan, Sarangani; and one each in Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental; and Malapatan, Sarangani.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has already issued a statement assuring the public that the government "is actively responding to ensure the safety of our citizens" following the quake and has ordered all concerned government agencies to provide assistance to the victims of the earthquake.
As I have said numerous times in the past, natural disasters that hit us should make us pause and review our national preparedness programs. We get an average of 20 typhoons annually, we have 22 active volcanoes, and we are situated in the in the western part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which stretches from New Zealand to Indonesia and up to Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.
It is good that the President has mobilized government to provide assistance but it is important to note that aside from immediate response to the quake in terms of providing food, water and temporary shelter, resources must also be provided to the victims by way of helping them recover from the devastation. The immediate problems after a disaster are grave but those who suffered will have a much more difficult time as they recover. And that is where government should be able to help.
When I was in the Senate, I filed a bill that would allow victims of storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other natural calamities to deduct their losses from their annual taxes.
My idea at that time was to provide relief to victims of natural disasters by granting them special deductions from their income and real property taxes equivalent to their losses. I think this is an idea worth revisiting as our kababayans in Mindanao recover from this latest calamity.
The number of deaths and injuries in these 6.7 earthquake should also make us reflect on the quality of preparedness we have especially in more populated urban areas like the National Capital Region, Cebu City, Davao City and the like. When a big disaster hits densely populated, the casualty will more likely be enormous.
For instance, will our hospital system be able to cope with a multitude of injured people coming in? We experienced this during the pandemic when we witnessed horrifying scenes of people infected with Covid-19 being treated outside the hospitals because there was simply no more rooms and beds available. In other words, our healthcare system was on the brink of collapse because of the sheer volume of infected patients. Can our hospital system handle the consequences of the feared “Big One” in Metro Manila?
I was in the Senate when Ondoy and Pepeng hit the country in 2009 and caused heavy damage to hospitals. Many private as well as government hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby areas suffered heavy damages from floods brought about by typhoon Ondoy such as the medical center in Marikina and San Lazaro Hospital in Manila. Typhoon Pepeng also damaged hospitals in Central and Northern Luzon. It was reported that of the about 10 hospitals in Dagupan, only the Pangasinan Medical Center was spared from the flood.
We know that hospitals and medical facilities are very important especially during disasters when their services are badly needed. More than anything, we should ensure that their existing patients and incoming disaster victims would continue to get medical treatment even during a calamity. This is something that disaster preparedness officials need to account for. Sometimes death tolls increase unnecessarily because of our inability to treat those that have been injured.
For this reason, I urged local government units to designate and prepare not only evacuations sites but also alternate medical care facilities where patients can be transferred during calamities or disasters. And I make the same call today: let us make sure we have alternate medical facilities that can treat victims of natural disasters. Designating appropriate alternate medical sites or facilities—like school classrooms, university campuses, gymnasiums, community centers, health clubs, convention centers or even warehouses—should be prioritized and done ahead of time. We should not wait for another calamity to strike before we act on this. LGUs should prepare these sites and make them operational urgently. This is critical to ensuring the safety and continued medical care for the public even during a disaster.