Today, my friends, I watched the news and photos uploaded on social media and I could not even begin to describe how I feel. The sense of dread and sadness as I watched what appeared to be a dystopic scene of destruction as calamities struck our country one after another. The sheer number of dead and injured people, as well as, the countless number of houses flooded or washed out particularly as Typhoon Ulysses pummelled Northen Luzon with strong winds and torrential rains. The national government has been timid in attempts to stem the tide of calamity by organizing a ragtag rescue and relief response. Unfortunately, it is apparent that most of our LGUs could barely even field enough boats or rescue equipment due to the large number of Filipinos that have been affected.
Typhoon Ulysses has been consistently compared to Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 that also pounded Manila with heavy rainfall and ended up flooding so much of the sprawling metropolis and nearby towns and cities, resulting in massive casualties. Nevertheless, the graft-laden Arroyo administration was well-prepared back in the day to respond to the disaster and mobilized whatever rescue equipment and teams they could muster. However, it was simply not enough. As a result, major reforms have been made during the term of former President Aquino regarding disaster response, centralizing monitoring systems that allowed the government to respond more timely manner than before.
Now, it appears that the national government under Duterte’s administration hasn’t fully learned its lessons, while we can credit the Aquino administration for institutionalizing vital research and development reforms that help in calamity management and disaster response. One of this very important and innovative approaches to disaster risk reduction and prevention is the establishment of Project NOAH, much known to as the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazard.
Project NOAH was an initiative resulting from President Benigno Aquino III’s call for impproved disaster prevention and mitigation in the Philippines in the aftermath of the destructive Tropical Storm Sendong in December 2011. Project NOAH was publicly launched by President Aquino, project head Mahar Lagmay, and other government officials in Marikina on July 6, 2012. The program combines science and technology for disaster risk reduction and management. It was also a responsive program that soought to provide a 6-HOUR LEAD TIME warning to agencies involved in disaster prevention and mitigation. The project also harnessed advanced technologies to enhance existing geo-hazard vulnerability maps. Project NOAH was developed with the help of the National Institute of Geological Sciences and the College of Engineering of the University of the Philippines; the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA); the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS); the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), and the Science and Technology Information Institute (STII). The project is now composed of twenty-one institutions from the local and private sectors, including media and telecommunication companies.
The program’s seven major components described are as follows:
Distribution of Hydrometeorological Devices in hard-hit areas in the Philippines (Hydromet) – the installation of automated rain gauges and water level monitoring stations in major river basins and flood-prone areas.
Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment for Mitigation – Light Detection and Ranging (DREAM-LIDAR) Project – the development of accurate three-dimensional flood inundation and hazard maps for the country’s flood-prone areas.
Enhancing Geohazards Mapping through LIDAR– the use of LIDAR technology and computer-assisted analyses to identify landslide-prone areas.
Coastal Hazards and Storm Surge Assessment and Mitigation (CHASSAM) – to generate wave surge, wave refraction, and coastal circulation models to understand and recommend solutions for coastal erosion.
Flood Information Network (FloodNET) Project – the building of a flood center to provide timely and accurate information for flood forecasts.
Local Development of Doppler Radar Systems (LaDDeRS) – to develop local capacity to operate Doppler weather radar systems.
Landslide Sensors Development Project – a low-cost, locally developed, sensor-based early monitoring and warning system for landslides, slope failures, and debris flow.
Weather Hazard Information Project (WHIP) – the use of television and a web portal to display real-time weather data to help local governments and communities to prepare against natural hazards.
Project NOAH has been dubbed as the country’s flagship disaster prevention and mitigation program. However, all of sudden, the current Duterte administration pulled the plug on this scientifically important project, citing the lack of proper funding while at the same time, re-aligning huge amounts of intelligence funds to the Office the President for some confidential reasons we the people aren’t privy to due to the nature of confidentiality to such funding allocations. In this respect, it is not unreasonable to hope that those funds are used in matters of national security, but as it all appeared in front of our eyes, this has not happenes.
Why is it that again? Well, for starters, the Chinese Communist Party happily courted the Duterte administration by showering him with no-strings attached loans which made him and his allies jump in excitement. The opaque loan agreement with China has been widely criticized by many as an actual debt-trap, where countries were forced to give up patrimonial assets in exchange of loan repayments. This is super dangerous for us, given that China has existed territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which covers much of our legitimate Exclusive Economic Zone.
It’s also only China who has built an extensive number of illegal island fortresses within Philippine owned EEZ without regard to International treaties and agreements they themselves ratified and upheld similarly against Japan on the same ground of UNCLOS.
Truly, the calamity that Ulysses has brought to us and the upcoming number of typhoons slated to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility within this month and the next is sure to make us all wary and gloomy. After all, we are still reeling from the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which crushed our economy down to a pulp and right now is slowly trying to recover out from it. Of course, this was a self-inflicted problem to begin with when Duterte happily allowed millions of Chinese citizens to enter the country without proper VISA’s as well as rejecting calls from cause-oriented groups and from the Vice President himself when the International community warned about the virus outbreak in Wuhan. Even Taiwan has closed its borders rather instantly when the news arrived their shores.
Unfortunately, our President and its gullible associates refused to heed science and has so far neglected systematic and Internationally known approaches to matters of national importance – including of course, human rights violations, humane anti-drug policies and most importantly disaster risk prevention with the use advanced geohazard maps and satellite monitoring especially now. Imagine if Project NOAH hasn’t been scrapped: it would have helped save a lot of lives.
I just though that should Duterte administration had only been more inclined in people empowerment and actually doing its job in the best interest of the Filipino people instead of wallowing in propaganda, fake news and populist stunts, perhaps, I would even be so proud to call him my President.
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