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[quote style=”boxed” ]“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein[/quote]

CHICAGO – In 2009, the Philippine government came up with a scheme of how to avoid a mega-disaster comparable to super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It was supposed to be replicated nationwide in various cities and towns all over the Philippines, but it did not catch on.

In 2000, the Philippine National Police had come up with the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) that detailed procedures, integration and orchestration of government, military/police and public efforts aimed at the prevention and control of crisis incidents. But it was never implemented.

On May 9, 2012 before he died, Local Government and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo found then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim administratively liable for the Aug. 23, 2010 Luneta massacre of Hong Kong tourists for simple neglect of duty. He was faulted for leaving the on-scene command (OSC) post to take his meal in a nearby restaurant instead of ordering a “carry-out” food during the Luneta hostage-taking incident and for his failure to convene the local crisis management committee prior to the crisis. Robredo slapped Lim with a one-month suspension from office.

However, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. reversed Robredo’s decision, saying, “There is no law requiring him (Lim) to be physically present at the OSC for the entirety of the crisis, so his departure constituted no violation of the CMC (Crisis Management Committee) Manual, and there is no penalty that can be imposed on Mayor Lim.”

By not assigning fault to Mayor Lim for abandoning his OSC post for the reason that he had not eaten for eight hours and because “nothing was happening” up to that point, Ochoa was sending a message that in the event there is a similar hostage situation in the future, it is okay for the CMC chair to leave the OSC post while a crisis is in progress. Robredo and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, though, called Lim’s departure “a vacuum of command or (sic) decision makers” because Lim’s designated Advance Command Post head, General Magtibay, even joined him in his dinner at Emerald restaurant.

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By the time Mayor Lim and then Manila Police District Chief Magtibay finished their dinner, the crisis had gone out of control, leaving eight tourists dead. The description “sundalong kanin” (soldiers who have not seen combat, only food) seems to fit General Magtibay, who is your typical “pulis sa pansitan” (noodle-eating policeman).

But despite the obvious lapses by the concerned officials and the embarrassing situation that followed the crisis, there was no public indignation. If a bungled disaster-crisis program does not raise outrage, I don’t know what will.

In such situations, Philippine Congress could help out by appropriating a big budget to advertise crisis management seminars nationwide not only for governors and mayors and police but for the people as well. These officials should conduct periodic disaster preparations and simulate hostage crisis situation every month.

By radio and television stations, Internet and print media to show how to deal with disaster and crisis situations, everybody would be aware of how to prepare against earthquakes, volcano eruptions, huge fires, hostage situations and other calamities.

During crises like hostage-taking, media people should not interfere in the operation, no matter how noble their intentions are. They should not even try to mediate in the crisis unless requested by the hostage taker.

And government officials, especially congressmen, should stop taking for granted the role of the media in disseminating important information to the public by not spending for advertising spaces and air times.

In a post-typhoon Yolanda report by Nancy Lindborg of the U.S. Agency for International Development office in Chicago to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, it was stated that Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera Lim had recalled he was in the Philippines in 2009 when there was disaster drill on a Caterory-5 storm like Yolanda in Tarlac.

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Herrera’s recollection of the drill follows:

With a scenario showing buildings and communications facilities down, officers and employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and an international team simulated the first response to the disaster. The drill was conducted for up to a week with the hope that the pattern would be replicated by local governments nationwide.

From Day 1 to Day 7, equipment and materials were brought in to find out how long cement would go dry and they were drilling the soil to find out how long the team could extract water. There were American doctors talking to victims who were speaking in ethnic dialects. The doctors brought with them a box of drawings describing parts of the human body like a stomach. This was intended to make up for the absence of translators as they simulated to treat the victims.

The massive drill conducted in Tarlac turned out to be an exercise in futility because there were no media people to cover it and tell the whole world how to avoid disasters.

It would have been a good move by the government if it hired professional movie cameramen and producers to document the disaster drill and distributed the movie clips to governors, mayors and police officers.

It should have bought television air times and showed the films in local theaters nationwide as a paid advertisement by the Philippine government. This would have let the people know that the government is spending their taxes to promote their safety, not wasting them on phony government projects.

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Merry Christmas to all!