WE should be modestly celebrating the New Year because of the successes we achieved both on the health and economic fronts. We have tamed Covid-19 through an aggressive vaccination rollout program, leading to declining daily cases. We reopened the economy and restored thousands of jobs through less mobility restrictions.
We should be the envy of citizens in Europe where the pandemic is still raging. A Christmas lockdown in the Netherlands and similar restrictive measures in Germany, the United Kingdom and the rest of the continent at this time of the year have dampened the spirit of the season for many Europeans. They cannot celebrate the passing of 2021 and the coming of the New Year with days and nights of revelry, not with Covid-19 lurking around and infecting thousands by the day.
Filipinos are luckier during this year-end holiday. Thousands have trooped to the malls and public parks after months of being confined in their homes. Revenge shopping is obvious—an indicator of a lively economy. Domestic tourism is back as thousands hit the road on their way to picturesque Tagaytay and Baguio. Many booked their flights and visited their favorite beach resorts and diving spots where they spend the holidays.
I, too, am relieved to see more people out in the streets and holding low-key Christmas parties in the offices and restaurants. But I am saddened by the tragedy that befell our fellow Filipinos in Siargao Island, northern Mindanao, Visayas and Palawan. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are made homeless after Typhoon Odette ripped through these areas, including Cebu, Bohol, the Negros and Panay islands and Southern Leyte.
Photos and videos documenting the wrath and the damage of Odette are heartrending. In the blink of an eye, Siargao was turned into a ghost town from a surfing mecca, while hundreds of thousands of our kababayans are literally groping in the dark due to power outages.
Odette’s strong winds leveled many houses, leaving many Filipinos homeless during the holidays. Our farmers and fishermen again bore the brunt of the typhoon. Odette destroyed thousands of hectares of crops and coconut trees, obliterated fishing villages and left tourism operators with no livelihood.
I am aware that the government is doing its best to help the displaced and give aid to those who are currently suffering much. In hindsight, however, we should be better prepared for the next cataclysmic storms. We are experiencing the onset of global warming, which should give us more reasons to plan ahead in order to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change.
First and foremost, we can do more to shorten our disaster-response time in order to attend to the needs of the victims. The victims of Odette have clamored for drinking water and basic foods and necessities hours after the disaster. This is the challenge for the next administration. I remember back then, when as Senate president, I strongly batted for the allocation of more funds to relevant agencies like the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, or PAGASA, and the disaster coordinating agencies.
Our disaster coordinating agencies need more funds. For one, they should be equipped with more rubber boats in order to conduct search and rescue operations right after a typhoon strikes. These agencies need all the available resources they can use in times of emergencies. Priority funding must be set aside for them. Disaster response units must have all the resources at their disposal to successfully conduct rescue operations and save lives, as in the case of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009.
The victims of calamities, most of the time, are left to fend for themselves after suffering the onslaught of natural disasters. It would do well for the incoming administration to prioritize a rehabilitation program for Filipinos who lost their homes and belongings due to typhoons and other natural calamities. This should include short-term livelihood programs, especially for farmers who lost their crops and livestock.
The government can also provide a more decent housing or shelter, preferably in less disaster-prone areas, and one that can withstand strong typhoons and protect the poorer Filipinos who do not have the resources to build more resilient structures.
Many typhoon victims live on a subsistence level and are unable to break the poverty cycle. Providing them with better livelihood opportunities and a more decent and sturdier home gives them hope.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!