Editorial: Surviving disasters

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

WHEN it comes to governance, particularly disaster preparedness and risk reduction, we can all learn from San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu.

Climate Change Commissioner Nadarev Saño emphasized the best practices that earned this third-class municipality the prestigious United Nations (UN) Sasakawa Award for Risk Reduction in 2011.

Saño spoke during the League of Municipalities of the Philippines Luzon Cluster Conference held in Cebu City, reported Sun.Star Cebu’s Flornisa M. Gitgano last July 15.


Along with other stakeholders in Vancouver, Canada; Santa Fe, Argentina; Bhubaneswar, India; Central America; and Pakistan, San Francisco was recognized for “excellence in reducing disaster risk,” with emphasis on “sustainability of projects despite resource constraints, and putting people first,” reported the Department of Foreign Affairs on www.gov.ph.

“Start small”

When then mayor Alfredo Arquillano received the UN Sasakawa Award in Geneva, he said San Francisco benefited from two lessons in governance: “think big, start small.”

Saño also focused on the “purok” system used by San Francisco to involve “bottoms-up” or grassroots participation in many aspects of governance: health and nutrition, agriculture and livelihood, education and solid waste management, peace and order, environmental protection, tourism women and children, infrastructure, youth and sports and finance budget and appropriations.

A geographical unit smaller than the barangay, the “purok” sysem was re-activated by Arquillano during his second term in 2004 to involve citizens in solving solid waste management problems, reported the Rappler news website last June 18.

The success of one “purok” in dealing with its garbage inspired other puroks to organize. Rappler reported that San Francisco has 120 active puroks, with seven to eight puroks per barangay and 50 to 100 households per purok. Each purok elects officers to lead committees on solid waste management, health, peace and order, and other key concerns.

Committees work more efficiently at the purok level, evaluated a UN team. Purok leaders consulted neighbors and elevated their concerns to the barangay captain and mayor. The purok was also the conduit for forming and implementing solutions, reported Rappler.

Working and replicable

Vulnerable to natural disasters, San Francisco tapped the purok and barangay systems, as well as an updated and pro-active Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (LDRRMO) to disseminate information, accomplish evacuation of vulnerable populations, stockpile relief goods, prepare evacuation centers, and undertake other precautionary measures days before Yolanda struck in November 2013.

While neighboring islands suffered heavy casualty, San Francisco did not lose one life at the height of the super typhoon.

The same Rappler report focused on the town’s process for reactivating puroks. Despite the absence of salaries for purok leaders, who serve voluntarily, San Francisco took only seven years to mobilize the 120 puroks.

Arquillano set aside town funds to reward puroks that implemented solid waste management, conducted regular meetings, and planted a vegetable garden. By rewarding only those who merited it, town leaders steered away from the traps of “dole-out” assistance.

Prize money was supplemented by a capital build-up program that enabled puroks to have funds. This was used to address communal needs, such as building a purok hall, as well as starting livelihood and micro-credit programs for neighbors.

Currently heading the Regional Center of Expertise in Cebu, Arquillano emphasized the most important point to be learned from San Francisco: its success can be replicated by other local governments.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 21, 2014.


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