Moving forward amid adversities, building more resilient nation

I watched anxiously as the tragedy unfolded on the news and further monitored the situation through numerous reports, but nothing could have ever prepared us to see firsthand the devastation wrought by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in the province of Abra and other neighboring provinces.

Upon arriving in the town of Bangued last Sunday, 31 July, I and my team, together with fellow Senator Robinhood Padilla, were greeted by several destroyed houses, buildings and power lines. Many residents have been driven out of their homes and snatched of their livelihoods. The provincial government, in fact, had earlier reported that 80 percent of Abra’s population were affected, leading it to place the entire province under a state of calamity.

Meanwhile, in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, parts of the facade of the 16th-century Vigan Cathedral have crumbled and cracks have marred some century-old ancestral houses and buildings in several other heritage sites.

We visited those two places to monitor the situation on the ground, personally distribute assistance to more than a thousand earthquake victims, listen to their concerns and provide solutions to their problems.

Furthermore, to check the condition of other victims, my team will continue to bring necessary aid in the upcoming days. In the process, we are hopeful that we could leave a ray of hope in what is probably one of the darkest moments of their lives.

I have been constantly visiting and aiding disaster victims across our country, and every story I get to hear from them is still as heartrending as the last. Worse, considering the geographical location of our country in the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are sure to be more victims of yet another earthquake and other natural disasters, such as typhoons, floods and volcanic eruptions.

That is why I have long been pushing for the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR). I have introduced this bill in the 18th Congress and once again filed it as my top priority measure in the 19th Congress, because the Philippines’ experiences with natural disasters have shown that the existing laws, policies, resources and institutional arrangements governing disaster management lack responsiveness to the country’s requirements for disaster resilience.

Senate Bill 188 aims to establish a DDR which will bring together all essential functions and mandates currently scattered among various disaster-related agencies. Once established, it shall be primarily responsible for implementing programs, projects and activities that ensure communities are disaster-resilient, adaptive and safe.

I have also refiled SBN 193 which will require every province, city and municipality to construct mandatory evacuation centers. The recent Abra earthquake alone has displaced 33,383 persons, based on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s report on Saturday.

Thus, we ought to make sure that affected families can take refuge in evacuation centers that are safe, dedicated and equipped with basic necessities. In this regard, the centers under the proposed measure must be designed to withstand super typhoons or wind speeds of at least 300 kilometers per hour and seismic activity of at least magnitude 8.0.

Today, I am also filing a proposed Senate resolution urging the national government to immediately restore damaged heritage sites hit by the earthquake. These sites are also major tourist attractions, generating income for the local inhabitants. Faster restoration of these sites will help ensure that people regain their livelihoods as soon as possible and, at the same time, preserve our culture and traditions.

Meanwhile, as our country detected its first case of monkeypox, I appeal to our health authorities to intensify further their awareness, detection, disease surveillance and containment efforts as they are key to preventing the disease from spreading.

As chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health, I intend to file a Senate resolution and ask the Department of Health and other relevant authorities to identify specific strategies and measures to ensure the capability of the country’s health care system.

I also call on everyone to follow minimum health protocols and comply with the health advice from the government and medical experts. We have learned a lot from the Covid-19 pandemic, and we hope that, guided by good science, we know how to better handle monkeypox this time.

Amid all these crises, we should not forget the vulnerable sectors who always bear the brunt of these problems. Thus, I have also consistently distributed aid to struggling residents nationwide.

Last week, I personally led the relief operations for 2,200 indigent residents in Manay, Davao Oriental and 12 families who were victims of a vehicular accident in Auring Village in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte.

My team likewise extended aid to fire victims, including 34 families in Cebu City, 11 in Lapu-Lapu City, and 23 in Pasay City.

We also assisted 1,547 indigents in Moalboal, Cebu; 561 in Enrile, Cagayan; 166 in Siniloan, Laguna; 2,300 in Banaybanay and Lupon, Davao Oriental; and 216 in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya.

Even as challenges seem to test us one after the other, I believe that our resilience as a nation can help us push through. We are no strangers to adversities. If anything, they have taught us that with each other’s support, we can get back up once again, and this time even stronger than we ever were — leaving no Filipino behind.

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