Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said no government money was wasted in holding the Western Visayas Summit on Risk Reduction and Multi-Hazard Awareness at West Negros University in Bacolod City Saturday.
“I do not see any reason why, instead of focusing on the value of this activity, we focus on the expense,” Pimentel said.
One good reason why a summit like this should be held in all the regions of the country is that, for 2011, the Philippines is No. 1 in the number of reported natural disasters, with 33, he said.
“Anybody who considers as a waste of time disaster risk reduction summits does not know his geography, and even our country's history with disasters,” he added.
Pimentel said the summit was held for free and the participants attended it at their own expense. He paid for his plane ticket and so did his staff, he said.
“I know that the official who said that this is a waste of money has a background on disaster preparedness,” he said, referring to Bacolod Rep. Anthony Golez Jr. “Why should he question a summit about disaster preparedness? Otherwise, he would also be saying that the money used for his training was also useless. I hope that this kind of initiative should be spared from local politics,” he said.
Pimentel said that while preparing for the Mindanao summit, he met Mayor Evelio Leonardia at his office who came to watch the impeachment trial, so he offered to hold the summit in Bacolod City. Leonardia was just an accidental partner in this, but he liked the idea, he said. The summit was planned before an earthquake struck Negros, he added.
Pimentel said he sees the need to be prepared for disasters, pointing out that if Japan was not prepared, the death toll could have been three times or more than the actual casualties, after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit the country on March 11, 2011.
He said the Philippines is not safe from natural or man-made disasters and is located in the so-called typhoon alley.
“We cannot stop a typhoon or a tropical storm from passing through, but we can find the means and measures to minimize the destruction and the losses. To add to our disaster woes, the whole Philippine Archipelago is sitting on a tectonic plate,” he added.
Pimentel said the earthquake that hit Negros on February 6, 2012 came from an undiscovered fault line. “You can never be sure that your place does not sit near a fault line, so we better prepare,” he said.
In the 2011 list ofcountries with the highest number of people killed and affected by natural disasters, the Philippines was at number 6 after Somalia, Cambodia, Djibouti, Niger and Thailand with 12,568 people killed and affected, he said.
Pimentel said this summit is about knowledge and adding knowledge because “Without it, we can never be prepared when actual disasters come. Despite the fact that we have a disaster plan on paper, we need to conduct drills pursuant to the plan.”
Pimentel said his office convened the Mindanao summit in the aftermath of the tragedy of typhoon Sendong, which devastated his hometown in Cagayan de Oro and its neighbor, Iligan City.
Rosario Cabrera, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council regional director, said Western Visayas has five earthquake generators and has 679 tsunami prone provinces where 172 are in Negros Occidental.
Meanwhile, Leonardia said he readily he accepted the offer of Pimentel with open arms and he believes that, where this subject matter is concerned, as in many endeavors, there is always room for learning.
This, he said, is still true, even though Bacolod was given an award by Malacañang for being one of the top three disaster preparedness councils in the Philippines.
He also thanked WNU for hosting the summit.
Vice Mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson said, “We are very happy to be part of this activity. As we know, any discussion about disaster preparedness is really a welcome activity for everybody because we cannot say that we are prepared and know everything.”
He said they are happy that Pimentel chose Bacolod City as the venue for the summit.
Pimentel was also joined by Councilor Al Victor Espino and WNU acting president Oscar Suarez during the summit that was participated in by representatives of governors and mayors in Western Visayas, members of the academe, the police, the Philippine Army and the Bureau of Fire among others.*CGS