Pioneers in the 21st century

Displacement is one of the wicked issues affecting people and governments in the 21st century. Camps and centers are not home, merely holding areas. Eventually IDPs leaving the camps find new places to resettle in preferring urban areas for their perceived wealth of opportunities. For the urban planning community, this implies the need for new strategies in designing inclusive settlement areas.

Rude awakenings

The Fire Rooster is indeed a hard worker. It’s still the first days of the new year and already we’ve been buzzed up to hard realities. We need those energy bars to keep up!

First: Typhoon Nockten/Nina made a total of eight landfalls. It’s second was in Pili, Camarines Sur when it was at it’s strongest, around 300 kph. Turns out 12,000 out of the municipality’s 17,000 households incurred damages. And except at the town proper, electricity has yet to be restored.

I learned of this just two days ago. I was shocked because media has reported just about everything post-Nina but these. The typhoon struck the area on Christmas Day while the rest of the country were gorging on Noche Buena fare and joyful for gifts received. There was a report about the Vice President who went to her hometown, Sorsogon, right after her return from the US where she spent Christmas. She commented on the response as “I think it is somewhat slow” and “wish(ing) I was here”, but nothing more afterward.

As it happens around here, owing to so-called politics over local funds earmarked for disasters, local governments have again failed to step up as first responders. By this, I mean not just handing out one-time emergency food rations but as mandated of them in the DRRM Law, ensures compliance to humanitarian standards, and systematic and comprehensive disaster management up to the time affected communities have recovered. Once again, it appears the bulk of response (as there are still households in remoter areas in need of food rations), recovery, and reconstruction work is heaved upon civil society, triggering within the community switch to familiar hyper-fast high-adrenaline mode of doing things.

Stressful for humanitarian workers but on one hand, projects that do get funded give rise to relatively high-paying job opportunities for otherwise unemployed locals that in turn help revive otherwise stagnant local markets, contributing in the long term to the phenomenon of disaster areas becoming boom towns. For the urban manager, this opens up the opportunity to plan ahead and set in motion the strategy that will shape the “future town” the people want (as opposed to a hands off approach to growth and development which inevitably leads to sprawl which was what happened to Baguio City after the 1991 earthquake).

Second: Former President Noynoy Aquino are sued for plunder over his sign off during his term on the shipment to a bank in Thailand of USD141M 3,500 metric tons of gold bars of 99.999 percent purity confiscated from the Marcoses. In exchange of the gold bars, the Philippine Government under Aquino had purportedly agreed with Thailand’s Centennial Energy Company to produce funds for humanitarian projects. Talk about disaster politics! True or false, my god!!!

Third: South Korea has the fastest average internet connection speed globally, Akamai reports. At 26.3mbps Whoa! At the rate we’re used to here, 4.6mbps, Filipinos find it hard to imagine that kind of speed.

What is with speed? I knew of employees who got memos (getting sacked even) for “not immediately responding to urgent emails” and “lying about why you’re not responding to urgent emails”; organizations missing out on much needed funding because “sorry, you did not send in your proposals on time”. Headquarters with their relatively faster internet speed have difficulty believing that field offices located in godforsaken areas are hard put (and fed up) with what to them is a 0.0000000000001mbps internet speed at best. The email site takes years to open and another century for one document to be uploaded. Then, just when you’re on the verge of throwing out the device you hear a beep. It’s the telco sending a notice hi! we noticed that your data usage today has been really high. we’re now reducing your browsing speed to maintain quality service for all users blah blah blah; oops, you’ve used up the MBs of your surf promo. The regular browsing rate will now apply…avoid unexpected data charges by turning on SurfAlert blah blah blah. In these places, it is more reliable and speedier and a lot less stressful to send documents, photos, and recordings via bus lines but then this forfeits the meaning of ‘urgent’. Folks at head offices who rarely visit therefore wouldn’t know how it is really conclude that field people are ignoring their notice. They refuse to acknowledge that internet speed is a valid concern.

Same conversation between consumers and the telcos. The latter, because they’re only, what, three (plus a subsidiary each)?, they put on earplugs to cancel out the constant banging of customers on their doors (picked up even by international papers such as Forbes), or better yet, stage superfluous marketing gigs that promise more than what could actually be delivered. In this sob story we see the Department of Communications approaching the telcos’ doorsteps at incredibly slow-mo- ten years at a time. Could someone please throw them the dictionary opened at ‘breakneck’?

In the aftermath of Haima/Lawin

I haven’t been posting lately because of an insane work schedule but I’m taking a few hours off to write something on issues I feel strongly about:

Primary hazard. In the case of the Philippines, natural hazards eg. typhoons are just secondary causes of disasters. The primary cause is continued inaction of local governments (barangays up to the provincial levels) to finance or allocate significant funds in order for local disaster risk reduction strategies, programs, and projects to be implemented. Typhoons such as Lawin/Haima only serve to expose these gaps in local governance.

Compliance to and monitoring for quality standards, for instance. Road cuts in the highways of the Cordillera Region have been due in large part to substandard engineering practices. I’m not an engineer but looking at the image of the Tinoc-Kiangan road cut below, common sense tells you that the way this particular structure is engineered (eg. thickness, no reinforcement, no mitigation structure to counter soil quality, etc.) as exposed by Lawin/Haima will not stand up long to the “wolf’s huff and puff” as it did eventually.

Tinoc-Kiangan Road
Road cut Tinoc-Kiangan Road

Devastation in housing has been due mostly to negligence in monitoring for compliance to zoning and building standards; and, lack of access to low cost housing and subsidies to low income families eg. tenant and small landholder farmers and fisherfolks in order for them to build safe houses because of course nipa huts and houses of light materials will not stand up long to a 300 kph typhoon.

damaged houses in the aftermath of Haima/Lawin
via rappler

Damage to power lines can be mitigated or minimized by financing underground installation of such which given this country’s exposure to natural hazards by way of it’s geographical location should have been started yesterday. But it had not as we continue to build as if blind to our geographical realities.

Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City
Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City via philstar

Devastation to agriculture as a result of typhoons especially among agricultural households shouldn’t be as financially devastating to these families when universal access to insurance (crops, livestock, fisheries) or subsidies to such are ensured. There is the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation but only a small percentage of farmers and fisher households are covered.

Poverty reduction is also a disaster risk reduction strategy. But the poor in this country have not been pulled out of their poverty at the rate that we said poverty reduction should happen. Those who need social protection the most ie. the poor continue to be left behind in social security and health insurance coverage, among others. Jobs in localities are not created and growing at the rate that is more or less equal to the rate that schools produce graduates. Nor is labor in localities protected from exploitation eg. employers who pay below minimum such that families of workers are unable to eat three meals a day. Investments in localities are not as high as those in already overcrowded cities eg. Metro Manila in order to incentivize graduates or those looking for jobs to stay rather than migrate. Lands are not redistributed as provided in law. Etcetera. And it is the children who suffer the most from continued neglect of their local governments to finance and implement local poverty reduction.

'Lawin' leaves P5B agri damage in Cagayan
via abscbn

Like Tacloban City with Yolanda/Haiyan, cities such as Ilagan in Isabela and Tuguegarao in Cagayan as well as urbanizing municipal towns as those in the Cordillera are being developed as if their legislative and planning councils have not heard about the environmental impact assessment or the national urban development law/agenda, among other urban development and planning policies and strategies. As if local governments have no land use plans or zoning laws. Real estate development continue to be allowed in floodplains without mandating for mitigation measures.

So it’s not the typhoon (or earthquake, etc.) but it’s the lack of disaster risk reduction measures. Preparedness is merely about, well, preparation just before the onslaught of a hazard, but again in order for preparedness to be effective the assumption is that risk reduction measures have been put in place long beforehand. This country’s law (RA 10121) specifically calls for disaster risk reduction and management, not just preparedness. But what we’ve been doing so far is just preparedness. Also, look, one of the reasons for the DRRM Law is to provide local governments the independence and flexibility to allocate funding for risk reduction and preparedness even without declaring calamity. But what are we again seeing? So no, it’s not typhoons that citizens ought to pray deliverance for but against the harmful mentality and stubbornness of local governments.

Bayanihan. This old Filipino practice among families within neighborhoods is voluntary ie. it arises from goodwill among people who know or have good relations with each other. It should not be spoken about (especially by broadcast media) as an act that another is entitled to or that Filipinos are obliged to do. Bayanihan is not an obligation. If there is any obligation that stands in the aftermath of disasters it is government’s obligations toward it’s citizens ie. to protect and uphold rights standards even during emergencies (local governments therefore should know by heart the Sphere Handbook). It is the obligation of government to bring out the necessary resources that have been paid for by taxpayers eg. equipments, manpower, money to clear roads, clean schools, drain floodplains, trim trees, etcetera. At once. Immediately. Local governments should feel ashamed if they have to wait for private agencies and I/NGOs from miles away to be the ones to respond and make physical assessments of the areas. Government, supported by taxes and other resources, should feel ashamed if it relies on bayanihan to bring back order.

Reporting by broadcast media. “Christmas came early for the students of Casili Elementary School in Rizal.” Reading this news report further you’d see that it refers to a bridge built with funding from the Foundation of Outstanding Mapuans Incorporated, which school children in said school can now use. What’s wrong with the words utilized in this news? It puts forth the message that bridges are Christmas or Santa’s gifts instead of as a right and duty (ie. linked to children’s right to education as well as a duty of government to protect and address the right of citizens to basic infrastructures). A lot of disinformation and mis-messaging hence ignorance are perpetuated by mainstream media, sadly and unfortunately for the Filipino masses. Similarly, whenever I see recipients of aid being made to profusely thank donors or the government on TV when the aid is merely basic satisfaction of their rights (eg. school supplies relative to right to education, food packs relative to right to survival) I get in a rage. The aid recipients are made to be like rape victims who are abused again and again while everybody’s watching and cheering but because they don’t have any other option they do what is asked of them. Dignity during disasters is what duty bearers need to protect more than their policy for visibility, always.


Monday, I’m still on cloud nine over Brasil’s win in Rio, and everybody’s on the road. As we’re mulling over easing up monstrous traffic at home, China has already launched a new bus model, the transit elevated bus:

Powered by electricity, the bus (an alternative to subways) has a raised passenger compartment that straddles the traffic beneath. It can carry up to 300 passengers (although future models might take more) and is about 22 metres long, 7.8 wide and 4.8 high.

Four challenges from President Duterte’s SONA

President Duterte, in his first SONA, mentioned four things I’d like to further write about here.

First, land banking. He said it was his practice as Mayor of Davao City to buy land that would be developed as relocation sites for the City’s slum dwellers. He said he talks to private owners of the lots his team has eyed to bargain for a fair price. Now, that is the Mayor we want for all Philippine cities! Land banking or the purchase of land for future use is a must for cities and municipalities. Farsighted cities see the need to secure prime strategic locations ahead of private buyers. Cities do this because, acting in the public’s best interest, Mayors and their planners wouldn’t, for instance, build a PUV terminal a hundred kilometers away from the CBD. In Baguio City, the lack of such a terminal has caused much disorder in it’s core but still City Hall continues to sit on it. Apparently, City Hall lacked the foresight to buy land well before the need arose because right now no vacant lot lies close to the CBD for such an infrastructure unless City Hall can persuade GSIS to sell or lease it’s idle property near the Victory Liner terminal. So, land banking. Real estate developers maintain units to do this work. City Halls should too.

Second, human trafficking. The President said he regard human trafficking at the same level of importance as the campaign against drugs. Great that he reiterated that. In the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), heavily-tinted vans from outside the region carrying trafficked persons mostly young people though there are children (as young as grade schoolers) as well enter Baguio City and regional towns to deliver “goods” – one could call them harems for hire – to clients who ordered for them. Think the ease in which Zalora delivers ordered packages to buyers around the country because that is how easy it is now to transport trafficked persons. When they are in the areas that’s when the bugaws tell their “goods” to have medical check ups. Some are already sick with HIV or STDs. Their records are logged in local files and so show up as local data. This is the story behind why CAR health records on HIV-AIDS and STDs are questionably high. It’s a strategy, really, of traffickers to avoid detection. Try to visualize the intricate spatial networks or should I say trade routes of human flesh from within and across the country’s regions and from this country to the world. It is similar to a drug trafficking network map. In fact, exposure of drug trafficking nodes should also expose that of human trafficking. The two go together. Just as the business of illegal drugs ensnare and involve children and young people so does the human trafficking trade. Children and young people are placed in the front lines (like, child soldiers in warfare). With enough brainwashing and fear tactics to control them, they do just that. What do we have here? Stolen and broken childhoods. Massacre of innocents.

Civil society organizations – international and local – have excellent community-based anti-human trafficking programs as well as researches and evaluations on the subject which present partnership opportunities to government. There are already such partnerships forged although these are mainly at the local level and not as widespread as desired. For the greatest impact, this needs to be consolidated at the national level toward a national strategic action against human trafficking.

Third,  the power of technology. The President, speaking about cutting back transaction time (hence costs!) in government agencies, mentioned gamitin mo ang computer (make use of the computer) more than a few times. If I understood that correctly, he meant that government offices ought to harness the power of technology. In this my observation is, most offices whether public or private put it in their budgets to buy the latest top-of-the-line computers – PCs, laptops – which only end up being used like they were typewriters! It’s like you own a Ferrari but for some reason work it like it was a donkey. A total waste of investment. Let’s take the ATM as a computer program model. It’s programmed capabilities and direct user interface increasingly done on touch screen is a breakthrough innovation that has de-clogged the volume of transactions over bank counters at the same time exponentially increased financial transactions outside the banks and beyond banking hours This redounds to overall profit for the sector. But, in order for programmers to build such an infrastructure or software package they need to have a clear picture of users’ needs and wants spelled-out in SMART i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bounded terms. To be able to give them that information though, agencies need to know and understand their clientele’s needs and wants in SMART terms. Technology can’t be one-sided. One of the thing that pisses people off is when the person behind the counter types at a speed of one word per hour. A five-minute transaction drags on to one hour. You want to tell the person, “hand me the goddamned keyboard why don’t you!” My point is, maybe these kind of users work faster with touch screens or voice-activated programs? Gamitin mo ang computer.

Lastly, disciplining the Filipino. The President said if he ever comes across complaints against public officials sleeping on their jobs, he’d personally go confront the official. Parents have learned that if they’re lax or inconsistent, their children would think and grow to believe that anything goes. One needs early on to instill understanding that if reasonable rules are willfully disregarded, there are consequences to face. Filipinos abroad have learned that early enough. They follow rules even without reminders. With Filipinos here, it is imperative to come onto them strongly in order to get the desired result. Why this difference? Our political and social milieu here has for quite some time shaped us to believe that we can do anything we like. We park wherever and however we like. We throw our garbage wherever we like. We spit wherever we like. We urinate wherever we like. Simple things that redound to our own personal welfare and yet. But then again nobody cared. Not community officials. Not law enforcers. Not property owners. So I’ll do what I goddamn like! My world’s a playpen! This time though the message is, the higher ups are watching you. Yes, you, Barangay Captains. You Mayors. You who are supposed to do your jobs. This time the State is saying it cares. It cares that our communities are safe, clean, and healthy places to live in. It cares that public officials do their work toward that. And if kicking ass now is the effective means to get people moving until following rules and caring about their communities become a habit, I support the President.