POSTSCRIPT / September 29, 2011 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Brainstorming during a storm

CAVEMAN: Enveloped in semidarkness, with 125-kph cyclonic winds rattling rafters, and without TV to provide timely information as typhoon Pedring wrought death and destruction on Luzon the other day, I was reduced to basics and had time for brainstorming.

There was no comparison, but with some imagination, one could get an idea of the predicament of the cavemen of yore when foul weather forced them indoors for long periods.

This modern-day caveman, however, was aided by gadgets that served as e-links to the outside world. Omitting their brands, these were my cellphone, my laptop with a modem in its USB port, and my tablet equipped with a microSIM for 24/7 Internet.

For monitoring and exchanging information, I used mostly Twitter (where I can be followed as @FDPascual), because I find Twitter more efficient, less intrusive and less unwieldy than Facebook.

My tablet was my preferred gadget for no-electricity disaster-related tweeting, because its battery could last the whole day without recharging. Actually my laptop worked better for full-feature tweeting, but I was preserving its nine-hour battery as a fallback.

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ABSENTEE LEADERS: Stuck at home without electricity and the usual amenities while waiting for the roof to be ripped off, I was afforded by the stormy weather a chance to brainstorm on stormy situations and collateral concerns.

It occurred to me that this calamity-prone country can survive a killer typhoon even in the absence of its top two officials, President Noynoy Aquino (he was in Japan) and Vice President Jojo Binay (no clue where he was). This is not to say we do not need them. We do, but….

In the corporate world, it is generally a good sign when day-to-day problems are solved at the lower levels without the chairman, president or the chief executive being disturbed.

But President Aquino may have to explain to the victims of Pedring why he gave $1 million to the Japanese hit by earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki last March. It is more blessed to give, and to give until it hurts, but the poor this side of the ocean may not easily understand it.

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DUAL-PURPOSE: With schoolhouses again being used as evacuation centers, the government and the private sector should join hands to construct school building designed for dual use, so they are ready-made to accommodate large numbers of calamity victims when needed.

This means abandoning the classic design and building classrooms with collapsible walls to turn them into capacious halls. Schools should have long rows of faucets and toilets, as well as fully equipped medical clinics and big kitchens.

In provinces frequently hit by typhoons, big sites could be set aside for these dual-purpose school buildings. They should be included in the budget.

For this major work, the government should tap the thousands of unemployed instead of doling out cash to the poor as is planned under the election-oriented Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.

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SEASIDE RISKS: It seems that with climate change upon us and our having abused nature to the limit, we will have more of these recurring floods and unusual weather disturbances.

Some houses in vulnerable low-lying areas near the sea may have to be relocated. We may not be able to transfer thriving communities, but in selecting sites for future housing projects, this hazard point should be considered.

The engineering involved in reclaiming space from the sea may have to be revamped. Long-abused nature may hit back and reclaim what we took from the sea.

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RECURRING FLOODS: Buyers of real estate, condominiums and dwellings in housing projects should have learned a lesson from the wrath of Ondoy and other typhoons that had triggered serious and sudden flooding.

The problem of flash flooding has been aggravated by the clogging of waterways, wanton cutting of trees and the scraping off of vegetation protecting the land. In some Metro Manila sections, influential families have covered esteros and annexed them to their adjacent lots.

When I read on Twitter that the Luneta was flooded chest-deep I could not believe it. I imagined that if that were true, the flood would have covered the entire park all the way to Taft Ave. and also most of Ermita.

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LOCAL-LEVEL REACTION: For quicker response, rescue and relief operations should be entrusted to the local governments instead of being commanded from a national central agency.

Local governments must maintain a ready inventory of relief goods and standby funds for speedy reaction. As they know the situation on the ground better, they should be the ones to decide if a calamity situation has arisen and then act on their own to meet the problem.

This recourse can be pilot-tested with some selected communities often hit by natural disasters. The national government can help put up the local supply bodegas and the dual-purpose school buildings mentioned earlier.

National agencies, ever on the ready, will come in when the local government units – which are presumed to have acted in advance – call for assistance.

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DESIGNED TO MELT: The roads are another major concern. We have seen again and again how they melt when flooded or pelted by continuous hard rain.

Filipino engineers build excellent all-weather roads when they work on contracts abroad. Why cannot they do the same in their own country? We know the reasons, but nothing is being done about cutting down graft and raising quality standards.

We all know that in the long run, good roads will cost less, because they do not require as much repair and maintenance.

Maybe that is the reason why the government builds poor-quality roads. The pavement must break down easily so their favorite contractors will be busy reblocking, repairing, et cetera, and making their patrons in government happy.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 29, 2011)

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