SECRETARY SONNY COLOMA was all over news and social media sites Tuesday, December 27.
There was the Presidential Communications Operations Office chief with Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz at the turnover of P242 million to rebuild homes washed away by Typhoon Sendong’s floods. (Hurricane Washi)
There he was, in a huddle with Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno, discussing rehabilitation plans for Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. There was even a photo of Coloma in a walkabout of devastated CDO as he led Pilipinas Natin volunteers in relief operations.
The stench of death still wafts over CDO and Iligan and Valencia, in Negros Oriental. Bodies continue to be recovered. The latest eight, believed to be from Iligan, were found in the waters of Sibutad town, Zamboanga del Norte, some 200 kms away from ground zero.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council puts the death count at 1,257. Some organizations place it closer to 1,500.
Tuesday, I barely glanced at those photos and video clips. Now, I can’t help but stare at these and wonder:
As he strolled around these two cities where a thousand died, crushed by debris and churning currents unleashed by Sendong’s torrential rains, did Coloma ponder the role he played in the carnage? A second question also niggles at the mind: Did he even care?
Even as he posed for the cameras, Coloma – one of President Beningo Aquino III’s three communications secretaries – was silent on the failure of a much-heralded disaster mass alert system.
In the immediate aftermath of Sendong, Coloma had been silent, too, except to help excoriate local government officials; this, as charges of neglect and incompetence flew back and forth from ground zero and the Malacanang.
The government has spent the last two weeks insisting it had given ample warning to local government units.
WHO WARNED WHOM?
This report will focus on CDO and Iligan, where most of the contradicting reports on warnings or the lack thereof come from.
As CDO reeled on December 17 from the impact of floods that rampaged just after midnight, Mayor Vicente Emano said they were not warned.
“Wala naman talagang sinabi na ganoon ang mangyayari,” Emano said in an interview with dzMM. “Kami ang tinamaan ng mata ng bagyo, hindi na po sinabi yan.”
“Wala pong nagsabi na ganito ang darating na bagyo sa amin, wala man lang bulletin, wala man lang nakapagsabi na we will be in the eye of the storm,” he added.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) head Benito Ramos said CDO and Iligan were not prepared because they are not usually visited by strong typhoons.
“Hindi eto damay sa usual na path,” Ramos said. “Ang usual na path n’ya ay Central Visayas. Kung hagip ang Central Mindanao, ang experience ng ating mga kababayan d’yan, ang pinakamataas na ay 60-millimeters ng tubig na madala ng bagyo.”
Ramos has always insisted, however, that neither the NDRRMC nor Pag-asa were remiss in issuing warnings. Let’s work backwards from yesterday.
Late last night, abs-cbnnews.com posted an admission by Ramos. He echoed an earlier confession by Coloma, that the government failed to use its 1456 emergency alert system to warn CDO and Iligan residents to evacuate.
Coloma issued a statement after telecommunications companies, Smart and Globe, pointed out the government could have saved lives had it used the emergency alert system.
There are two things in Coloma’s statement that struck me:
- He said the government did not use the alert system in CDO and Iligan cities on December 16 because these areas were under typhoon signal number one and “below the threshold alert level of signal number three.”
- He said the system works and that government had used it to warn Bulacan residents of floods spawned by Typhoon Pedring in September
Late last night, Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III, also of the Communications Office of the President but dealing with strategic messaging, forwarded the Timeline of warnings by Pag-asa and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDCRRMC). Quezon had promised that timeline on December 18, when he was bring grilled on Twitter over allegations that government had failed to warn CDO and Iligan of incoming floods. Quezon valiantly defended Malacañang, providing a flood of messages to prove that warnings had, indeed, been given. But that’s for the next blog.
Let’s first examine Coloma’s statement. The Pag-asa/NDRRMC Timeline shows this update for 5 am of December 16:
5:00AM: Severe Weather Bulletin No. 4 – 300 km East Southeast of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur (Signal No. 2 @ Leyte, Camotes, Bohol, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Siargao, Dinagat, Agusan, Misamis Oriental, Camiguin, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Compostela, Samal, Davao Oriental. Signal No. 1 @ Sorsogon, Ticao, Masbate, Samar, Panay, Guimaras, Negros, Cebu, Siquijor and Biliran, North Cotabato, Northern Davao Del Sur, Lanao Provinces, Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga Provinces)
Mr. Coloma, Cagayan de Oro is the capital of Misamis Oriental. Iligan City technically belongs to Lanao del Norte, but anyone who has visited it knows it is just an hour and a half away from CDO. No, Mr. Coloma, the excuse doesn’t wash.
As for the alert system being used in Bulacan, that province was not under Signal #3 during Typhoon Pedring. Public Storm Signal No. 3 covered Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Northern Quezon, including Polillo Island, Aurora, Quirino, and Isabela. Bulacan was under Signal #2, with Albay, Burias Island, Sorsogon, rest of Quezon, Rizal, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Benguet, Mt. Province, Kalinga, and Cagayan.
Again, Coloma’s statement doesn’t stand-up to scrutiny.
It is curious that Coloma makes much of the public storm warning level. A Google search of the MOA between the government and the telco firms digs up a transcript of a briefing Coloma himself presided. Here’s what he said:
“What brought us together in this partnership? You will recall that a few days after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, a hoax text message spread like a virus and created a lot of anxiety regarding possible radiation from the nuclear leak in Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Days after the President was nearing the end of his state visit to Singapore, the government issued a tsunami evacuation alert in the aftermath of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan. In October 2010, PAGASA [Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration] correctly predicted the coming of super typhoon, Juan, which greatly minimized the number of casualties. We still remember vividly the widespread damage and lost of life brought about by tyhpoons Ondoy and Pepeng in September and October 2009 which caught many citizens unprepared. In response to the challenges posed by the foregoing illustrative events, the major TELCOS [telecommunication companies] have volunteered to support the government through the timely broadcast of text messages—of accurate text messages to their subscribers.”
Mr. Coloma, Metro Manila was under Signal #2 when Ondoy ripped through many of our cities. Do you even do your homework? With so many of our brethren dead, the least you could do is double-check your facts as you defend a grievous sin of omission.
*Next, reviewing Sendong warnings