LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – “Albay is a one-stop shop for disasters. Name it, we have it,” says Albay Governor Jose Mari “Joey” Sarte Salceda on a light note.
Salceda recently received the award as global Senior Champion in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) conferred him the award in May 2010 in Bonn, Germany.
For a governor of a province with almost half of its population considered poor, Salceda could not be joking about disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation.
As a journalist would later put it, Salceda worked his way to fame. He says he walks the talk.
His statistics come handy: several typhoons visit Albay almost year-round, especially in October to December and bring floods, volcanic lahar and mudflow that send many Bicolanos homeless. Not mentioning the presence of an active Mayon volcano that sends earth-shaking tremors, Salceda just rhapsodized the Albay experience in DRR and CCA.
Salceda said, for a province that is already poor, the exposure disaster risk is high. Albay may not be the poorest in the region, but its incidence of poverty at 37.8 % is still high, he said humbly.
The human face
Women in some of the 25 resettlement sites in the province told visiting journalists from the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists (PNEJ) that life in the relocation is hard but there is no more fear in their hearts.
With children in tow, these women gathered at a community shelter near the Anislag relocation site to meet PNEJ and participate in the feeding activity of the provincial social welfare office.
“Naiwan ang kabuhayan namin sa dating lugar,” (We left our livelihood sources in our former homes,” said Fe Nunez, 65, with three children still living with her. She came from Barangay Banadero and was relocated with some 500 families to a resettlement site in Anislag.
Lola Fe said most “relocatees,” mostly poor peasants, usually return to their farms to get some food. “There is no source of income in the resettlement area, she said.
“Doon ang hanapbuhay pero delikado, lalo na't bumubuhos uli ang ulan,” (Our livelihood remained there but it is unsafe, especially that the rainy season has set in) another woman in her 40's quipped.
Habang di pumuputok ang bulkan, bumabalik kami para magtanim, “ (While the volcano is not yet erupting, we go back to plant) she added.
Nunez is a tenant, like many of her neighbors who now occupy 20-square-meter concrete houses. These are among 5,638 families who relocated to the Anislag site.
The Anislag site is just one of 25 relocation areas throughout the province. Several international and national agencies and non-government organizations helped put up helped put up the resettlement with concrete dwellings with galvanized iron roofs.
Looking closely into the dwellings, there are several types and sizes, depending on the benefactors. For instance, there are duplex units from a humanitarian international NGO. Most of the houses measure four by five meters.
At Anislag, the locals get their respective units once they have put up personal funds for paint and other finishing carpentry for windows, ceilings and doors. This takes around P1,000 minimum counterpart, according to our respondents. A unit costs the government around P70,000 for the basic structures, sidings and roofing.
Happy but still fearful
“Mabuti na lang at narito na kami, kahit sanay na sa bulkan, natatakot pa rin kami,” (Good we have been relocated here. Although we are used to the volcanic eruption, we are still fearful) another woman in her 50s said.
There are three relocation sites in Legazpi City; 12 in Daraga; three in Camalig; three in Guinobatan; two in Sto. Domingo; and one each in Ligso snd Polangui.
Salceda is serious in evacuating residents at the onset of alert level one, saying alert level 3 is too late to move people.
“We force them to leave their homes,” he said, when asked how he deals with stubborn residents who refuse to leave the danger zones. That is where the military would come in, he said.
Also in the vicinity where Alabayanons were cleaning the canal and estuaries at Barangay Buraguis in Legazpi City on August 5 was unit of the Philippine Air Force (PAF). Men in uniform who lined up the street as journalists mingled with the people for little interaction to get a glimpse of how they understand disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptaton (CCA).
A disaster responder also tells of an anecdote where they found an old woman serenely eating and offering them boiled sweet potatoes in one of the abandoned houses during an eruption.
“People tend to just stay there or are left behind in the course of mass evacuations. These are usually the sick, or the very old folk” he said, obviously amazed.
Salceda's goal is to relocate before the onset of the disaster. At alert level one, evacuation should have started, he said.
Central goal: zero casualty
As Salceda envisions and works towards safe and shared development, his goal Zero Casualty starts to pay off with statistics zero-casualty in 16 years, except 2006 when typhoon Milenyo claimed 14 in Albay.
Besides safe and shared development are good schools, hospitals and a secure environment; healthy and happy Albayanos and low-rise, low-energy intensity or green development model for energy make up the Albay vision.
Salceda invests in DRR and CCA and makes these his central approach to governance for Albay. Even his economic program for Albay's growth redirects the buildup of business and residential activities towards safe areas.
A new international airport is underway in Daraga, away from the course of mudflow, lahar and floods.
Most of the women interviewed find life in the resettlement areas difficult. With nary a chance to earn a peso in the sites, despite government efforts to give them access to new livelihood sources, their skills as tenant-tillers drive them to keep returning to their farms at the foot of Mayon Volcano and the river that has spelled disaster to them.
Salceda has a solution to their woes and that is “access” as he puts it, “The poor have the knowledge and skills to develop, government should provide them access.”
Asked where he gets his funds, Salceda simply says “Diyan tayo magaling,” (That is where we excel). #V. Ramo