A Vicious Cycle Of Crisis Management

by Joseph G. Lariosa

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
— Albert Einstein

CHICAGO (jFAXX) – In 2009, the Philippine government came up with a plan on how to avoid a mega-disaster comparable, if not worse than super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It was supposed to be replicated nationwide in various cities and towns all over the Philippines. But it did not catch on.

In 2000, the Philippine National Police had come up with the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) that detailed procedures, integration and orchestration of government, military/police and public efforts towards the prevention and control of crisis incidents. But it was never implemented!

On May 9, 2012, before he died, Secretary Jesse Robredo found Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim administratively liable for the Aug. 23, 2010 Luneta Massacre for simple neglect of duty for leaving the On-Scene Command (OSC) post to take his meal in a nearby restaurant instead of ordering a “carry-out” food during the height of the Luneta hostage-taking incident and for his failure to convene the local crisis management committee prior to the crises. Robredo slapped Mayor Lim with one-month suspension from office.

Surprisingly, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr. reversed Robredo’s recommendation, saying, “[T]here is no law requiring him (Lim) to be physically present at the OSC for the entirety of the crisis, then his departure constituted no violation of the CMC (Crisis Management Committee) Manual … there is no penalty that can be imposed against Mayor Lim.”

VACUUM OF COMMAND

By not assigning fault on the indiscretion of Mayor Lim for abandoning his OSC post on the pretext that he had not eaten for eight hours and because “nothing was happening” up to that point, Secretary Ochoa was sending a message that in the event there is a similar future hostage situation, it is okay for the CMC chair to leave the OSC post while a crisis is in progress although Robredo and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima called Lim’s departure “a vacuum in command or (sic) decision makers” because Lim’s designated Advance Command Post, Gen. Magtibay, even joined him in his dinner at Emerald restaurant.

By the time, the dinner of Mayor Lim and Manila Police District Chief Magtibay was over, tapos na rin ang boksing (the crisis was also over), the crises had gone out of control, leaving eight tourists dead. Talk of “sundalong kanin” (soldiers who have not seen combat, only food), here’s General Magtibay, your “pulis sa pansitan” (noodle-eating police officer).

If a bungled disaster crisis program or disaster drill do not raise outrage, I don’t know what will.

If every bungled crisis management is not recognized by the Philippine government, no amount of preparation can help the Filipinos avoid a crisis in the future.

Assign it on the ningas cogon (flash in the pan) mentality or short attention span of Filipinos, the denial attitude of Filipino government officials of accepting blame, like what Secretary Ochoa and Mayor Lim did, will get them nowhere closer to solving a crisis.

But the Philippine Congress can help out by appropriating big budget to aggressively advertise crisis management seminars nationwide not only for governors and mayors and police but also to the Filipino people. These officials should role-play and conduct periodic disaster preparation  and hostage crisis situation every month or more if possible.

If governors or mayors do not hold disaster or crisis preparation drills, they should be replaced by their vice governors or their vice mayors, who can demonstrate that they are capable of following crisis leadership manual. These drills should also involve students, who should be required to learn how to swim if able-bodied.

PULIS KANIN

By flooding the airwaves, Internet and print media with advertisements periodically of disaster and crisis situations, everybody should be aware on how to prepare against mega storms, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, huge fires, hostage situations and other emergencies.

When Mayor Lim said that based on his knowledge from his month-long training with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S., mayors, like him, are not supposed to intervene in hostage negotiations. He said this makes “the whole ball game under supervision of the police officers.”

If this was so, why did he take with him General Magtibay to the dinner if he believes that Magtibay was better off than him in handling the hostage crisis situation? All Mayor Lim had to do was to order a take-out food for General Magtibay so the General will not miss a bit in the unfolding crisis.

If he believes that police officers are better than civilians in handling hostage crisis, why did he not recommend this structure to the CMC Manual long before the Luneta Crisis happened? Why did he recommend this only after the fact?

Mayor Lim should also recommend that the media should not interfere in the operation process during the crisis, no matter how noble their intentions are. They should not even try to mediate in the crisis, unless requested by the hostage taker, and will release the government from being blamed if they are killed or injured in the process.

Lim should have told the police officers that they better handle the situation of hostage crisis properly. One false move will be very costly for the local government because it is going to sell municipal bonds to pay for damages of the victims if the city or town does not have enough tax collection to cover the indemnity of the lives of the hostages.

Government officials, specially Congress, should stop taking for granted the role of the media in disseminating very important information to the public by not spending for advertising spaces and air times. Sobra na ang pagiging kuripot ninyo (Enough of being tightwads) in information dissemination that keeps the people in the dark when it comes to disaster and crisis preparation.

WASTEFUL DISASTER DRILL

During the post-Yolanda report by Nancy Lindborg of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Chicago with U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera Lim recalled that he was still in the Philippines in 2009 when there was disaster drill anticipating a caterory-5 storm, like Yolanda, in Tarlac. The drill showed buildings and communications down with officers and employees from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and an international team on hand to simulate the first response to a disaster. The drill was conducted for up to a week with the hope that the pattern would be replicated by local government officials nationwide.

From day one up to a week that was timed, equipment and materials were brought in to find out how long cement would go dry; they were drilling the soil to find out how long the team could extract water. There were American doctors speaking before victims speaking 110 of Filipinos’ ethnic dialects. The doctors brought with them a box of drawings describing parts of the human body like a stomach that will make up of the absence of translators as they simulated to treat the victims.

The massive drill conducted in Tarlac turned out to be an exercise in futility because there were no media people to cover it and to tell the whole world how to avoid disasters. What a waste!

It would have been better if the Philippine government hired professional movie cameramen and producers to document the disaster drill and distributed the movie clips to governors, mayors, and police officers. It should have bought television air times and showed them in local theaters nationwide as a paid advertisement by the Philippine government so the Filipino people will realize that the government is also spending their taxes to protect their safety, not to go towards phony government projects.  Let’s end the vicious, not virtuous cycle of crisis management

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

(lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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