By Rhaydz B. Barcia
LEGAZPI CITY --- Outgoing Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Bicol chief Bernardo “Raffy” Alejandro said not all of the memories he has of disaster management in the region have to do with how the forces of Mother Nature had severely disrupted the lives of the Bicolanos.
The experiences with Mt. Bulusan and Mt. Mayon and such typhoons as Reming, Glenda and Nina, “contributed in shaping the kind of disaster management capability that Bicol has today,” he said.
Alejandro gave a recollection of how these natural calamities made Bicol a “laboratory for DRR (disaster risk reduction) management” shortly after last
week’s change of command ceremonies in front of the OCD-Bicol office inside Camp Simeon Ola in this city.
Undersecretary Ricardo Halad, OCD administrator and executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), had installed Blanche T. Gobenchiong from Negros Island region as new OCD-Bicol chief during the same ceremonies.
Alejandro, who is leaving Bicol to become the new head of Planning Service of the central office inside Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City, said he has counted a “total of 10 years, one month and 18 days of stay in Bicol” as OCD and Regional DRRMC chief.
He said he has lived through 40 typhoons, two major Mayon eruptions plus several phreatic (steam-driven) explosions, 19 minor Bulusan eruptions, and countless other engagements in the region and in other parts of the country where the “combined efforts of OCD-Bicol and ‘Team Albay’ lent their DRRM expertise.”
Alejandro especially mentioned OCD-Bicol’s “seamless partnership” with the Albay provincial government through Team Albay as they sent 18 humanitarian missions outside of the Bicol region--in Northern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao region.
These included the partnership’s “ground zero response” in Tacloban City during supertyphoon Yolanda that occurred in November 2013 (it was one of the most intense tropical storms on record in the world that struck Nov. 8); typhoon Seniang in December 2014 which badly hit Northern Mindanao and Caraga Region; and typhoon Nona that made a landfall in Northern Samar in December 2015.
He said the partnership brought various awards and recognitions from both public and private institutions in terms of being “best in disaster mitigation and resiliency.”
These included the “Bakas Parangal ng Kadakilaan,” “Bayaning Likas,” “Bakas Parangal ng Kabayanihan,” as well as the Gawad Kalasag hall of fame awards, a search for excellence in DRRM and humanitarian assistance spearheaded by the NDRRMC.
The Bakas Parangal ng Kadakilaan Awards is given to a unit or group and organization joining rescue efforts despite obvious hardships while the Bakas Parangal ng Kabayanihan is given to the leader of the group who showed extraordinary act of heroism beyond the call of duty.
Alejandro cited that in the Gawad Kalasag, eight hall of fame local government awardees in the Bicol region were given recognitions. These were Labo, Camarines Norte for Best Municipal DRRMC; province of Albay for best Provincial DRRMC; Sto. Domingo, Albay for best MDRRMC; Legazpi City for Best City DRRMC (as an independent component city); Barangay Oro Site, Legazpi City for best Barangay DRRMC in the urban category.
Alejandro also acknowledged the Galing Pook Awards that recognized the work of the provincial government of Albay and its partner agencies, that included OCD-Bicol, in disaster response efforts not just in Bicol but outside of the region.
Galing Pook, which continuously promotes innovation and excellence in local governance and their adoption in more communities in the country, is actively supported by the Department of Interior and Local Government and other individual advocates of good governance from the academe and civil society.
Alejandro also gave tribute to other civil society groups in the Bicol region which supported OCD-Bicol in its mission of building disaster resilient, safer and adaptive communities.
These were the Child Sponsorship for Community Development Inc. (CSCDI) and Simon of Cyrene, both in Legazpi City, for best civil society organization; and D.Q. Liwag National High School in Vinzons, Camarines Norte for best school in public rural category.
Alejandro recalled arriving in Bicol a day after occurrence of super typhoon Reming on Nov. 30, 2006.
He said he officially took over as OCD-Bicol director on January 13, 2007 but reported on Dec. 1, just a day after Reming struck.
“I was on board the C130 with SAR (search-and-rescue) dogs and body bags,” he said, recalling the details of his first days in the region.
He said Reming had just slammed Albay province, unleashing eight hours of howling winds and dumping 466 milimeters of rains in the process, an amount of rainfall equivalent to what was recorded in one month prior to the typhoon, said the Legazpi-based weather specialists.
Alejandro said the rains triggered a deluge that remobilized walls of volcanic debris from the foot of Mt, Mayon and produced massive flashfloods and mudslides that inundated low-lying villages and buried houses near the volcano’s slopes.
He said at the end of the storm, officials had placed the death toll and missing persons (possibly the occupants of the houses that were buried) at more than 1,500 and recorded multi-billion peso damage to infrastructures and agricultural crops.
Alehandro said last Thursday’s turnover ceremony last week allowed him to look back to the “excitement that came with working like brothers-in-arms with others whose moral obligation was to ensure each and every Bicolano can practice resiliency during times of disasters.”
“We walked on the pathways of resilience,” he said.
He gave credit to the “courageous front liners” from the local government units as well as the response units of the Philippine Army, Philippine Navy, Philippine Marines, Philippine Air Force, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Coast Guard, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Health, Bicol Regional Teaching and Training Hospital, Philippine National Red Cross and the local media in the Bicol region.
Alejandro said OCD-Bicol had provided leadership in civil defense work but the DRR teams were to be credited for their unselfish work.
He added “we’re just some of the living testament of how effective we can be given our joints resources and efforts.”
Alejandro also expressed gratitude to former Albay Governor and now second district Rep. Joey Salceda, and past and present local officials in Bicol for the “support, inspiration, partnership, and friendship” in the course of disaster response efforts in the region.
He said he found it ironic that disasters seemed to love him, citing that while Reming “greeted” him on his first day at OCD-Bicol, typhoon Nina (Noc-ten) struck Bicol just last December 25 or just a few months before his next posting in OCD’s national headquarters in Manila.
He said just three days short of Thursday’s turnover ceremony at Camp Ola he was able to attend the full council meeting of the RDRRMC meeting during which his staff submitted the completed “post-disaster needs analysis” report on typhoon Nina.
Alejandro calls Bicol a “disaster paradise” for providing disaster managers like him that “mileage” of experience in terms of “improving the disaster preparedness, response, mitigation and rehabilitation capabilities of disaster responders in the region.”
He added he believes the RDRRMC had been successful in keeping the communities in the region prepared, resilient and adaptive to all disasters “amidst the strongest of the storms and the most bitter of the winds.”
Alejandro said he has full trust in the dedication and commitment of the OCD-Bicol staff, who will now be under the leadership of Gobenchiong, that they will continue to build safer and adaptive communities.
Quite emotional when he gave his parting shot to his people, Alejandro said he likens leaving Bicol to hearing a “sweet melody on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”