Saturday, February 4, 2012

Philippine floods aftermath: Journalists recall getting the big picture, human story

PNEJ CDO/Iligan mission representatives: Imelda Abano with EV Espiritu (PDInquirer), Noel Gapasin (ABS-CBN Baguio), Henry Tacio, Prime Sarmiento, Dino Balabo, Rhaydz Barcia

The Philippines is the most disaster-prone country in Asia in 2011 claiming nearly 1,500 lives from calamities like floods, typhoons and earthquakes as reported by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. And when it comes to reporting, journalists have a crucial responsibility and role to play whenever the country is facing a difficult situation.
In the aftermath of a tragedy, journalists have the vital power of shaping one’s perspective in presenting the big picture and the human story of individuals struggling to survive.

Just a month after Typhoon Sendong struck the cities of Cagayan De Oro and Iligan, a team of journalists from the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists (PNEJ) visited Northern Mindanao. They saw first-hand the situation there wherein they said that the sense of devastation is still hard to bear as communities and lives are slowly being rebuilt.

Imelda Abano, President of PNEJ and a correspondent of the BusinessMirror Daily Newspaper, said the visit there was important as the media play a vital role in educating the public about disasters, warning of hazards, knowing the situation in the affected areas, alerting government officials, relief organizations and the public to specific needs in this case in Iligan and Cagayan De Oro.

” Our reporting about human stories and disasters can also bring positive change to the community and to the nation. Of course we know our limits in getting our stories by being mindful that victims be treated with dignity, respect and with a lot of patience. On the other hand, scrutinizing disaster prevention and recovery efforts puts the government on notice,” Abano said.

Henrylito Tacio, a Davao-based journalist, said that as the team reached the areas hardest hit by the disaster on December 16 and 17 last year, those human stories began to emerge.

“ I never thought that the devastation brought by Typhoon Sendong was really that phenomenal,” Tacio said. “ What I heard and seen on television was tragic. But seeing it personally was another story. It was a heart-wrenching talking with the people who were victims of the deluge.”
Tacio and other journalists in the team observed that a month after the devastating typhoon, both cities are still packed with debris, and hundreds of thousands of people are living in evacuation sites and shelters.

Here are the other perspectives of the journalists who visited Cagayan De Oro and Iligan cities:

Prime Sarmiento, Xinhua

CDO is clearly not prepared with with this kind of disaster, given that this is something that never happened before. I hope that they will use this experience to prepare a more comprehensive Disaster Risk Reduction Management plan.
We can no longer be complacent. At the same time, this is a wake up call on all of us – what ca we do to prevent illegal logging and environmental destruction that affects everyone.

Dino Balabo, Mabuhay Bulacan / Philippine Star
In both cities, non-government organizations seemed to serve as the backbone in helping residents back on their feet. The local government units seem to be mired in politics, when they should be the ones leading the reconstruction and rehabilitation.
As far as disaster mitigation and preparedness is concerned, I am glad the officials realized its importance, but wonder if they will actually do something. Awareness is one thing, and doing the job is another.

Rhaydz Barcia, correspondent Manila Times / Reuters
As a photojournalist who covered the disaster in Northern Mindanao for several weeks, I saw vast of logs strewn coming from the mountains to the lowlands and to the coastal communities.
Sadly, the local government units of the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro have no concrete disaster preparedness and mitigation measures that could help and expedite the rehabilitation efforts to bring back or restore the lives of the flood-stricken communities in Northern Mindanao despite of the enacted laws on Disaster Risk Reduction.

PNEJ’s visit in Northern Mindanao (CDO/Iligan) would not be possible without great assistance from: the Albay Team of the Province of Albay who were there giving medical and relief assistance to the survivors; The Holcim Philippines have greatly oriented the journalists on the assistance and relief operation given by the business community such as theirs during the first month of the tragedy; The Oxfam Philippines – funded Humanitarian Response Consortium for accompanying the group and introducing their project assistance in the evacuation centers in CDO and Iligan.

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