MANILA, Philippines – It would be an understatement to say that the triple whammy in Japan (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear dilemma) is causing panic among nations. And here in the Philippines—where circulating texts allegedly from the BBC News advising Asian countries to take necessary anti-radiation precautions had quite a number of people rushing to the nearest drugstore to buy all the Betadine they can get their hands on—it isn’t any different.

A nation whose flair for the dramatics is succinctly illustrated in the public’s fixation over the latest telenovela (apparently “Mara Clara” is making quite the comeback), the national reaction over the recent Japan tragedy has been nothing but apocalyptic. The advent of the recent Super Moon alone has seen many tweets of “the end is near,” that the “Super Moon will bring great tragedy,” and that “the world will end on 12/12/12.”

The question is, what has the government done about the public’s clamor for (if anything) information? Plenty of reassuring, it would seem. Following a warning from the PHIVOLCS that the West Valley Fault System (formerly Marikina Fault) is due for movement any time soon, Marikina Mayor Del de Guzman assured its residents that the city is ready if a major earthquake should strike. Agencies like the Bureau of Fire in Marikina and the city’s emergency response team Rescue 161 have started facilitating earthquake drills in schools and government buildings.

While I am not one to discount the importance of yet another earthquake drill, what else has the government actually done to make our buildings more earthquake-proof? A CNN report in April 2010 following the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti revealed that one of the country’s leading architects, Felino Palafox Jr., has submitted more than 60 recommendations to the government to make Manila buildings safer and that, as of airing, he’s had no response. An article from a competing broadsheet last February featured Palafox’s recommendations again, with the latter lamenting “the ‘analysis paralysis’ that congress and the government are visibly suffering from.” Of course, this was around the time Angelo Reyes committed suicide. We all know what the government would pay attention to more.

The problem, I believe, lies in the fact that we have a system that’s always been reactive. And this isn’t just confined to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) alone.

And in light of the recent events in Japan, more than anything what the Philippine public needs now is a government that’s open and proactive. With regard to disaster preparedness, more than just feeding us with sugarcoated words of reassurance, we want the glaring facts. How much of taxpayers’ money have gone to disaster management and development? What areas are at highest levels of risk? What are the forecasted statistics? The real one and not the one you think the public has the capacity to handle. We may panic, yes, but that’s just basic human reaction. Who knows? Maybe if you give us the whole picture, our panic will turn into something positive. It’s called preparedness—in case that didn’t cross your minds yet.

Tell it to us straight.

We want to know.

Published in the March 27, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.

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