Small Cebu town cited for disaster readiness

09:18 AM June 22, 2014

Nine years after instituting resiliency efforts in the municipality, residents of a small island town in Cebu province are showing the rest of the Filipinos how to best prepare for disasters.

San Francisco, the sole municipality in the island of Pacijan, one of the three islands comprising the Camotes Islands, was recently honored by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) with a Sasakawa Award for being a role model on how a highly disaster-prone area should prepare for and manage disasters.


Speaking during the Business Case for Disaster Reduction seminar spearheaded by the UNISDR and SM Prime, Alfredo Arquillano, former mayor of San Francisco, said their hard work paid off when his town registered no casualty during the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” last year.

“We were badly hit by Yolanda because we were on its path. Almost 1,000 houses were totally destroyed while 4,000 others were partially destroyed but no one died in our town of 48,000 people. We evacuated all the 1,000 people who needed to be evacuated without any problem because we had a solid disaster-resiliency plan that we had put in place since 2005,” Arquillano said.


The UNISDR and SM Prime seminar was conducted to find ways and means to make private businesses, which comprise 90 percent of all businesses, more resilient to disasters not only to protect their businesses but their employees and communities as well.

Arquillano said their town’s experience during typhoons was enough motivation for them to protect their lives. “We had really bad experiences from typhoons, especially in 1982 and 1990 when a lot of people died in San Francisco and so when this project was presented to us, the people were generally responsive,” he said.

He said when he was a mayor in 2005, he not only followed the Hugo Framework of the UN on disaster-preparedness, he applied it one step further by putting it in the community level. “The Hugo Framework is pretty much simple and easy to follow—it’s basically increasing awareness through education but what we did was put it in the community level by creating smaller groups called purok for the information dissemination,” he said.

Each purok is required to meet and conduct drill exercises at least once a month. All purok leaders and officers are volunteers.

“Everyone knows the risks, the possible hazards and everyone knows what to do in case of emergencies and disasters. That’s why when Yolanda came,  the response became automatic because disaster preparedness is a way of life for the residents,” he said.

Hans Sy, president of SM Prime and member of the private sector advisory council of the UNISDR, for his part, called on the private sector to take heed of the best practices of local governments like San Francisco in disaster-resiliency in order to cope with the worsening climate change.

He said the paradigm shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness is in order.  “This is a good opportunity for businesses to come together to learn from each other in terms of protecting our businesses, our employees and the communities around us. We at SM are happy for this opportunity to be able to make a difference,” Sy said.


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