The first steps taken during the immediate aftermath of a calamity are crucial to the recovery of an affected area. Whether the damage was caused by natural or man-made forces, responders need to think fast to ensure the immediate survival of the people affected and to lay the groundwork for long-term rehabilitation. Accomplishing this may be difficult when calamities at the level of Typhoon Yolanda or the Marawi siege occur.

While the Philippine government is the central authority responsible for post-calamity relief operations, other sectors may also opt to extend their assistance when the need arises. Through the Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA), DLSU, in its own little way, has been able to provide additional aid to calamity-hit areas over the years.

More recently, it successfully collected a total of P12,315.05 in cash donations for families affected by Tropical Depression (TD) Usman. The LaSallian sat down with Leo Tadena, coordinator for the Lasallian Sustainability Program, to discuss the University’s involvement in relief operations.


When to take action

One of the primary factors considered prior to initiating relief operations is the degree of damage to lives and properties caused by the calamity. In the event that strong typhoons and earthquakes occur, the different La Salle schools mobilize as a coordinated effort under the management of De La Salle Philippines. For relatively less destructive calamities, DLSU may opt to conduct its own relief initiatives.

Further, COSCA also checks in with partner communities and government units if they are appealing for aid. “While COSCA is the lead unit in the University to do this, we don’t just act on our own. There are other units within and even outside the University that we should also coordinate with, because in principle, not all calamities that will happen can readily be responded [to] by COSCA,” Tadena explains. This was the case during TD Usman when Caritas Manila, a partner organization, appealed for cash donations to provide assistance to victims. The cash donations collected by COSCA have since been turned over to Caritas Manila.

Relief initiatives run for a limited time period only. Small scale initiatives can occur for a week, while large scale initiatives may last for as long as there are observed needs that may be responded to. The information given by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Interior and Local Government on the state of calamity-hit areas helps COSCA determine if the University’s relief initiatives should be continued or halted. The collaborative relationship between these agencies and the University ensures that the latter is acting in conjunction with the government’s existing programs and is able to avoid the emergence of a “dole-out” mindset among those affected by the calamity. As Tadena explains, they do not want to overextend their assistance to the point that victims would become too dependent on receiving relief goods.



Mobilizing the Lasallian community

Much of the work done to mobilize the Lasallian community happen behind the scenes. Apart from COSCA, other Lasallian Mission Units (LMUs) like the Office of Student Affairs and the Student Leadership, Involvement, Formation and Empowerment Office also play integral roles in ensuring the success of these initiatives. According to Tadena, the LMUs are most involved in post-calamity relief operations because they are “the units of the University which [have a] direct link to these types of work.”

The University also maintains a Disaster Relief Fund, which is co-managed by the Vice President for Lasallian Mission and COSCA. “Whenever we have calamities and there is really a call to help to respond to, we get from this fund. At a given time it can really be depleted, it can be just for one typhoon or two typhoons. With cash donations, it will help replenish whatever is lost,” Tadena elaborates.

Student organizations can opt to take part in relief operations but are mainly concerned with resource mobilization. “We are careful with them giving direct services like bringing them outside of the University, given the context of the [Commission on Higher Education memorandum] on deploying students,” Tadena explains. Some of these requirements include waivers, medical requirements, and the assignment of adult companions. In spite of these limitations, students still opt to stay involved through organization-led outreach activities that aid affected communities.


From reactive to proactive

While ensuring the speed and success of the recovery of a calamity-hit area is integral, thinking proactively through disaster preparedness would be a more effective approach. Tadena comments that “though [Filipinos] are known for being resilient, we only respond to these things when the actual [event] is already in place. So, in other words, we are more reactive rather than proactive.”

He cites the necessity of transitioning to a culture of preparedness for potential disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons. The Philippines is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, where majority of the world’s strongest earthquakes occur. It is also visited by an average of 20 tropical cyclones annually—of these, five may be categorized as destructive. Knowledge like this should translate into tangible disaster preparedness programs.

A prime example that Tadena thinks Filipinos can emulate would be Japan’s earthquake drill programs in homes and communities. “Kasi, in school, it is already given that perhaps we already know what to do, but it’s a different thing at home. In a real calamity—for example, [in an earthquake]—it’s not just us who will be affected or evacuated,” he elaborates.

In DLSU’s case, Tadena thinks that a potential expansion in its disaster preparedness initiatives should include key members of the surrounding area. “It’s not just the La Salle communities [that we should] talk to. We should talk to [the condominium owners], the barangay units, [and] theofficials. We should also [conduct] drills together with other La Salle schools because if indeed that should happen—talking about the earthquake—that will be really devastating,” he concludes.

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