Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), Feb. 9, 2012
We were in Malacañang last Monday for the GOCC Governance Day when the eqrthquake in Negros island struck. For the second straight year, government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) have been remitting to the Bureau of Treasury, the national government’s share of the their corporate income, as mandated in the Dividends Law of 1994 (R.A. 7656), in a simple affair in the Palace. Since all cellphones were either off or in silent mode during the ceremonies, it was only when we were leaving Rizal Hall when I read all the text messages about the earthquake.
The first thing that comes to mind, is the safety of our families back home, followed by our respective official responsibilities. A few calls assured me that all is well with them, but I was still unsure of a possible tsunami after-event. Thoughts of the tsunami destruction in Japan a few months ago made us all uneasy about the possibility. As a trained engineer, I know the probability is extremely, but no matter how small, it’s still scary as I asked my family to find safer grounds. “just in case …”
What happened in Cebu afterwards is something that will have to prod us in government to improve the “communications” part of disaster management. Maybe it’s because the Cebu area is seldom struck by earthquake, that we seem to not know, what to do. This was aggravated by the thousands of text messages flying around, most of which were false or misleading. I got text messages like, water is already at the SRP and Pasil area, SM is already flooded, and the First Mandaue-Mactan Bridge was closed. A few calls to my more sober and dependable friends, gave me the real status of things.
Many people today are debating on what should have been done, or what to do to prevent the situation from happening again. While disaster management has been quite extensively discussed already, it’s the “communication” aspect which caused mass panic in Cebu and compounded the problem. While we are disheartened by the loss of life and property, the structural damage itself was minimal considering the magnitude of the quake. It is the mass panic and despair, the chaotic run to safety resulting in one giant traffic jam, that we need to address. Apparently, its all because of false information. Ironically, it’s the modern technology of text messaging which brought about the mayhem.
So what could have been done, or what should we do next time? I have small suggestion, and this I got after experiencing my first coup d’etat, in Thailand, in 1985. Hundreds of rebellious tanks were rambling to Bangkok then, while government forces were scrambling up their defences also, with both sides taking over certain buildings in the metropolis. Their targets? – radio stations! They say, the one who control the airwaves, rule; the more stations you control, the better the winning edge. After 27 years, I believe it’s still true – the one medium which can broadcast information to the greater masses of people is the good ‘ole radio, the AM channels. Forget about text messaging – it could send maybe send 100 times more, 100 times faster, but maybe … false information. One single true information is better.
With all due respect to our privately-owned radio stations, and, inspite of the fact that government-run radio stations may not be at par with the former, we should improve the latter and do a massive campaign to tell the citizenry to tune in to them in cases of disasters. Texts are unrealiable because you will never know the truthfulness and accuracy of the messages, even if these come from “reliable” sources since they may only be “forwarding” them. Same as many other developing nations, more people in our country still tune to AM stations. At the very least, when disaster strikes, the one single source of news and instructions we can turn to, and whose voice at the broadcasting end we can depend on, at least in times like this, is the government. And trust the government we must, in times like this … actually, we don’t have any other choice. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)