A Few Reflections on Ondoy

19 10 2009

First Posted on Facebook at 6:26pm, October 19, 2009

Author is Gio Tingson, Ateneo de Manila Sanggu Chair

The following are some of my reflections written down in my personal journal that my friend urged me to post… [maybe because I had shared this in DS class, I now have the guts give a few of my thoughts] hehe. Everything is in my personal (hand-written- sorry old school talaga haha) entry especially my moment of thank yous to all those who shared their time in any way possible – even if it was not in Ateneo.

Think whatever… haha.

P.S. My never ending thanks to Mrs Anne Candelaria who gave the hard truth of development management

Describing the onslaught that typhoon Ondoy caused, I would say that the prevalent condition of the Filipinos has only been magnified. We face issues of environment, health, security, government, and poverty that we ourselves have put in place. One step in this scenario that we are challenged to do is not just to trace the origins of this major problem but also determine factors that sustain this condition. In a paradoxical sense, what scares me the most and what provides the biggest insight is that as the events unfold, our vulnerabilities are exposed out into the open. Ondoy tells us that there is no social protection for Filipino people, and in our situation, we are deemed helpless most of the time. In circumstances such as a major externality as Ondoy, the only room for action is government. It is the government that should prevent and mitigate such disasters. In moments of crisis, we look to our leaders, especially in local and national positions, whoever they are, and await their response. Not that we will just leave it to them but, because we engage with them as one community. I guess because we could not merely depend on the role that government should be playing – we look at private institutions in which Ateneo is one of.


As a private institution, we cannot fully handle mitigating and preventing disasters. What we can do is to initiate and partner democratic institutions in doing this. On the other hand, what we can actively partake in, and what we are currently experiencing is helping those who are affected cope with the situation. Since the typhoon hit our country, the Ateneo community has been helping in relief operations and is getting ready for the second phase: rehabilitation. The following are observations in our experience with operations:

Power Play

One of the vital points that maximized and derailed our relief operations was that of decision making. In order to do this, we had to manage the power structures moving within us. After our temporary set-up, the students went on a private discussion. We had to know where to position ourselves and the area of our focus – at our hands was a stakeholder analysis table. We mapped out power sources and authorities prevalent in an educational institutional structure so that we can be ready when we moved to operate. We placed major and secondary players in the whole university, analyzed their role by determining strengths and weaknesses, until finally the level of influence they can create in the operations. And as the days progressed, we had to include more stakeholders such as members of Gawad Kalinga, the Armed Forces Reserve and the Philippine National Red Cross. As operations went on, I noticed that the politics of decision making is not just about resources, knowledge and skill but in a community such as Ateneo, there is heavy reliance in authority. Some authority figures slowed down, disrupted, and unmotivated volunteer operations because they asserted their position in the power structure even if their capability is not needed. I can’t help but sometimes listen to the feedback of other students, alumni, and external groups saying that these authorities are in it for PR – “Nagpapalakas, nagpapapansin, diva,” as they put it. But the decision process was not slowed down entirely. I was humbled at many authorities who made flexible the power structure in the Ateneo by giving way for others with the knowledge, skill, and resources to maneuver regardless of age, standing and position. Relief distribution, medical missions and clean-up, was a success because in this particular instance, we valued the quick wins against the long-term implications of assessments.


In the final analysis, I understand that power structures make things move (maybe this is one of the reasons why some teachers had negative reactions to the VP memo. hehe). We have to place big weight on so many factors in a time of crisis putting into mind questions such as – does legal authority with the rational power structure be effective? Or does streamlining the process that pluralizes power become more efficient? Such questions need further thinking over in further experiences.

Tooling

A major frustration that arose was the fact we were not ready for major scale relief operations in the Ateneo – we had to do everything from scratch. As Task Force Ondoy functioned day to day, we could not just rely on our own experience, we needed the advice of many who have been exposed to this type of wide-scale action. From operations management teachers, to doctors, Jesuit brothers and individuals who were greatly exposed in these circumstances such as sir Tatot, Boyet, kuya Edcel and Jerry. Each day was a struggle to be more effective and efficient that is why we had to move and rethink the operations. After Ondoy, it was clear that we had to place into a manual the best practices, and recommendations that took place.

One of the essences of using what we are learning is to share our good experiences by making it replicable. To date, with the help if information design majors, we are now creating a manual for disaster relief operations. We have to be systematic, high in impact and visible – this is what we mean by institutionalizing efforts. Then again, it got me thinking.

Should students be creating a disaster response tool? Where does this come in, where the setting is the school where a traditional concept of disaster response is relief donation and aid? Yes it is true we could apply operations in classes in management, development studies, and the like but why do we need to focus on disaster management? I am not certain where government should intervene but upon further reflection, as students, and Filipinos citizens who are hit by an average of 21 typhoons a year, we must consider this competency in our proper education.

Synthesis

From the moment we examined power structures, to finding the rights tools to maneuver in operations, it was clear that we could not do everything. For example we could not have handled deployment to areas because the Office of Social Concern and Involvement was more knowledgeable. Or finding-out how many faculty and staff were affected by the flood was clearly easier done by the Office of Administrative Services. As a student representative, it is clear that we could not get a full grasp of tasks at hand. This is where systems thinking came in.


As all situations do, we had to respond in a manner that was integrative. The condition only overstated the need that we had to go beyond our comfort zone, circle of influence and control, and our own doing. We geared away from the snapshots of isolated elements and see the beauty of the whole montage. We face the complexity of intertwining structures, interrelated movements, knowledge and many more factors, to exert effort as one, head-on with our deepest problems. We see how the grade school contingent, synchronized their endeavors while the high school diverted all their effort, energy and resources toward centralized operations in the college covered courts. The volunteerism exerted by people during these hard times cannot be claimed by the Sanggunian, the Loyola Schools, or Ateneo. Our experience even exceeds being Filipino – it is an act attributed to the nature of mankind with the Divine.

I am reminded by a phrase shared by father RB Hizon, SJ, when he talked of the challenge of today’s priests, “Before, we [priests] were made to be a synthesis of ministry, but now, our calling is to become a minister of synthesis.” I was moved by this statement as I remembered my experience with Ondoy. This in essence is systems thinking taking place. To be a leader, we are made not to posses all traits and skills in the community but challenged to bring people together and share their competencies in building our nation. And part of the challenge of synthesizing efforts is, making the diverse skills in place, adapt to the changing environment. We had to tweak efforts in order to fit the situation. On the other hand, this also meant that we let others take the lead not by forcing or pushing them to do so but by taking away all the hindrances for them to grow. In this sense, we don’t just learn from others but in one way, there is a chance to define the next leaders when the time comes for the current to step down. In the end, we all come together in the understanding that there is no greater human action than to save a life.

Some Final Thoughts

On the final reflection, I go back to the reality at present – we have a long journey ahead of us. As we ready our organizations and communities for a midterm rehabilitation commitment of three to five years, we must stay with truths such as, for the past decade, the Philippines has been averaging 21 typhoons a year, we must set the expectation that there are downsides to volunteerism (i.e. your car getting a broken window while delivering to evacuation centers), that the institutions we belong to are not equipped with the proper tools to respond to these types of disasters and that as the years have passed, we do not only expose our vulnerabilities, we magnify them. The only thing we can do to any given situation thrown at us is to respond. My experience with Ondoy clarifies how, amidst the chaos, we will always strive for logos – this is the essence of our being. We see in each other a certain hope that is not quantifiable by any tool or success indicator that makes us act, but makes us believe that all our efforts, whatever they may be, are worth doing. We see hope at the core of the human person. And as we gather ourselves, and re-organize to start anew, we bring in a positive agenda for our country.


My optimism is that as we engage people to carry a consciousness of nation-building that learns from its past; an agenda that is not just for our candidates in the national and local elections of 2010, but for institutions such as the family, the school and the industry. This perspective is not something that should be in the consciousness of the government, but also of every Filipino.

With this, we launch Kadakila – a three to five year rehabilitation program that actualizes the spirit of nationalism with media, different universities and other groups… Lets see how the second semester unfolds.

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