MANILA, Philippines – More than a decade ago, former Navy chief Alexander Pama rescued fleeing Filipinos from Sabah as the commanding officer of the warship BRP Sultan Kudarat.
“I feel privileged to have been able to help. It’s not a common privilege given to a soldier,” Pama said at the time.
Starting on Monday, May 12, he will be tasked to rescue the reputation of a government agency mandated to administer disaster risk reduction efforts that save lives and property. (READ: FAST FACTS: The NDRRMC)
On Sunday, May 11, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) announced that President Benigno Aquino III appointed Pama as OCD administrator and executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
Pama will replace retired Army general Eduardo del Rosario who resigned on April 24, citing health issues. He is the 3rd retired general to assume the post under the Aquino administration.
“Last week, the president accepted the resignation (of Usec del Rosario) due to health reasons, and has likewise appointed Admiral Alex Pama to replace Usec del Rosario,” said defense department spokesman Peter Galvez.
After leaving the military, Pama was appointed as undersecretary in the office of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, particularly under the National Coast Watch Council, in May 2013.
Del Rosario will turn over to Pama not only a newly acquired modern disaster communication backbone, but also a bureaucracy whose leadership and whose handling of the Super Typhoon Yolanda crisis have come under fire. (READ: Disaster agency gets modern communications facility post-Yolanda)
At the height of the Yolanda crisis, Del Rosario was criticized for NDRRMC’s slow response and allegedly inaccurate reporting on the number of casualties in affected areas, particularly in Leyte.
According to some experts and policymakers, both the disaster risk reduction and management law and the agency it created failed Yolanda’s horrific test.
The reported delays in response and aid were widely attributed to the lack of effective coordination among government officials. (READ: NDRRMC: Too many cooks spoil the broth)
According to Major Rey Balido, OCD spokesman, Pama has made regular visits to the NDRRMC headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo over the past two weeks to attend orientation meetings.
Pama was also introduced to the various divisions and offices of the OCD, and had a one-on-one meeting with del Rosario.
Balido said the new NDRRMC chief will likely continue ongoing projects of the agency that strengthen the capacity of local government units to respond during disasters.
“Importante kase yun kase sila ang first responders. Sila ang unang tutugon kapag may nangyari sa kani-kanilang lokalidad,” Balido told Rappler. (It is important because the LGUs are the first responders. They will be the first ones to respond if disaster hits their areas.)
Del Rosario earlier expressed confidence in his successor’s capacity to steer the secretariat of the disaster management council.
“He is highly capable, and he can even surpass what we have done in the Office of Civil Defense,” del Rosario said.
“Admiral Pama is well known for his competence, integrity, and his strategic vision and skills,” wrote Tony La Viña, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and Oxfam’s Jed Alegado, on May 7, days before Pama’s appointment was announced.
But acccording to them, Pama can only do so much in improving the agency’s capacity to respond to disasters. (READ: After Yolanda: The straight road to recovery)
“The design of the NDRRMC, which is a coordination body with very little power and budget, destines it to be a failure. Even a great leader like Admiral Pama will face insurmountable obstacles for the achievement of its mission,” La Vina and Alegado stressed. – Rappler.com