Building back better: QC helps Cotabato assess damage after earthquakes

MANILA, Philippines – While other local government units (LGUs) gave financial aid or donated relief goods to the earthquake-stricken province of Cotabato, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte first asked her friend, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, what they and their neighbors needed.

Duterte then told Belmonte to assist 6 LGUs which were badly-hit by the 3 earthquakes in October.

Thus on November 1, a day after the last destructive earthquake, Belmonte deployed 3 members from the city's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO) to Kidapawan City and the municipalities of Tulunan, M'lang, Arakan, and Makilala in Cotabato, as well as Samal City in Davao del Norte.

The team, led by DRRMO Chief Myke Marasigan, had consultations with the mayors of the 6 LGUs, and a common need identified by the mayors was assistance on damage assessment and rehabilitation.

Kulang sila sa technical experts, professionals to assess the buildings na kung pwede pang gamitin o hindi, or safe or unsafe (They don't have enough technical experts and professionals to assess the buildings and see if they could still be used, if they are safe or unsafe),” he said in an interview with Rappler.

Upon returning to Quezon City, the team reported this need to Belmonte. On November 4, a second team was dispatched, this time comprised of 8 engineers from the city government.

They worked with engineers from the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines and the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers in assessing the damage in the affected LGUs. (READ: Will engineers, architects go on 'earthquake mission' to assess structures?)

Building back better

For Quezon City, any aid that is extended to other LGUs should have a long-term impact. “We are not like other LGUs who just give 5 million, 10 million, pero you don’t know where they’ll bring it. [It’s] a long-term assistance,” Marasigan said.

This is why the Quezon City government has a 'build back better' principle for providing aid. In the case of Cotabato, they opted for technical assistance in terms of damage assessment and needs analysis through inspections on the ground.

Marasigan said they also did this for the areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda, back in 2013.

In Leyte, Quezon City also helped fund the rehabilitation of better municipal halls, which used to be made of wood but are now cemented and airconditioned, according to Marasigan.

"So if we help them, might as well help them using that build back better principle," Marasigan said.

The value of damage assessment

After the earthquakes, Davao del Sur residents were traumatized by the almost hourly aftershocks that occurred, refraining from sleeping or staying in their homes for fear of another destructive earthquake.

Tulunan residents also had a traumatic experience, as they struggled to survive in the epicenter of two strong earthquakes. (READ: 'We were screaming....Everyone was crying': Tulunan residents recall earthquake)

The QC team witnessed this scenario in the areas they visited.

“People actually are on the streets. Takot sila sa aftershocks (They're afraid of the aftershocks), so they’re technically outdoors with tents,” Marasigan said.

Apart from damage assessment, the LGUs also asked for tents to accommodate these residents, the funding of which Marasigan said the city government was considering.

Meanwhile, they conducted assessments on buildings to determine which ones are safe to enter.

Kasi malaking bagay ‘yung ano eh, ma-inspect mo and then you could say that it is safe then they are not afraid to go back and do their jobs. Ang hirap magtrabaho, nandun ka sa open area na nakatent ka lang, init init, uulan pa, unlike ‘yung nandun ka sa comfortable na buildings like what we have here. We could always do more,” he said.

(It's a big thing to inspect these buildings and say they are safe, then they are not afraid to go back and do their jobs. It is so hard to work in an open area under a tent, subject to the heat and rain, unlike where your comfortable in buildings like what we have here. We could always do more.)

Public and private properties 

The two teams inspected government-owned facilities and some private establishments, as requested by local chief executives. Marasigan said most of them were tagged as unsafe.

These structures covered municipal halls, fire stations, and schools, among others.

The teams also inspected hotels, offices, and supermarkets. "Hindi sila makapagcontinue to do business because they're afraid of aftershocks na pwede ring magcause ng collapse in building nila (They cannot continue their business because they're afraid of aftershocks which can cause their buildings to collapse)," Marasigan said.

To add, Marasigan said that the closure of these establishments mean that services, like basic commodities, are made inaccessible to people. Apart from this, the LGUs need businesses to stimulate their economy.

"We included some private facilities and infrastructure, 'yung request din kasi nung mga mayors doon, para magstart up na 'yung kanilang economy in terms of business. Kasi wala namang nagbabayad ng mga taxes pagka-ganyan, nasa state of calamity so wala silang kita," he said.

(We included some private facilities and infrastructure, as requested by the mayors there, so that they can start up their economy in terms of business. Because in a state of calamity, no one will pay taxes.)

Rehabilitation costs

Before releasing any funds, the Quezon City government first made sure that the councils of the affected LGUs have passed resolutions asking for financial assistance and declaring a state of calamity.

The LGUs also submitted detailed programs of works, which stated their priority rehabilitation projects and the amount that they need for each of them.

The Quezon City government will then validate the costs and submit them to Belmonte, who will choose which buildings to fund. Marasigan said the city government cannot fund all of them, but will prioritize what is needed.

The municipalities asked for financial assistance to fund the rehabilitation of municipal hall buildings, school buildings, a gymnasium, and a public market, with costs ranging from P4.5 million to P100 million. The municipality of Kidapawan asked for P100 million to fund relocation and housing assistance to displaced families.

Belmonte and the city council have yet to determine how much aid will be given to these municipalities.

Continuity plans

What comes next for these LGUs?

People displaced by destruction and trauma still need help in rebuilding their homes.

Yung sa Quezon City, kung matutulungan namin sila, it’s just a chunk of the devastation. Mas marami pang dapat gawin. [Malawak] ‘yung damage. Dapat siguro tulong-tulong tayong mga LGUs who are capable of helping others,” he said.

(If Quezon City helps, it would still be just a chunk of the devastation. There is still so much more to do. The damage is far-reaching. LGUs who are capable of helping others should work hand-in-hand).

Apart from providing basic needs like food and water, Marasigan said these areas also have to plan how to continue public service, which would be a difficult task given an unsafe government building. They should then implement a public continuity service plan, said Marasigan.

How can the government function if there’s no municipal hall or a city hall? And lahat naman ‘yan magsastart lahat sa government... How can you help your constituents kung ang gobyerno ang bagsak? So ‘yun ang dapat tingnan, ‘yan ang tinitingnan ng Quezon City is to help build back better damaged government facilities,” he said.

(How can the government function if there's no municipal hall or a city hall? Everything will start with the government. How can you help your constituents if the government itself is down? So they will have to look into that, and what Quezon City will try is to help build back better the damaged government facilities.)

"Dapat nag-iisip tayo kung (We should think of ) how can we make sure that basic and frontline government services ready, available immediately, as fast as we can, to provide the residents that service," he added.

As for business owners, they know what they’re in for, said Marasigan.

“At least based on the... initial inspection, they already have an idea on what are they facing, especially ‘yung private… limited din ang capacity namin (especially for the private sector, as we have limited capacity),” he explained. 

"At least malaman na nila…kung magkano ang kailangan na investment, kailangan nilang i-produce. (At least they would know how much they need to invest or need to produce.) They could plan for that.” 

Marasigan urged business owners to have continuity plans for their businesses, whether they own a small, medium, or large enterprise.

In this way, business owners can have prepared funding sources and recovery mechanisms in the event of calamities and other unforeseen sources. The goal, Marasigan said, is to get their business running again as soon as possible.

“These are things that we could [do], in our own little way, we could help them recover in a timely manner. So that’s the essence of resilience. It’s not just responding to calamities but it’s the ability of an LGU to recover as fast as they can,” Marasigan said. – Rappler.com

Loreben Tuquero

Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.

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