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Republic of the Philippines

Department of National Defense

NATIONAL DEFENSE COLLEGE OF THE PHILIPPINES

Philippine Center for Excellence, Defense, Development and Security

 

The PSA Webinar Pilot Session with the theme: “An In-depth Analysis of Crisis Management of the Philippines” was attended by MNSA Students, prospective E-MNSA students, and government officials from different civilian agencies. The lead discussants were COL RANULFO SEVILLA INF (GSC) PA, Member of the MNSA Regular Course 55, and ATTY. LESLEY JEANNE Y CORDERO, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist of World Bank. COL SEVILLA was part of the writers and planners in the crafting of the National Crisis Management Core Manual and Executive Order Nr. 82 s. 2012 while ATTY CORDERO served as Undersecretary at the Office of the President – Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery during the Yolanda disaster.

 

CONVERSATION THREAD:

The webinar started at 02:30 PM with Dr. Gloria Jumamil-Mercado, MNSA providing the Welcoming Remarks. She acknowledged that society and institutions are quickly being redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic; our way of life and how we work are also transforming. In her message, she emphasized that:

 

In times of crisis, such as today, we need a conversation thread that discusses how we are managing this crisis and what can we still improve on. We need a certain critical mass of competent and passionate people who are willing to share new and innovative ideas about what is important and to be brutally honest on what is not.

 

Building on this, Ms. Kim Elise Bartilad, Defense Research Officer, presented updates and a timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. The presentation focused on the spread of the disease, actions taken by the government, and relevant policies and initiatives of the government on crisis management. Col. Rannie Sevilla also provided a leveling briefer that covered the definition of terms and important provisions in the National Crisis Management Core Manual and the lack thereof.

 

The following key themes and policy ideas emerged from the exchange of views and the conversation between the lead discussants and participants:

 

  1. What does the COVID-19 public health emergency tell us about the Crisis Management of the Philippines? According to Atty. Cordero, the COVID-19 pandemic was able to highlight 1) the strengths and weaknesses of the structure of the system and the governance; 2) the ability or inability for the structure, the government, as well as the people to innovate and be creative 3) the level of flexibility, to adapt, adjust, and implement of the government policies, systems, and mechanisms; 4) it highlights the resilience and heroism of the Filipinos; and 5) it shows the character, integrity, and credibility of government leaders and officials we have at the national, local, regional level. She also noted that the assessment of the Government’s response in the current situation will only be evident after the nation curbs the COVID-19 cases. Atty. Cordero emphasized that the current challenge is how the Government can efficiently adjust and adapt to the evolving complex situation and how the institutions and agencies can self-correct from its lessons learned and apply best practices from successful models.

 

  1. On the implications of the self-organizing efforts of Filipino citizens, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and the Private sector. Cordero suggested that self-organizing creates more difficulty for the government in times of crisis. However, as she pointed out, these self-organizing efforts by individual citizens, NGOs, and the Private Sector are addressing a need that the government was not able to address quickly. The challenge now is more on how the Government can manage organizations involved in self-organizing and how to put them under the existing crisis management structure or framework. She further emphasized that it is also the role of the government to lead these people’s efforts to supplement the government’s efforts. In addition to this, Col. Sevilla, the National Crisis Management Core Manual was crafted for the very purpose of harmonizing the government agencies, other sectors, and self-organizing efforts of the people. The people behind the manual was conscious of this as they wanted to prevent conflicts and misalignments on the existing policies and laws of the national government. The manual also provides a guide to address the gaps between the Local Governments and overlapping crisis management organizations.

 

  1. On the constraints of LGUs and Government Funding for Disasters. Omar Yasser Sema, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament noted that while many recognize that the LGUs have acted on their own during the first few days of the crisis, many failed to see that the LGUs were also constrained by funding. Though LGUs have a disaster fund of 5% of their estimated revenue from regular sources, which accumulates if unused, the magnitude and risks in this situation puts a toll on their funds. Atty. Sema raised the possibility of having a legal framework that would allow the LGUs to use additional funds from other sources beyond their disaster fund, especially from unutilized funds. He then suggested that this be part of the amendment to the Core Manual. Though important, Col. Sevilla further recommended that such provision should be part of another legislation or mechanism and should not be part of the Core Manual. Atty. Cordero recalled that the recommendation of Atty. Sema is reflected in the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, which was a law passed to strengthen the government’s ability to respond to the crisis. However, as a way forward, she strongly encouraged to gather proposals on this that could be submitted in the deliberation of the proposal for the Department of Disaster Resilience law rolls.

 

  1. On the implication of the COVID-10 Pandemic on the prospects of Federalism. Manmar Francisco, a Senior Defense Research Officer of the Research and Special Studies Division posed the question on the possible implication of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the prospects of federalism seeing that there is a gap between the national and local governments. Atty. Cordero argued that it is not a question about moving towards federalism or not, rather, we should acknowledge that it is inherent for local governments who are closes to the ground to be able to respond because at the end of the day, they are the ones who know and who must directly provide for the needs of their constituents. With the limited funding, limited workforce, limited information from the national government, they are expected to make do with that they have. She emphasized that the context of her response is rooted in existing laws. In every disaster-related law, LGUs are considered as the first responder. We often blame the LGUs if they are not there to be able to respond or are proactive in addressing the situation, and yet, we are also to some extent curtailing their powers to gain control of the situation. This is where the push-and-pull is evident. As a solution to this, one should acknowledge that the national government also has limitations in reaching the grassroots and providing for every barangay. The national government needs to mobilize and tap the LGUs. Furthermore, Atty. Cordero cited her experience during the Yolanda Rehabilitation and Recovery Program where they faced the challenge of gathering and generating local recovery programs of over a hundred cities and municipalities to address certain needs of each respective local government. However, in the process, their team came upon the realization, that when the government provides clear guidelines and templates, corresponding funding is released for the execution of the guidelines, and when they view the actions taken by the national government as logical, only a few lags behind. She also added that this success can be attributed to the Local Chief Executive‘s trust in the national government.

 

  1. Putting the National Crisis Management Core Manual into practice. Mercado pointed out the strong ownership of the manual at the national level, however, she reaffirmed the stand of Atty. Lesley is the LGUs who are expected to respond during a crisis. She argued that the manual should have been translated to local crisis plans to be effective and useful. She noted that there should be an assessment of the effectivity of the manual and how it was used during the three crises experienced by the nation: Yolanda; Zamboanga Siege; and, the Marawi Siege. Further, Dr. Mercado mentioned the need to capacitate LGUs they are the ones crafting their contingency plans and crisis plans as well as implementing them. Col. Rannie supported the arguments of Dr. Mercado. He made example of the Municipality of Alabat, Quezon as one of the few LGUs who followed the manual. The said Municipality is already equipped with a contingency plan for several different crisis scenarios. He further emphasized that there is a need to educate the local leaders on the importance of crisis management because all actions in crisis management are done at the lowest tactical level and not at the national level. Though the implications are at national and international levels, the actions are done at the local level. These things could have been addressed if there is a will to cascade and disseminate the manual. He then pondered on why other LGUs fail to do the same. From his experience, lack of appreciation from Local Chief Executives is one of the prevailing reasons. As a result, Col. Rannie lobbies the inclusion of a Crisis Management Course and/or lecture by the Local Government Academy. He also recommended moving the Office of the Civil Defense from the Department of National Defense to the Department of Interior and Local Government. This way, crisis management can be viewed as an integral part of local governance and to better mobilize LGUs in times of crisis. Brigadier General Archimedes Viaje raised his observation that despite having an existing manual, this was not implemented and cascaded down to the LGUs and the Local Chief Executives. He added that in the current situation, he observed how different LGUs have different responses and actions wherein one can see who excels and who struggles in performing their mandate. In connection to this, he asked how the government can disseminate the contents of the existing manual, as well as, encourage the LGUs to utilize it. As a response, Col. Rannie cited how education institutions aided him in cascading and advocating making use of the National Crisis Management Manual in all LGUs and government agencies. He mentioned as an example, how the National Defense College of the Philippines opened up courses concerning crisis management. He also cited how he was hired to teach crisis management to Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines officers who are undertaking the Masters in Public Management Major in Development and Security twinning program of the Development Academy of the Philippines with the Philippine Public Safety College and the Command and General Staff College.

 

  1. On the Management of the Government’s Recovery Program amidst the Pandemic. According to Atty. Lesley, her experiences during the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 taught her that leaders must be prepared to be able to recover as quickly as possible. She added that usually, after a human-induced disaster the Government readily provides a definite date for the commencement of recovery and rehabilitation efforts. On the other hand, there is no such definite date in the case of the COVID-19 situation. As such, the challenge now is how to simultaneously provide actions taken with regards to crisis management, as well as, crafting the Government‘s initial recovery and rehabilitation plan. The key is to repurpose staff who are not currently in the front lines, and to task them to start preparing and anticipating the needs of the citizens in their respective areas for when the ”new normal” is implemented whether it’s social services, infrastructure development, economic recovery efforts and the improvement of the overall security and health sectors. Another challenge is pursuing accountability amidst the several billions of funding injected as support to the COVID-19 response efforts in Government Agencies and the Local Level as stipulated in Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. Finally, there should also be a monitoring mechanism of the progress of government from every agency and each Local Government Unit. Overall, Atty. Lesley thinks this is the best way to start planning. She notes that the NDRRMC has approved for implementation of the Philippine disaster recovery and rehabilitation planning guide. This is why the World Bank is trying to help government roll easy to follow templates for the LGUs which they can start using this template so they can start using this template to be able to plan their recovery program.

 

  1. On the difficulties in decision making during a crisis. Lesley listed three (3) factors that greatly affect decision making during a crisis: 1) The race against time; 2) limited information; and, 3) dynamics. However, she also noted that the real challenge is the Government‘s level of confidence, comfort and conviction when presenting its decisions. According to Atty. Lesley, good leaders are able to identify the right people for the right job to implement their decisions. They are also able to stand by their decision, while at the same time, listen to conflicting positions and recommendations provided by constituents, experts, and colleagues. Overall, their ability is tested on how they swiftly decide and how efficiently can they deliver. When determining the possible acceptable tradeoffs for this particular crisis, Atty Lesley responded that in terms of hierarchy of priorities and needs these are a lot of competing principles and values, but what is primordial is the saving of lives, securing of livelihoods, economy, and then security. In terms of the level of acceptability in terms of the trade-offs Atty. Lesley noted that it is not for the people who are not deciding to say because when you hear the discussions on the cabinet level, when you have the information that they are given then I trust in terms of judgement they will make the right call. Trusting the government at this point whether at the national or local government is very important. Trust that they have our good intentions at heart when they decide and hopefully if ever there will be missteps that there will also be self-correcting mechanisms to be able to adjust and manage the trade-offs. Col. Rannie agreed with Atty. Lesley’s response to prioritizing saving human lives, he reasoned that human resources would become useless if there are no people to run the economy. Further, according to Col. Rannie there must be a clear designation and delegation of powers and tasks for the members of the decision-making body. That is why, as indicated in the Manual, and Incident Command System must be set up to design courses of actions to be presented to the policy decision making body for their approval. He further noted that the existing numerous layering in the Command is what delays the process.

 

  1. The role of the Judiciary in Crisis Management. Regional Trial Court Judge Maria Josefina Torres raised a question on the role of the Judiciary in Crisis Management. As a response, Atty. Lesley offered that the Judiciary should be proactive. The Judiciary can provide guidelines and draft parameters for the ”new normal”. Secondly, the Judiciary must be vigilant to provide checks and balances in the executive and legislative branches. This will provide the people with an opportunity to go to court to seek clarifications for policy and law implementations, accountability for the lapses of the government, and justice for when abuse of power is exercised.

 

  1. Crisis Management Lessons from the Philippine COVID-19 Experience. Rannie suggests combining the crisis and disaster management to avoid confusion when it comes to choosing a framework to use. As he mentioned earlier, he wishes that the national government will consider moving the OCD to be part of the DILG, for the latter to have power and influence over the lowest tactical level of the government. On the other hand, Atty. Lesley said that not everyone needs to be a doctor or nurse to be a frontliner. Each one of us has a certain role to play during the crisis and it is our task to play that role at the best possible and this will be our contribution to our society. She emphasized that to become a good crisis manager, one must be fast in adopting, adjusting, and executing the policies and guidelines of the commander-in-chief and we cannot force him to fit in the box that we are used to but we can encourage him to recalibrate and reframe the exiting frameworks to fit whatever his commands or his needs is. Lastly, she pointed out the importance of keeping your network open and continuing building on the network because no matter how effective one’s leadership qualities are, at the end of the day, in a crisis one needs a village to be able to move things.

 

To close the Webinar, BGEN ARCHIMEDES H VIAJE AFP (Ret), PhD, MNSA, the NDCP President, shared his thoughts on the discussion and activity. According to him, the COVID-19 pandemic is “one of the greatest threats to security and stability around the globe in recent times. For the Philippines, it has altered so much of our strategic and operational landscape, especially with regard to the political, economic, and techno-scientific dimensions of our national security.” He then highlighted the importance of the webinar as an eye-opener regarding important concepts and insights about Crisis Management. He mentioned that one of NDCP‘s recommendations in its COVID-19 primer was  “to implement policies and instruments related to crisis management in the Philippines, such as the National Crisis Management Core Manual, and to review and evaluate their responsiveness once the pandemic is over.” Finally, he also thanked the speakers for their time as they shared their expertise on the topics. The President likewise applauded the participants for their evident appetite for discourse resulting in a fruitful exchange of information. He fervently hopes that the conversation will be continued and knowledge will be sought. Finally, BGEN VIAJE congratulated the staff for the successful implementation of the Webinar pilot session.