Legazpi Weekend Getaway

“How can something so beautiful turn out to be destructive at the same time?”

This was what came to mind when I first saw a glimpse of Mayon Volcano as the plane descended at the Legazpi Airport. The volcano, completely visible except for a small patch of clouds covering the top, took my breath away.

According to Wikipedia, Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines erupting over 51 times in the past 400 years. The most destructive eruption was in 1814 that buried the town of Cagsawa. Aside from volcanic eruptions, Albay is also frequented by typhoons. But the province is a model for disaster resilience and zero casualty for their impressive disaster preparedness efforts.

Arriving so early in the morning, I got to walk around Legazpi, also known as the “New Albay,” which is reminiscent of a quiet, sleepy town but contrasted by a cluster of malls in the area. It was around 6 AM and all the shops were closed and most activities were centered in the market nearby. For me, Old Albay District had more charm with its old structures, quaint cafes, and hip and modern restaurants.

As a first timer in the place, having a perfect view of Mt. Mayon was the goal. For this attempt, we went to Daraga Church, Cagsawa Ruins, and Camalig (where Japanese war tunnels and the chocolate hills of Albay are located). Too bad, the volcano was not at all sociable and hid behind a veil of clouds the whole time.

Despite, this, we comforted ourselves with Albay’s one of a kind culinary offerings – traditional Bicolano dishes from Waway’s Restaurant which used to be a turo-turo (eatery); Bicolano fusion options from the famous Small Talk Café; and sili (chili) ice-cream from 1st Colonial Grill which also offers other interesting flavors like kalamansi (lime), malunggay (moringa), and tinutong na bigas (burnt rice).

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The following day, we got lucky as Mayon finally displayed a full view of it’s perfect cone, its unbelievably symmetrical conical shape. What better way to enjoy Mayon but through an ATV tour with Your Brother Travel & Tours. For someone who doesn’t drive and can’t even ride a bicycle for the life of me, riding the ATV was a lot of fun as we threaded through rocky slopes, a river, and long and winding roads.

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Legazpi is definitely a must-visit place. You get to go sightseeing and do fun activities, you’ll enjoy the food that will surely satisfy your palate, and you’ll revel in Mayon’s grandeur. How about that for a quick weekend getaway.

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Making Zero Casualty a Reality

“We live life with the assumption we have time.”

I nodded in agreement as I was in the audience listening to Migel Estoque’s talk about the work that Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation does and how getting connected; gathering essential, useful, and personal supplies; and making a plan could reduce disaster risk.

This was part of Rappler’s Agos Summit, held on July 7-8,2017, that highlighted best practices and innovations in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA).

 

Preparing for “The Big One”

I remember being fascinated while experiencing my first earthquake in Baguio back in 1990. As a young boy, I was oblivious to how deadly the disaster was.

These tremors have been happening more often these days with the latest one hitting Leyte. Makes Metro Manila residents even more paranoid over the magnitude 7.2 earthquake expected to be generated by the West Valley Fault.

Will it really happen? We don’t know for sure but Ramon Santiago of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said that the best we could do is to prepare people and to raise awareness. “It’s not the earthquake that kills, it’s the weak and old structures,” he added mentioning special concern over buildings built before 1990.

To further promote a culture of preparedness, a metro-wide earthquake drill (#MMShakeDrill) is scheduled on July 14-17, 2017. Regular drills build confidence helping residents to stay calm as panic causes more harm and even death in times of disaster.

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Baguio Hilltop Hotel during the 1990 earthquake (Photo from Phivolcs).

Nature can save lives

Situated along the Pacific Ocean (an incubator of storms) and the Ring of Fire (where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur), the Philippines has been ranked as the 3rd highest disaster risk nation (2016 World Risk Report), the 13th most climate-vulnerable state (2016 Climate Change Vulnerability Index), and the 1st most exposed to tropical storms (Climate Reality Project). As a country, it seems like we got it all, disaster-wise.

The risk we face from disasters is even more exacerbated by our actions. There’s no proper waste management which causes garbage to clog drainage systems resulting to flooding. Due to deforestation, water flow during heavy rain is intensified which could lead to erosion or landslide. Intensive agriculture makes the country defenseless against the impacts of El Nino and La Nina, making us food insecure.

Senator Loren Legarda in her keynote speech during the Agos Summit mentioned how logging caused the mudslide at Saint Bernard, Leyte in 2006. We remember residents saying that logging also worsened the damages of Typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro. In contrast, a town was saved by mangroves from the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Everything is interconnected. But we have lost our connection to nature. We have to be reminded that our best defense against climate change impacts, quite simply, is caring for our environment.

 

DRR education for children

Children are especially vulnerable to disasters. But children don’t have to be helpless if we provide them with the right Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) knowledge, skills, and attitude.

The Republic Act No. 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” mandates the Department of Education to integrate DRR education in the school curriculum. Every year, the department observes the month of July as the National Disaster Consciousness Month, which is now known as National Disaster Resilience Month.

Related activities, however, are typically limited to disaster response drills and exercises. While these efforts are a good start, they seem to limit students’ skills and knowledge needed in the overall approach of DRR. Moreover, efforts that primarily concentrate on disaster response tend to leave a gap between understanding the interrelation between environmental degradation, climate change, and disasters.

But there are efforts that try to further provide DRR education to different sectors of the society, especially children. One such program is HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

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HANDs Fellows conduct storytelling with children in Thailand (Photo by Kenichi Tanaka).

As a HANDs Fellow, I was able to learn about disaster resilience stories from Navotas, Metro Manila; Bali, Indonesia; Phuket, Thailand; and Kobe, Japan (Apply now to be a HANDs Fellows this year). As an offshoot of the program, we’ll be implementing our action plan focusing on training teachers on creative methodologies for DRR education.

 

Zero casualty during disaster may be difficult to achieve but it has been proven time and again that with adequate information and preparation, it can be achieved. And the best time to be informed and to prepare is now.

 

Also published on x.rappler.com.