Volunteers: Unknown heroes during calamities

BAGUIO CITY — Some 46 years ago in 1972, Baguio suffered from 30 days of continuous rain, saturating the soil, loosening it, leading to the massive landslide affecting a large portion of Rimando Road and Bugallon Street in Aurora Hill in this city, killing scores of people and destroying several houses.

The rains from July 1 to August 1 that caused what was considered the “great landslide” at that time led to the birth of the oldest emergency response volunteer organization in Baguio, the Baguio-Benguet Public Information and Civic Action Group (BB-PICAG).

The concept of creating the organization initially with most of the members being soldiers, policemen, private persons was to have an organized group of persons who will readily respond during emergencies, said founding President Oscar Cadeliña in an exclusive interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

For decades, they existed and survived with just volunteers willing to give their time, treasure, talent and commitment to be of service to the others.

For almost three weeks now, Baguio city is experiencing continuous heavy downpour.

Baguio recorded a 215mm rainfall in a 24-hour period from 8:00 a.m. of August 24 to 8:00 a.m. on August 25.

Cadellina, a retired forester and government professor said volunteers of the organization simply have the desire to help, which allows the organization to continue pursuing its vision to contribute in mitigating sufferings and saving lives during calamities and disasters, whether man-made or natural, without expecting any form of remuneration.

Their members are men and women from 21 years old to the oldest being him at 82. “I cannot anymore join rescue operations but what we seniors do is give moral support to the young operatives. We also contribute by giving from our pockets especially during operations to feed our volunteers,” adding that the PHP60 monthly membership dues and donation from some companies and the little assistance of the OCD and the government helps them survive and continue with their humanitarian activities.

Some of their members are also entrepreneurs allowing them to give their time and money during “alert situations”.

During off-calamity season, the group engages in preparedness activities on their own or in collaboration with other Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) groups, or the government agencies in advancing “preparedness” measures in schools, barangays, with companies and business establishments and for their members’ capacity building.

“We feel good, light seeing the moral support of each other. There is also such a thing as good karma which I am personally believe in.”

In Baguio, he said “nakakahawa ang commitment at volunteerism spirit ng mga taga Baguio. Patuloy na dumadami ang miyembro ng tribo at nagbibigay ng serbisyo para sa kapwa (the commitment and volunteerism spirit of Baguio people is contagious, the tribe of people who gives [humanitarian] service is increasing ,” he said.

Nel Marilla, a retired banker said that with his two children being adult and having their own jobs, he devotes his time to BB-PICAG and the Lions Club. “Maliit lang naman kailangan namin ng misis ko para mabuhay at sakto lang ang retirement namin para sa amin kaya hindi problema na naglalagi ako sa PICAG.” he joined the group in 2005, after his retirement and remains active, joining operations and training for communities up to the present.

Baguio City administrator Atty. Carlos Canilao, whose department handles the DRRM office of Baguio, said “there is a very good indication that our people want to help government. Government cannot do everything kaya dito sa disaster management natin (in our disaster management), we are very happy, there are many volunteer communications group, disaster response groups, ang dami nila (there’s plenty of them).”

There are emergency response groups from the business establishments, schools, Philippine Military Academy, Philippine Air Force, Army reservist, private groups and NGOs who aid the city during calamities and disasters. “We just welcome everybody,” who are willing to help, Canilao said.

“I cannot over emphasize their importance. We have limited personnel, only 13 in the local DRRM office that operates 24 hours and the groups augment whenever they are needed. At times they are even the first to respond to emergencies,” the official said.

He also welcomes the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) of his desire to have a DRRM Department in government.

Canilao shared the experience in July 16, 1990 which has opened the gates for the “volunteerism” spirit to really come alive among the residents.

“The day when there will be no volunteers is an impossible situation. The city of Baguio has already adjusted to this kind of system since 1990, where residents come on their own to do service.”

Recalling the 1990 killer earthquake, he said nobody was prepared but Baguioans learned a very good lesson from it. “To be always be reminded that we need to be conscious that disaster may come anytime, and with that consciousness, the preparation comes in. It’s not enough that we know, we should prepare by training and getting equipment.” The earthquake brought in many volunteers who are readily available anytime.

He further shared that in 1990, while a professor at PMA and with the cadets “at that time, we were at a loss, even the military, even the police. Do you know who were ready at that time? The miners. They were the only ones who can save. They were the heroes at that time,” thus the importance of preparedness gearing towards resiliency.

With the five percent from the PHP2 billion fiscal budget as mandatory disaster fund, Canilao said they use the 30 percent as a ready emergency money and the 70 percent for preparedness. This allows them to conduct continues capacity building training and procure equipment.

The Barangay DRRM committees are also capacitated to respond to any form of emergency.

The city is thankful it has hundreds of volunteers whom they constantly recognized for selfless effort, Canilao said. “There is no age, gender requirement to be a volunteer, only the willingness , selflessness to serve,” he added.

Mayor Mauricio Domogan also lauded the volunteers. “To me, they are heroes of their own right. Ang dami nila (they are numerous) not only during typhoon but also during special occasions and events in the city.”

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