Coops anchor post-Odette relief as digitalization safeguards their resources
By Lina Sagaral Reyes
First of two parts
IMPASUG-ONG, Bukidnon (BukidnonNews.Net/08 January 2022) The morning after Typhoon Odette hit Bucas Grande, slamming hard into Siargao and Dinagat Islands on December 16 last year, Edelito Sangco surveyed the litter and rubble on Bucas Grande and concluded that "it would take several years for the infrastructure and agriculture to recover from the devastation."
Without mobile phone and internet signals in the aftermath of the Category 5 storm, it took three days before he could inform his colleagues on the cooperatives circle about the damage on his island.
Bucas Grande is a 128-square kilometer island contiguous to the municipality of Socorro, one of the nine satellite towns comprising the Siargao Island group, off the coast of Surigao del Norte.
Satellite images released on Reliefweb soon after the calamity showed island-wide damages, including 351 totally destroyed structures and 229 potentially damaged ones.
As Sangco finally broke the silence on social media when a telco had revived connectivity, about 500 kilometers away here in the mountain town of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, Sylvia Okinlay-Paraguya heaved a sigh of relief.
With phone and internet signals restored, Okinlay-Paraguya and Sangco, together with leaders from other cooperatives in Mindanao could communicate virtually and strategize the relief and rehabilitation efforts among cooperatives in the crucial days ahead.
Okinlay-Paraguya, chief executive officer of the National Association of Training Centers for Cooperatives ( Natcco),also known as the National Confederation of Cooperatives, had earlier foreseen the post-disaster needs of the association's member organizations and their cooperators.
Sangco became a focal person for relief and recovery as weather experts had predicted that the typhoon's first landfall could be in Bucas Grande where the latter chairs the Socorro Empowered People's Cooperative (Soemco),a Natcco member.
"I thought we have suffered the worst fate but it turned out that the other towns in the Siargao group of islands, are more damaged than ours," said Sangco on December 29.
He then rallied the officers of Soemco to start a Fund Drive for the survivors of the natural disaster in Bucas Grande and in the other Siargao towns.
Okinlay-Paraguya, for her part, even before hearing word from Sangco, had set in motion Natcco's own fund drive via its Kaya 2.0 as the primary digital tool, a day after the typhoon. Word about the campaign spread among its members around the country by email, social media, and text blasts.
The Kaya 2.0 is Natcco's newly upgraded e-payment, remittance and debit platform system using mobile phone apps and automated teller machines that are interconnected with similar platforms, including banking systems.
According to her, disaster risk reduction and management are major agenda for the training centers under Natcco's wing as "these cooperatives on their own would develop resiliency and sustainability of their services, and thus, future-proofing their businesses and assets.
She further noted that cooperatives must seriously bear in mind that the Philippines is among the countries deemed disaster-prone in the latest 2021 Global Disaster Risk Index.
Natcco began developing its disaster risk reduction and management policy and protocols in 2011 after Typhoon Sendong hit Northern Mindanao and improving it after Typhoon Yolanda hit Tacloban in 2013.
As Natcco further strengthened its DRRM policy in 2018, the country has ranked 5th among the 10 riskiest countries from 2010-2016 but three years after, by 2021 the Philippines is already ranked second.
Meanwhile, Sangco found out that the waterworks of the town of Dapa, right across the channel from their island, was destroyed. Without a functional waterworks, the evacuees were deprived of clean and safe drinking water and for sanitation and hygienic needs in the temporary shelters, rendering them more vulnerable to a still- simmering Covid-19 pandemic as well as other communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Sangco deployed potable water in plastic containers donated by volunteers who also brought this valuable necessity to Dapa evacuation centers the very next day via small boats.
After its fund drive was set up, Sangco commuted to Surigao City and got in touch with other Natcco member cooperatives.
When he returned, the phone lines were back and the Internet signal, too, though quite slow and intermittent.
By this time, Siargao had turned into a beehive of relief operations with the convergence of aid coming from the public and private sectors.
With other groups providing food to evacuees, Sangco's team decided to focus on providing sturdier rubberized tarpaulin for the temporary shelters as he foresaw more rains in the coming weeks.
In two weeks, Soemco's fund-raising reached more than P400, 000 while Natcco has mobilized twice as much.
"But the need is definitely much bigger than that (fund), Okinlay-Paraguya told Bukidnon News on January 3.
" Natcco's international partners like the World Council of Credit Unions and Profix are expected to pitch in, after we have provided them information," she added.
But she revealed that gathering information in Central Visayas has been a challenge.
"We have focal persons in every affected region but without power, phone, and Internet, most coops are silent, unable to send word to us. We have sent emissaries from other regions to survey these areas," she said.
She wanted to distribute disaster resiliency funds to affected coop officers and staff so they in turn can return to work immediately to serve their clients.
"Titing (Sangco) responded quickly so we were able to mobilize funds for them. Perhaps because he is social media savvy, has years of experience, and has really taken disaster response to heart," she remarked.
Photo courtesy of Edelito Sangco