A Calling and a Passion: Working for Disaster Risk Reduction in Community Development
Emmanuel M. Luna
BSCD (Cum Laude) 1979; Ph.D. Urban and Regional Planning, 2000
I entered the university of the Philippine in 1974 as an engineering freshman:naïve yet ambitious; filled with fervor for academic excellence, but unmindful of the then political turmoil; excited by the new life and environment, butmade insecure by the same; poor, yet struggling with the hardships and challenges of being a “Iskolarngbayan”. After three years of real studying, I shifted to geology, then attempted to take environmental planning, only to be told that it was a graduate program. By that time, my love for nature and the desire to conserve the environment had crept in, but still without any political tint.
Like many other first year students in college, the choice of one’s course and ultimately one’s career is often motivated by personal, as well as parental desire to become materially successful. But when I decided to leave the course that can give me a very lucrative job and was asked by a professor of the Department of Community Development, Prof. Eva Esperanza, how I would see myself in five years-time, I readily answered “I want to be a missionary in a tribal community.” I thought that I would not be accepted because of my response. At 17, I realized a new faith as a born again Christian through the U.P. State Varsity Christian Fellowship and this changed my perspective about life, my purpose, and my vocation. I said that Community Development would be a good preparation for mission work I would venture in.
Many things had happened since then. The new course opened the doors to new ideas, I was frequenting the newly inaugurated Third World Center for avery inviting collection of materials on development and underdevelopment. I was exposed to the unorthodox way of teaching, to every-now- and- then narratives about my life and the lives of others, we call talambuhay, and to field trips to different communities. I found myself actively campaigning for a position in the ISCWD Student Council, the third student council to be established in U.P. at the height of martial law. My senior year was spent in the rural communities of Quezon province that taught me what real life was in the countryside, experiencing the romanticized hardships and sufferings of the people in the farm, seeing the corruption in the local government, the exploitative relationships among peasants and their landlords, as well as the struggles to survive and their efforts to change the conditions amidst adversities.
At a young age, confused with what I saw and experienced, I thanked my dear classmates, known as LINKOD Batch 2, who trusted me with their commitment that we can be together in a more organized way of affecting change. But this was without struggles, for many times, I had to isolate myself due to contradictions within myself. I was then convinced that when God’s people are being oppressed by injustice, martial law and the structural evil, then they can be instruments for change towards righteousness through God’s war, as shown in the many stories of how He liberated the Israelites from centuries of slavery in Egypt and led them to the promise land in Canaan.
I continued to work in the community as a research assistant after graduation. I was in the constant company of farmers who longed for services like irrigation and credit. The women were a joy to be with even in barikan (lambanog local wine drinking session) and in summer, we would walk with young men and ladies three to five kilometers to attend a pasayaw (community dance) on ground that could shower you with dust as the youth did their John Travolta stance.
I graduated in 1979, more than three decades ago, but the memories of my field work as a student and a young community organizer remain fresh and bring me joy. I have no regret in shifting to Community Development and pursuing a career in this field.
A calling for change
All through the years, my perspective has been anchored on Christian faith, believing that it is part of one’s calling to effect change and transform society. After a short stint in the private sector in the field of water supply development and completing my master’s degree in urban and regional planning, I went back to U.P. CSWCD as a training associate in January 1986. One of my initial tasks was handling alternative classes in protest against the election fraud and organizing and mobilizing students for the People’s Power revolution that ousted Marcos. It was one of the highlights in my personal and professional life. This was repeated in 2001.
That Tuesday afternoon, I was speaking to a group of Korean missionaries at the U.P. Hostel and they asked me what would happen if President Estrada would be acquitted. I readily said that a People’s Power 2 would most likely happen. True enough, that Tuesday night was the start. I was the Chair of the Department of Community Development then. Together with some of my friends and neighbosr like Prof. BenetteTayag, we initiated a noise barrage in the U.P. Village and into EDSA right after the walk out of senators during the impeachment trial of President Estrada. Staying the whole night at Ortigas, I prayed hard that the crowd would be sustained till the morning when new ones would come. I cancelled the DCD faculty meeting scheduled that Wednesday and urged everybody to proceed to EDSA with the rest of the U.P. constituents.
The U.P CSWCD is the ground where my perspective found expression through teaching, training, research, advocacy and other extension work. The field work supervision of students brought me to communities which enabled me to see what real organizing is, in Central Luzon and Bicol provinces. I was caught in awe as I witnessed farmers, older persons, women, and young people analyze the socio-economic conditions, relating imperialism and multi-national corporations to their poverty and sufferings. These people never reached college, even high school. However, their words and actions show the kind of commitment they had for a changed society.
A new passion to the end
In 1990, I had just returned as a U.N. Fellow at the United Nations Center for Regional Development and was assigned as faculty FW supervisor in the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement in Nueva Ecija. We were having a meeting with my three students when the great earthquake happened that afternoon of July 16, 1990. A chandelier fell on where I used to sit, and thank God for the instinct to get out of the living room the moment I felt the shaking. I witnessed the trauma of death at the Central Luzon State University and in a high school in Cabanatuan City that collapsed. In the succeeding meetings with my students, they asked me what they should be doing as organizers in the midst of disasters, where many communities were isolated due to landslides. I just responded “Use CO principles in doing disaster work”.
This experience caused me to deal with disaster management and see how this could be integrated in Community Development. The next year, Mt. Pinatubo erupted and this made me more concerned about the need for a disaster-sensitive community development. I started teaching Community-Based Disaster Management as a seminar course in planning. In my dissertation for my Ph. D. in Urban and Regional Planning, I focused on the endogenous system of response to river flooding, the first dissertation in the U.P. School of Urban and Regional Planning dealing with disaster management. When the Master in Community Development was revised, new courses on community disaster risk management and rebuilding displaced communities were instituted. A CBDRRM course was also instituted in the BSCD curriculum.
The passion for community-based disaster risk management led to my engagements with the national government agencies, NGOs, humanitarian organizations and people’s organizations. It was like “ a small voice in the wilderness”, with those in the disaster sector advocating for disaster reduction, but only a few would hear. In the first few years of the new decade 2000, I became the Chair of the Philippine Disaster Management Forum (PDMF), a network of local and international NGOs concerned with disaster reduction. We advocated for the passage of the new law, but the Congress and Malacanang were not keen about the proposal, not declaring it as a priority bill.
With the advent of disasters in the succeeding years such as the 2004 flashflood REINA, Quezon, 2006 landslide in Guinsaugon, St, Bernard Leyte, 2006 flashflood in Albayand 2008 flashflood in Iloilo due to typhoon Frank, the PDMF members focused on disaster response. The group was re-convened by the Center for Disaster Preparedness in 2008 and a new network was born, the Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DRRNet Philippines). With the CSWCD’s Executive Board’s approval, I represented the CSWCD in the network and pushed for the passage of a new law in DRR. It took an Ondoy flashflood before the national leaders and lawmakers saw the urgency of the new law. In 2010, the RA 10121 became a law.
Today, in addition to voluntary work in vulnerable communities, I remain as an academic trying to meet the challenges posed to the University and the international community by DRR. My researches with international institutions such as the British and Danish Red Cross, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok, International Development Studies in U.K., International Recovery Platform in Kobe, Japan, Oxfam GB, UNESCO Jakarta among others enabled me to explore and learn about specific DRR concerns such as CBDRRM, impact of disasters in education, accountability in DRR, disaster recovery, emergency response, and indigenous and local DRR knowledge in coastal and small island communities. In 2001, 2007 and 2012, the University of the Philippines awarded me International Publication Awards for publications dealing with DRR. Today, I co-edit the Disaster Prevention and Management Journal, an international journal listed in the International Scientific Information (ISI), published by Emerald and based in UK.
In end, I could say that life is a risk in itself that is to be managed well to bear fruits. And I thank my God for that.