This reflection piece is written by Kei Valmoria, Project Manager of the TUKLAS Northern Luzon Lab.

From project inception, TUKLAS Northern Luzon has always been of one mind that the community is the heart and soul of the project. Ideally, the selected innovators themselves were community members and not academics or middle- class urban-based intellectuals without any experience in grassroots community immersion. Indeed, majority of Northern Luzon innovators were either community-based organizations (CBOs) or small local NGOs with experience in development programs and community organizing.

TUKLAS timeline noted that much of the prototyping and testing activities happen from June to November 2018. The Southwest monsoon (Habagat) winds prevail over the country during these months, with many tropical cyclones entering the country one after another. The actual count of cyclones which impacted the country during the period last year is 17.

The strongest cyclone of the 2018 Pacific Typhoon Season was Category 5 Mangkhut (local name: Ompong). It ravaged Northern Luzon (NL) after making landfall in Cagayan province on September 15 with sustained winds of up to 270 kilometers per hour. The region had already suffered from heavy Habagat-induced precipitation. Baguio City (where the lab office is located) and Benguet recorded 19 straight days of rain in August.

Even before Mangkhut, half of the innovator teams already reported difficulties in conducting  community activities because of the heavy rains. These were Batil-ang Peypeyan Clan or BPC (Besao, Mt. Province), Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera or DKK (Itogon, Benguet), Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development or ICRED (Vintar, Ilocos Norte), Alay Bayan-Luson Inc. or ABI (Bagulin, La Union) and Ifugao Peasant Movement or IPM (Asipulo, Ifugao). When the super typhoon  struck, heavy damage was immediately reported by ICRED (direct hit by storm eye, flash flooding) and DKK (massive landslide). The NL team was on emergency protocol as mandated by its mother organization, the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center. The Project Manager was with other CDRC staff on standby in Ilocos Norte and Sur, participating in damage and needs assessment as soon as the storm blew over. The two Community Engagement Officers were in Baguio collating damage reports from community organizers in the Cordillera regions. The MEAL Officer and Grants Monitoring Officer were tasked to help in canvassing and distribution of relief goods.

Before the storm hit, all innovator teams were called one by one and reminded to submit status reports By evening of September 16, all innovator teams were accounted for and declared safe by the lab. However, the humanitarian crisis of the Itogon landslide was not yet manifested until September 17, when it became clear that over a hundred people were missing in the Benguet town.

The NL lab team decided to suspend monthly review sessions to assist in damage reports, relief transportation and distribution, and connecting affected teams to donors outside of the region. The Tulong Kabataan, DKK, ICRED, ABI and KADUAMI teams were able to acquire funding for relief operations with partner communities in Benguet, La Union, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

However, not all of the teams were able to successfully make the shift back from humanitarian work to innovation testing. The Tulong Kabataan, ICRED, ABI and KADUAMI teams took from between a week to three weeks of delay while they conducted post-disaster response but we’re able to go back to prototyping and testing by second week of October. DKK, meanwhile, having had the biggest impact, became lost in psychosocial debriefing, funds raising, and relief distribution.

On October 30, just a month after Ompong, typhoon Rosita entered via Isabela and passed through Ifugao and Mountain Province before exiting via the Ilocos Region. Innovator team 3Build reported the destruction of the lone bridge that connected their partner community to the national highway in Roxas, Isabela. IPM in Ifugao reported dozens of landslides that isolated their communities, with three fatalities in nearby Bontoc. Lastly, a landslide in Natonin, Mt. Province buried 28.

INNOVATING AMID A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Before the disaster struck on September 19, the DKK team had been dealing only with the fear of landslide hazard in the children and youth of Loakan, Itogon. When the Ompong- induced landslide killed nearly two hundred in Itogon (63 in Loakan itself), the team was presented with the challenge and difficulty of addressing post-traumatic disorder in their young artists. The team reported to NL staff that before the event, visual arts produced by the children only showed rain, swollen rivers and flooding. Afterwards, all of the drawings and paintings showed dead bodies.

The team, with consultations with their psychologist mentor, and cooperation with Cordillera-based health NGO CHESTCORE, and the TUKLAS team, decided to conduct actual psychosocial debriefing with their succeeding art workshops. The trained psychosocial debriefers worked side by side with the artists, using the drawings as opening for processing.

In a report, the NL Lab noted that of all the  innovators that conducted disaster response, DKK members were observed to have been the most stressed and disturbed. Painter and graphic designer Kelly Ramos described feeling distressed when she saw the dead-littered drawings made by the kids. Poet Ivan Email Labayne recounted the awkward silences when names of absent children were called, with someone eventually coming out to say that they were in ritual mourning.

The Igorot believe that the dead will not rest if they weren’t given proper burial. One of the victims of the Natonin landslide was a tribe member from BPC’s community Brgy. Payeo. The community decided to send nearly all of the men in the village to help in the rescue and later retrieval operations. This went on for a month and a half, with elders refusing to believe that they could not find the body of their ka-ilian. Finally, just before December ended, the community did a cleansing ritual for all of those who participated, as well as the ritual mourning.

DKK and BPC did not have any other choice but to halt the innovation process. They, as well as the Northern Luzon Lab, did not have any guideline or protocol in place that addressed how the DT process would work in post-disaster scenarios. Since CDRC has decades of experience in emergency response, the staff naturally followed that protocol, turning its attention to getting relief donations for project areas.

The Lab staff tried its best to remind the innovators that actual disaster conditions offer the best time to truly test their innovations. This is particularly true for the teams doing innovations for disaster response, like ICRED (damage and needs reporting app) and Tulong Kabataan (game app for recruitment of youth volunteers). This they were able to use to their advantage, with ICRED using the alpha version of their app in data gathering and Tulong Kabataan’s new volunteers helping in provision of hot meals and post-disaster data gathering.

Another learning point that the team acknowledges is that the Design Thinking (DT) model being followed does not take into consideration the unpredictability of real-life conditions  in the community. In controlled lab conditions, it would be easy to undertake prototype testing. However, even without natural or meteorological disasters, normal community activities such as weddings, mourning and burial rituals, cycles of agricultural production could also lead to delays and conflicts.

Finally, the Lab reflects on the scale of crisis suffered by DKK and BPC. Even if their solutions address disaster recovery and mitigation, the bigger problems of unregulated mining, illegal logging, and land conversion remain.

HOW TO DO BETTER NEXT TIME

To be a lab doing innovations in DRR, TUKLAS in its next phase should put in place some protocol in dealing with the expected and unexpected impacts of disasters, natural or otherwise. In cases of a humanitarian crisis arising in a project area, what should be the course of action for innovators? There must be an option to continue or discontinue the prototying and testing activities.

Some of the innovators commented that the 8-month implementation period was too short; more so because the majority of the timeline took place during the rainy season. In a country that is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year from between June to December, this is a valid concern. Perhaps the next phase of TUKLAS could host the testing activities between November 2019 to June 2020.

It is laudable that TUKLAS Innovation Labs has pioneered the development of grassroots-based DRR innovations in the country. However, to truly achieve its goals, the lessons from this cycle must be utilized towards putting the voices of the vulnerable and marginalized communities into public discourse. Scientific research can be the most effective support for mainstreaming DRR innovations, promoting community resilience and raising awareness against the bigger development-related issues that amplify disaster risks in poor Filipino communities.

RELATED ARTICLES: