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On the Offer of Four Cabinet Posts

Posted by butalidnl on 25 May 2016

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has offered four cabinet posts to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They are that of : DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment),  DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform), DSWD (Department of Social Work and Development) and DENR (Department of the Environment and Natural Resources). During the election campaign Duterte had promised to make peace with the CPP and bring them into government.

The Departments
Duterte chose four departments which the CPP could offer to the CPP. While these departments are important, they are not essential politicial, economic or security tasks of the government.

DAR. This department fits best with both the interests and the skill set of the CPP. The Philippines has already had two DAR secretaries from the Left: Ernesto Garilao (1992 – 1996) and Horacio Morales (1998 – 2001).  There are already several lower-level DAR officials who used to be leftist activists.

DOLE. The KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, May First Movement) and the rest of the progressive labor  movement.may probably be able to provide suitable candidates for labor Secretary. The most left-leaning labor secretary so far was Augusto Sanchex, who was a prominent human rights lawyer before serving as Labor Secretary in 1986 -1987.

DENR. The CPP has a mixed record when it comes to environmental issues. While it sometimes condemns mining companies and loggers for their various violations of environmental laws; the CPP often allows them to operate in their areas as long as they pay ‘revolutionary taxes’. At the same time, the government has a terrible record in appointing Environment Secretaries. Having a CPP nominee in the position may be a welcome change.

DSWD. Corazon Soliman, who served as Welfare Secretary from 2001 to 2005 and again from 2010 to 2016, was a moderate-left activist before becoming Secretary. She has been credited with the successful implementation of the landmark Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program – which gives a modest subsidy to poor families on the condition that their children attend school and avail of medical services. About 4.4 million people benefit from the CCT Program.

Possible Problems
CPP leader Jose Maria Sison has declared that they would accept the offer, and will come up with names of ‘left’ personalities as nominees for the Secretary positions.

The process of actually coming up with nominees could prove difficult, though. In the past years, the CPP had been busy ejecting people from the party who could qualify for such positions;  condemning them for being ‘reformist’ or something similar. Now, the CPP would have to pick candidates from the few cadres it has left who  would qualify for these positions.
If the CPP cannot source nominees from among its ranks, they may be forced to nominate people from outside its immediate circles – maybe even people whom it had previously condemned as reformist.

An even bigger hurdle to the CPP coming up with nominees the  matter of fitting the appointing of four cabinet secretaries into its overall strategy.  It may be too easy to say  that this  is a matter of temporary tactics. However, it would mean a major adjustment in how the CPP does things. Specifically, it has to do with the role of the armed struggle to achieve its goals. While Duterte has not spelled it out explicitly, he expects a quid pro quo for the cabinet positions – that of having a ceasefire and peace talks. A six-year ceasefire would wreck havoc within the New Peoples Army; if it does not have anything to do, its ranks will fade away.

Then there is the matter of the CPP strategy for finally achieving power. Will the CPP accept a negotiated route to achieving its goals? or would it be just a temporary detour from the armed struggle? And what is the use of armed struggle if they could gain a governmental role simply by a political route? Their rationale for engaging in armed struggle is that the ruling classes would violently oppose efforts to change the political and economic system. Questions of strategy are a point of tension within the CPP. The balance between ‘legal’ struggle and armed struggle, and their relationship, has been a topic of internal debate and even splits for decades. The question of the cabinet positions will surely increase these tensions within the party.

Duterte’s policies could also be a sticking point. Bayan (a CPP-influenced mass organization) has already denounced Duterte’s economic policies. A more problematic issue is Duterte’s plan to have the dictator Ferdinand Marcos buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Burial Place for Heroes). This would also mean some kind of rehabilitation for him. The CPP may not want to be part of a government that rehabilitates Marcos.

Then comes the problems with security. If the DSWD includes peasants from the CPP mass base in the CCT program, the government will know who they are. After the 6-year period, they may be attacked for being communist sympathizers. Also, having a DAR Secretary may mean that the government military entering CPP-controlled areas to implement DAR orders.And what about the security of the Secretaries themselves and their staffers? They may all need to go underground after Duterte’s term.

Choosing a Response
Sison may have declared acceptance of the four cabinet posts; but this does not necessarily mean that the CPP really accepts the offer. It is the actual leaders of the CPP in the country who really call the shots. Sison was only given authority to hold peace talks with the government; actual concessions would need to be made by the leaders in the Philippines.

The CPP’s Central Committee, or more specifically the Secretariat of its Executive Committee, would be the one to make the final decision. Before doing so, they would need to consult some of the lower party organs e.g. the United Front Commission, which will probably be tasked to produce the nominees,  as well as the New People’s Army’s high command. I suspect the NPA will balk at the prospect of having a 6-year ceasefire.
After careful consideration the Secretariat will issue its decision on this matter.

The decision could be within the following range:
Full acceptance of Duterte’s offer. Four nominees will be chosen from among the ranks of its ‘influenced’ organizations.  Peace talks with the government will be started. A ceasefire of limited duration will be declared, as a possible prelude to an extended ceasefire.
or
The CPP will decline the offer. Disagreement on ssues e.g the proposed burial of Marcos and/or other portions of Duterte’s policies will be deemed incompatible with participation in his government.
or
Something in between.

I suspect that the CPP leadership will neither fully accept nor fully reject Duterte’s offer. Perhaps it could nominate someone for DAR or DOLE from within its ranks,  but nominate outside progressives for DENR and DSWD. It could agree on a partial ceasefire – i.e. that no large-scale military operations will be undertaken, but that ‘police actions’ by both sides would be allowed (this may be done to appease the NPA leadership). Also, the peace talks could be held both in the Philippines and with Sison’s team abroad.

The way the CPP handles this offer could determine its prospects of building peace with the govenment, including for the period after Duterte’s presidency.

 

 

 

 

 

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Responding to Marcos’ Near-Victory

Posted by butalidnl on 17 May 2016

Ferdinand Marcos Jr nearly got elected as Vice President in the recent Philippine elections. He lost by only a couple of hundred thousand votes.  A full third of the electorate voted for him, believing that (pick one or more of the following):
– Martial Law was not that bad, or even that it was good;
– Martial Law was bad, but was only the fault of his father;
– the VP position isn’t that important anyway;
– Marcos was the most experienced, and most competent among the VP candidates;
– it was important to vote against the LP, even if it meant voting for Marcos

Let us go into these points more deeply.

Teaching Martial Law at School
The first point – the belief that Martial Law was not that bad – is the fault of successive post-Martial Law politicians and of Filipinos in general.  After we overthrew Marcos in 1986, we felt that everyone knew about Martial Law. We didn’t do enough to ensure that this general knowledge was passed on to future generations.

Every year, there would be an EDSA anniversary celebration on 25 February; but there was no effort to include the experience of Martial Law in school history textbooks. In those textbooks, Marcos was portrayed as just one in the series of presidents. Students were taught that all presidents had good and bad points. The students took it to mean that Martial Law was not that bad – just something similar to the failed Estrada presidency.
What should have been done was to have a specific chapter on Martial Law: on how Marcos grabbed power, on the various economic, political and human rights crimes the Marcosses committed, and the brave resistance of many people, and finally the 1986 uprising.

Instead of merely remembering the EDSA uprising every 25 February, we should also mark 21 September as the anniversary of the Martial Law declaration. 21 September would then be some kind of ‘Memorial Day’ and 25 February ‘Freedom Day’.  The Aquinos’ role in both should be reduced; more emphasis should be given to how many people who suffered under Martial Law, and how they fought back.

Merely the Son of…
Ferdinand Marcos Jr is trying to pass himself of as ‘merely the son of’ FM Sr. the dictator. That he was innocent of the wrongdoings of his father and mother. But this is a lie.
FM Jr became 18 years old in 1975, a mere 3 years into Martial Law. He was an adult who fully participated in the ‘family business’ of looting the wealth of the Philippines. He used dummy corporations to siphon money from legitimate businesses.
And then there are the various secret bank accounts of the Marcos family. FM opened secret bank accounts for all his children, to which they alone would have the access codes.While the Philippine government has gotten hold of the assets from many Marcos accounts (especially those in Swiss banks), there are many accounts elsewhere, which are harder to trace. FM Sr’s remaining personal accounts, which are presently controlled by Imelda Marcos, will also surely be passed on to her children upon her death.

So, FM Jr is not merely the son of FM Sr, the dictator. He is his heir; he was a co-conspirator to his father; he has inherited a big part of the loot his parents had stolen; he is complicit in many of FM Sr’s crimes..

“The Vice President Position is not that Important”
Some people say that the they could vote for FM Jr, because it is ‘only’ for Vice President, which is after all not an important position.
While it is true that the position of Vice President is not as powerful as that of the President, VPs yield more power than senators or cabinet secretaries. First of all, a Vice President is often given a cabinet post. She/he will attend cabinet meetings. And since she/he is the only one whom the president cannot dismiss, she/he will be one of the cabinet heavyweights, regardless of whatever portfolio she/he has.

Second, a VP is literally only a heartbeat away from being president. If the president dies or is deposed, the vice president will take over. This has happened three times in Philippine history: in 1944 when Osmena became president-in-exile after Quezon’s death; in 1957 when Garcia took over after Magsaysay died in a plane crash; and in 2001, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo replaced president Estrada after he was deposed.
For this reason, we should only elect a vice president who would make a good president.

Then, the vice presidency is a perfect launching pad for an eventual presidential campaign. Marcos was the VP of Macapagal before he first ran for president in 1965. Erap Estrada skillfully used his VP position for this purpose. Binay  used it for the same purpose.

If FM Jr became vice president, he would also have used the position to gradually change people’s perception of FM Sr and Martial Law.

Most Experienced, Competent
Then, it is said that FM Jr was the most experienced and competent candidate.  In response to this, we could recall how Cory Aquino responded to a similar argument by Marcos Sr (paraphrasing): “I am not as experienced as Marcos in cheating, stealing and trampling on people’s human rights”.  One’s length of stay in office is not an automatic sign of competence, but of the strength of one’s political dynastic power.

Leni Robredo had served only 3 years in the House of Representatives; but she had performed exceptionally well as Representative, with many good bills introduced and advocated, including the Freedom of Information Bill and the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill. Before becoming Representative, she had worked for the Naga City Public Attorney’s Office, and then as coordinator of SALIGAN – an alternative legal support group. Her work brought her in contact with people from many communities, including many outlying ones. She has had a lot of experience.
FM Jr became Vice-Governor of Ilocos Norte in 1980 (after finishing college), and proceeded to take positions alternately as governor, congressman and senator, all based on his local dynastic politicial base in Ilocos Norte (with an interlude between 1986 and 1991 because he was with his father in exile). Having been always in public office, FMJr does not have any experience with what ordinary people feel and want.

What FM Jr seems to have done during his years in public office is to steer clear of petty political controversies and corruption scandals. With literally billions of dollars in bank accounts, and the Marcos unchallenged political dominance in Ilocos Norte, he did not need to. Compared to other political wheeler-dealers who ran for vice president e.g. Chiz Escudero or Gregorio Honasan, FM Jr would indeed seem like a decent choice.

Marcos vs Aquino
One narrative that seems to be quite strong is that Martial Law was mainly about the rivalry between Marcos and Aquino. Under this logic, the administration of PNoy is just the counterpoint of Martial Law (and implicitly was made to be equivalent to it). Thus, those who disliked PNoy and the Liberal Party should vote for FM Jr .

I come from Cebu; and I know that Marcos’ main rival when he declared Martial Law was Sergio Osmena Jr (Serging), who had run against him in the 1969 elections. When Marcos declared Martial Law, the first target was the power base of vice president Fernando Lopez – Marcos grabbed their properties (incl. ABS-CBN and Meralco) – because the Lopez family was the biggest threat to his power.  The outspoken Senators who opposed Marcos were Salonga, Diokno, Aquino and Tanada. Among them, Salonga was the most respected leader. Salonga, however, suffered from ill-health due to the injuries he incurred during the Plaza Miranda Bombing of 1971. It was Salonga who headed a broad coalition of the opposition in its boycott of the 1981 elections.

During the darkest years of the dictatorship, Ninoy Aquino was in exile in the USA. After the 1981 election boycott, Ninoy Aquino realized that if he remained outside for long, he would lapse into political irrelevance. In order to get back into the scene, Aquino decided to return in August 1983. His death on Marcos’ orders (many people now believe that it was Imelda Marcos who ordered it, not Ferdinand) transformed him into a martyr for the Filipino people. He became a rallying point for a wave of protests that pushed Marcos to declare snap elections in February 1986.
When Marcos called for snap elections, it was Salvador Laurel who was the most likely candidate of the opposition. But many of those who were active in the protest movement didn’t want Laurel to lead them. Eventually, the united opposition chose Cory Aquino to run as president. Laurel had to very reluctantly agree to run as vice president.
Thus, the Marcos – Aquino was a small part of the contradiction during Martial Law.

Post EDSA governments chose to emphasize the role of the Aquinos in overthrowing Marcos. Cory Aquino needed to: she was faced with numerous coup attempts against her, and she wanted to honor the memory of her assasinated husband. Fidel Ramos, who succeeded Cory Aquino, emphasized the last years of Martial Law; because in the first part, he was Martial Law’s enforcer.

‘Never Again’
It is of utmost importance that our people are properly educated about the evils of Martial Law. We need to reach out to the young people and inform them about what Martial Law was all about – and not what they learned in school.  We need to revise the history textbooks to give an accurate accout of Martial Law; and that problems with subsequent presidents pale in comparison.

The Marcos-Aquino myth needs to be broken. The story of a whole era of resistance needs to be told. .Ninoy and Cory Aquino should be brought down to earth; their role should be acknowledged, but no longer inflated.

And it is very important to expose FMJr’s personal participation in FM Sr’s crimes. ‘Never Again’ should not only refer to never again having Martial Law. It should also mean that the Filipinos would ‘Never Again’ support the Marcoses bid to return to power.

 

 

 

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Let Overseas Filipinos Participate

Posted by butalidnl on 20 January 2016

The issue of Grace Poe not being Filipino enough to be president is mostly political bluster (or legalistic gymnastics); but it reveals a deep-seated bias of many Filipinos against kababayans who have lived and worked abroad. For these people, Grace Poe’s real ‘crime’ is that she spent some years out of the country. This is ironic: the Philippines hails Overseas Filipinos as its new heroes; but if we try to do more, we are often treated with suspicion as ‘meddling foreigners’.

We Overseas Filipinos do not want to be treated merely as ninongs to the Philippines – whose only role is to give gifts. We feel that remittances should be the beginning of our involvement with the Philippines, not the end.  But there are many barriers to our full involvement.

There are many limits to our economic participation. Overseas Filipinos can only invest in micro (e.g. sari-sari stores or jeepneys ) and sometimes small businesses . Citizenship or residency requirements limit those residing abroad from investing in more substantial ventures.
When we buy real estate e.g. condominiums, we are forced to surrender most of our rights to our relatives. Banks require that we assign signing rights to a relative;  making them virtually the owners of the unit while we are paying off the loan. Even if we happen to be in the Philippines at the time of a signing, our relative still has to sign for us.

In politics, Overseas Filipinos are still a bit disenfranchised. It was only recently that the provision in the Overseas Absentee Voting law requiring us to sign an ‘Intent to Return’ affidavit before registering to vote was scrapped. This provision had discouraged many from registering to vote, for fear of endangering their legal status in their host country.
Overseas Filipinos are not represented in Congress – ideally, there should be a few congressmen who are directly elected from among us. Now, all we have are OF relatives who claim to do so.
Residency requirements completely bar us from running for office. Even in the case of Grace Poe, who has lived the required number of years in the Philippines, people still raise all kinds of technicalities to keep her from running for President.

Natural Born
Some people say that Grace Poe is a naturalized Filipino. She is not. She is a natural-born Filipino who went abroad, acquired the citizenship of her host country (making her a dual citizen), and then opted to renounce her foreign citizenship. She remains a natural-born Filipino.

Many Overseas Filipinos have reacquired their Filipino ciitzenship after the Dual Citizenship Law was enacted in 2002.  Those who reacquire Filipino citizenship are also natural-born Filipinos. Having two citizenships does not make them a lower category of Filipino citizen.
Overseas Filipinos who reacquire their Filipino citizenship do so for a variety of reasons: to vote at elections; to buy land or invest; to exercise a profession. Some do it mainly for ‘sentimental’ reasons – strengthening their feeling of ‘Filipino-ness’. Whatever the reason, OFs do so because they want to be more involved with the Philippines.

Relatives
The government, and most people, think that our relatives could represent us. This is only true to a limited extent. Of course, we love our relatives. For many of us, they are the reason why we are abroad in the first place. But this does not mean that they think like us, or that their interests are the same as ours.
Often, when OFs leave relatives in charge of houses that we build; the relative takes on the effective ownership of those houses. They can make alterations to the house, or they take on boarders or subdivide the house and rent the rooms out to people. When we visit the Philippines, we could not stay in the house because there is no more room for us.

There are many relatives who ask our help in setting up a ‘business’. This is probably a tricycle, a market stall or other micro business. But, most of the time, the business is not managed well: equipment is not maintained well; or there is not enough working capital (because it got spent for ‘urgent’ uses); or they take out a loan, which they cannot repay. In a few years, nothing is left of the ‘business’. Overseas Filipinos know this, and only ‘invest’ money that they can afford to lose, because very often, that is what happens.

In politics, representatives of OF families have run in elections or lobby the government for ‘better’ laws. Actually, the laws they want would be better for themselves, and not necessarily for OFs. For example, OFs would like to do away with the arrangement where a fixed percentage of salaries is remitted to the families. The relatives are very much against changing this arrangement.

Brain Gain
The potential for OFs to contribute to the country’s development goes far beyond our monetary contribution. OFs have gained skills, knowledge, insights, networks, values etc. due to our exposure to the wider world.  In order to unleash this potential, all kinds of hurdles to OF participation in Philippine development need to be dismantled.
If Overseas Filipinos are allowed to directly invest in and run a whole range of companies, it will result in a stream of money that will greatly surpass traditional remittances.

If Overseas Filipinos are allowed to fully participate in politics, it will have a positive effect on the country’s politics, especially that of national elections.

I hope the Philippines makes a start at this. The Supreme Court could start this off by declaring Grace Poe as a natural-born Filipino, declare that her period as a US citizen is irrlevant to her present candidacy, and allow her to run for president.

 

 

Posted in Overseas Filipinos, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Poor Farmers Appeal for a Tractor

Posted by butalidnl on 7 December 2015

Palimbang (in Sultan Kudarat province) is a very poor town, with up to 45% of the people living below the poverty line. Its people have become poor because of war, and had lost hope.
The people of Palimbang have suffered a lot as a result of the Moro wars. The fighting made them evacuate repeatedly; harvests failed resulting in debts and eventual loss of the land. Also, a lot of land was left idle.
Since 2005, Pasali has been working with the people of Palimbang. It has undertaken projects in which Christian settlers, Moro, and indigenous Manobos worked together on projects to improve their lives. Pasali has set up water installations in some communities, helped Manobo children go to school, organizing the rice farmers into associations, and trained them on improved agricultural techniques. It also runs a modest pool of farm machinery: two hand tractors and a rice thresher.
Pasali has introduced the technology of SRI (System of Rice Intensification) which uses 50% less water, organic fertilizer and natural pest control; which costs less and has resulted in richer harvests. This would result in higher net incomes for farmers, and potentially could lift many of them from poverty.
In 2011, the Palimbang Tri-people Organic Farmers Association (PTOFA), asked Pasali to help them acquire farm machinery. Specifically, they needed a Tractor and a Rice Harvester, which can work on at least 125 hectares of land. The machines will be managed by PAIS (Pasali Agricultural Innovations and Services), PAIS is a social business, which will reinvest all of its profits in expanding its services. PAIS will train and manage the tractor operators, and ensure that it is maintained properly.
The combination of agricultural machinery and SRI technology will raise the yield per hectare from 40 cavans for traditional methods (which is what many poor farmers use) to 120 cavans (which PAIS has already attained on land it directly manages).
We are appealing to you to help acquire the Tractor for the poor farmers of Palimbang. Every contribution will help, no matter how small (minimum contribution is 5 Euros, but of course it could be more).
The Project’s link is at
https://www.pifworld.com/en/projects/FarmersoutofPovertythruMachinery/2357
Stichting Pasali

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Living with Supertyphoons

Posted by butalidnl on 10 January 2015

The Philippines has to accept the fact that a supertyphoon will hit the country every year, sometime between November and mid-December. It also has to prepare for it.

In the last 4 years, a supertyphoon has hit the country:
2011 – Sendong – December 15 -17
2012 – Pablo      – December 2 – 9
2013 – Yolanda – November 7 – 8
2014 – Ruby      – December 6 – 10

We might also count Ondoy (September 23-30, 2009) as a supertyphoon. It didn’t have supertyphoon winds, but dumped lots of rain. It did come rather early.

This is unlikely to be a coincidence, or a case of bad luck. There is a reason why supertyphoons happen at this time. It has something to do with the huge amount of heat stored in the Pacific Ocean. In the earlier part of the rainy season, typhoons form in the Pacific Ocean, but they mostly skirt the Philippines, and some of them hit northern Luzon.  Towards the end of the year, a high pressure area forms over China, which is also the source of the amihan (the northwest monsoon).  But there is still heat left over in the Pacific which could still form storms. A typhoon would then form just north of the equator (typhoons forming south of the equator go southwards) using this reservoir of heat. The combination of this excess heat, the low lattitude in which the storm starts, and the amihan blowing from China, combine to form this typhoon.. The typhoon then heads west northwest towards the Philippines; rapidly gains strength, and becomes a supertyphoon. The amihan winds prevents it from heading north, and thus it makes its way to Samar or Mindanao.
Ruby hit too far north and moved too slow over the country when compared to the other supertyphoons. This meant that the amihan winds, and Luzon’s mountains (e.g. Sierra Madre) were able to slow it down and promptly degrade it..

Global Warming
Supertyphoons form because of excess heat that is left in the Western Pacific at the end of the year. This area is warmer than it used to be.
The excess heat theory may also explain why Typhoon Ruby was not as strong as expected. Scientists have noted an El Nino effect in 2014, which usually means that the Eastern Pacific (i.e. US west coast and western Latin America) will get more rain, while the Western Pacific less rain, because currents bring heat eastwards.  If this is the case, there was less excess heat to power up Typhoon Ruby, as compared to previous years. It also means that when the El Nino effect wears out, our supertyphoons may get to be as strong as Yolanda was.

But there seemed to have been some excess heat left over in the area just southeast of Mindanao even after Ruby, And this gave birth to Typhoon Seniang, which hit the country on 29 to 31 December 2014. While Seniang was a weak tropical storm (with maximum winds of 95 kilometers per hour), it brought a lot of rains, And it was deadlier than Supertyphoon Ruby; Seniang killed 65 people, while Ruby 19.

Adjustments Needed
All this means that the national government, LGUs, NGOs, even businesses need to prepare for this end-of-year supertyphoon. All of the Visayas and most of Mindanao can potentially be hit by these supertyphoons. Buildings should be made to withstand winds exceeding 300 kilometers/hour.  Of particular importance would be evacuation centers (sports stadiums, schools, churches), relief command centers (often these would be city halls), and food storage buildings. These should all be sturdy, and located away from areas vulnerable to floods, storm surges and landslides. While it may take years to strengthen all residential housing, building codes should already be upgraded.

The national government should give more powers to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) by including typhoon rehabilitation work in its tasks, in addition to typhoon mitigation. This was the recommendation of Senator Ping Lacson, head of the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) which was tasked to coordinate the rehabilitation work for typhoon Yolanda. Lacson suggests to fold in OPARR’s tasks into an expanded NDRRMC. This makes sense especially with the insight that supertyphoons are going to be a regular occurence.

Other adjustments should be made e.g. ‘rescheduling’ the harvest season so that it ends in October, strictly banning buildings in vulnerable areas, and upgrading LGU disaster response capabilities. Laws should be passed allowing LGUs to commandeer food stocks and other supplies in case of disaster, and to order mandatory evacuation of vulnerable areas in case a supertyphoon approaches.

There would be another supertyphoon that will hit the country in November-December 2015. While we cannot prevent it, we can prepare for it as well as we can.

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