Davao City (13 December 2012) — A week after tropical storm (TS) Pablo’s onslaught into the eastern and southern part of Mindanao, the Ateneo de Davao University conducted an initial assessment of its ongoing relief operation. Two separate meetings were called to assess the university’s efforts to send relief and other psychosocial assistance to areas in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, places that sustained massive damages since Pablo’s calamitous landfall a week ago.

On Tuesday, 11th December, the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), through its chair, Atty. Romeo Cabarde, Jr., gathered for a meeting different key university partners and offices which pooled their collective resources to respond to the needs of survivors of TS Pablo. Initial assessment was made regarding the university’s early response of sending relief assistance to Nabunturan, followed by other heavily damaged areas in Compostela Valley such as New Bataan, Monkayo and Compostela, then to the coastal areas of northern Davao Oriental such as Cateel and Baganga. (There are relief operations planned for Veruela and Santa Josefa in Agusan del Sur; as well as Montevista in ComVal and Boston in Davao Oriental).

Karl Ebol, the Community Engagement Officer of the Arrupe Office of Social Formation, gave an update on the key issues discussed during the  Humanitarian Meeting held at the Grand Men Seng Hotel on 9th December, facilitated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman, insofar as these have a bearing on the university’s continuing relief operation. Other areas of the operation assessed were: The packing and repacking of donated goods done by student and faculty volunteers at Ateneo Annex Compound; the situation of Ateneo students whose families are directly affected by TS Pablo, as well as the university’s commitment to assist them cope with the tragedy; the psychosocial services provided for by the university through the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services (COPERS), and the Social Work Department; planned medical mission proposed by the School of Nursing; and the bold plan of the School of Engineering, through the Center for Renewable Energy & Appropriate Technology (CREATE), to deploy solar panels in severely damaged areas (as a response to request by a local government unit [LGU] to mitigate the urgent need of power supply since access to electricity might take another 3 to 4 months), as well as its plan to put up tents as temporary shelters for survivors. The University Research Council (URC), through its chair, Ms. Lourdesita Sobrevega-Chan, expressed openness to funding the solar power initiative as this can also provide significant data for research, especially in looking at its viability in terms of reach and long term use.  Likewise, the meeting gave an update on the status of the university’s continuing fund raising campaign, locally, nationally and internationally.  It also looked into the protocol and logistical preparation when deploying relief operation, and the orientation given to volunteers when they are deployed in the area, among others.

On Wednesday, 12th December, the Office of the President called for a separate briefing to assess the situation on the ground. University President Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ raised the question on the overall impact of Ateneo’s relief operation and its other psychosocial services deployed since day one. During the briefing, he probed on what more can the university do to address emerging concerns pertaining to its overall operation in providing relief assistance to survivors of TS Pablo. To cut through the bureaucratic red tape, and primarily to make sure that the relief goods which the university delivers reach the survivors, fast and quick, the university’s system in the delivery of relief has been coursed through parishes (as these have established networks through the GKKs/BECs) and schools specifically those that are part of the network of the Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS). Fr. Tabora also expressed deep concern over news reports and feedbacks that with a lack of a workable system in relief distribution in some LGUs, or some system that is practically falling apart as it is mired in local politics, some goods delivered by other donor agencies have not been distributed just yet. The issue of Pablo survivors living in far flung barangays not being served by these relief operations (since access to roads has been rendered impossible) was also discussed as a major concern, especially that the focal destination of these relief operations have primarily been the poblacions.

Fr. Tabora made a strong commitment to sustain the relief operation of the university for as long as the situation on the ground remains wanting. While plans for rehabilitation and recovery in these areas hardly hit by TS Pablo are being cooked up for long term impact, the university will intensify its efforts to sustain its relief operation in partnership with its donors. Fr. Tabora reiterated that these current efforts in providing relief assistance, and the university’s future engagements in whatever form (through the initiatives of different units and schools), should become part and parcel of the Ateneo’s advocacy―to bring the consciousness of the entire university stakeholders in embracing this form of service as a constitutive and formative component of how the Ateneo lives its core values and its vision and mission. (By M. Isabel S. Actub, Arrupe Communications & Advocacy)