The Philippines has experienced countless natural and man-made disasters, each one stronger than before, leaving thousands of casualties and missing loved ones.
The country has endured 274 natural calamities affecting 130 million people in the last two decades, according to a study funded by The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The increasing number, intensity, and casualties caused by major disasters have highlighted the need for a proper information dissemination on the Management of the Dead and the Missing (MDM).
MDM focuses on the proper care, protection and management to the retrieved human remains and missing calamity victims. It is a disaster response for both the living and those who perished, the rescue and care of survivors, and the provision of essential services.
The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), together with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and Christian Aid – Philippines, seeks to bring a better understanding to this often overlooked component of disaster response.
Sensitization sessions were conducted in Eastern Visayas, Metro Manila, and Lanao Del Norte to capacitate local government, civil society organizations, and disaster responders on the principles of MDM. These discussions have instilled a new-found appreciation for MDM, especially to the Ormoc City Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) Team.
Capacitating duty bearers
Ciriaco Tolibao II, head of Ormoc City DRRM Office, said that managing the dead and the missing is one of the most challenging responses after a major disaster.
“We were aware that we needed to manage the dead and the missing. Besides the fact that we don’t have specifics, we had minimal knowledge and lacked a suitable process on how to manage the victims,” Tolibao recounted.
Fatima Ebcas, a responder from Ormoc City, expressed guilt when they realized that their process was unsuitable in responding to major disasters. She was glad, however, when they learned the proper protocols during the Sensitization Forum.
She cited the 1990 Ormoc Flashflood where their local government was unequipped in the management of dead bodies or management of a huge number of casualties. The local government unit at that time buried the bodies in a mass grave, which they learned from the Desensitization Forum later, is not encouraged.
“In all the years we had to manage casualties, we wanted to learn more about the proper management of the human remains considering victim identification. So, when IDEALS invited us to the workshop, it was like an answered prayer,” she shared. “When I learned the dynamics of MDM I said to myself that I needed to let my co-responders know this. In the SRR (Search, Rescue, and Retrieval Cluster), we tend to save lives and retrieve the dead, but I learned that we needed to be more careful in retrieving the bodies to preserve any biologic identifiers.”
Tolibao said that they are “definitely readier” because they know their roles and responsibilities. At the same time, they can impart their knowledge and best practices to every rescuer.
Integrating advocacy in policy
Other than capacitating the local duty-bearers, it must be ensured that current efforts to communicate the importance of proper handling of the dead and missing will reach future generations.
With the help of IDEALS, Executive Order No. 61 series 2017 was approved and signed by Ormoc City Mayor Richard I. Gomez last December 22, 2017. This policy ensures that a total of Php 1.8m is dedicated for MDM this 2018.
For Ebcas, the integration of MDM in their local budget and the dissemination of information to other actors are crucial steps to sustain the integration of MDM in local disaster responses.
MDM is not just to provide and protect the rights of the dead and missing calamity victims. It also aids the bereaved families so they can undergo the proper grieving process for the untimely demise of their loved ones due to disasters.
“I really feel that MDM Sensitizations should be delivered in a wider audience. I believe that the more people know what to do, the better,” she added.