Preview of the Book

GO-NGO Partnership on Disaster Management
(The Bulacan Pagoda Tragedy)

This article was submitted by the author as a requirement for the subject - Public Management 201, Master of Arts in Public Administration, University of the Philippines Open University, February 1999.

Have you experienced a nightmare? When you were forcing yourself to wake-up to escape a terrifying situation but you just cannot move even a finger. You let out a silent scream but the voice inside your head tells you that you may have to do better than that to stop the madness. That’s exactly how I felt. Unfortunately, it was not a dream. The stench of dead bodies, the wailing and mourning was all too real. A stiffening body of a dead pregnant woman followed by a child, carried by military frogmen brought me to tears. I will never ever forget this terrible experience. It was the Bocaue Pagoda Tragedy of 1993.

July 2, 1993, at about 10:00 pm, the nightmare began. It was at this unholy hour that the police car with howling siren came to the house. Preparing me for the unimaginable. As Provincial Administrator, I am the Action Officer of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) and therefore needed in mishaps of alarming magnitude. And this was exactly what the job description of a Provincial Administrator stipulated : "Be in the frontline of administrative support services, particularly those related to the situations during and in the aftermath of man-made and natural disasters and calamities" (Sec. 480 (3), LGC).

At the site of the disaster where my former boss, Gov. Obet Pagdanganan arrived ahead of me, helping hands came naturally. Volunteer radio groups were manning the traffic. Volunteer fishermen reinforced by military divers were doing the rescue. There were volunteer doctors and paramedics. Another group of volunteers were handling the families of missing persons. There were a lot of people who helped in the kitchen to feed the volunteers and those who coordinated the distribution of donated caskets. It was an outpouring of support and volunteerism from our fellow Bulakeños. The site of such touching human drama somehow dissipated the creeping nausea and horror I was feeling.

The final toll was staggering, 269 died in the accident. The tragedy opened the eyes of a lot of people. The LGU’s for one realized they were not prepared and equipped for water-born disasters. Many Bulakeños, were catapulted to action. The following year, the Alliance of Lifeguard Emergency Rescue Team (ALERT) was born. Partnership with this and other NGOs in disaster management flourished over the years. The province also organized its own Provincial Response and Rescue Team.

Legal Bases of LGU Disaster Program and NGO Participation

Disaster preparedness is basically an LGU responsibility. Presidential Decree 1566 promulgated in 1978 highlighted the "state policy of self reliance among local officials and their constituents in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disaster."

Provisions of the LGC of 1991 reinforces the pursuit of disaster management at the local level. In fact, under the Power, Duties, Functions of the Governor (Sec. 465), the code mandates that "the Governor shall... carry out such emergency measures as may be necessary during and in the aftermath of man-made and natural resources..."

Furthermore, R.A. 8185 provided for the 5% Calamity Fund or 5% of the revenue from regular sources as mandatory continuing appropriation of LGU funds for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction in connection with calamities which may occur during the year.

The province’s arm for disaster management program is the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC). It is a special body established under PD 1566 of 1978. This body was recognized under the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 8185 or the Act amending Sec. 324 (d) of the LGC of 1991. It was defined in the IRR as "The existing organization established at the provincial, city, municipal levels created pursuant to PD 1566 to carry out relief operations, rehabilitation and related activities during and after the occurrence of a calamity." The Governor or Mayor is the Chairman, the PNP Head is the Vice-Chairman and all heads of government agencies as members. There was no mention of NGO membership in the original Presidential Decree.

Even then, NGO’s are actively involved in the provision of emergency services in the province of Bulacan. As such they have affiliated with the PDCC’s Operating Teams such as the Relief and Rehabilitation, Communication and Warning, Search and Rescue and others.

It may be noted, however, that this important role of NGOs in the delivery of basic services, has been underscored under Section 34 of the LGC of 1991, which mandates LGU’s to promote the establishment and operation of peoples organization and NGO’s to become active partners in the pursuit of local autonomy.

Bulacan PDCC, the Country's Best

Bulacan geographically, is a typical province in the country : disaster prone.  Typhoons are regular visitors.  Flashfloods occur once in a while brought about by the rain water from the denuded areas of the Sierra Madre Mountains.  Lately, the silted rivers system of the provinces affected by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption aggravated  our flooding problem.  Red Tide menace seasonally affects our fishing communities.  There were years when Food & Mouth Disease (FMD) took its toll on our livestock industry.  Bulacan is one province that never runs short of pyrotechnic accidents every year.

For these reasons and more, the PGB puts disaster preparedness, mitigation and prevention an important provincial concern.

On July 7, 1997, the Bulacan Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) was awarded by no less than President Fidel V. Ramos as the “Best Prepared PDCC” in the country during the 4th National Symposium on Disaster Management in Davao City.  Bulacan PDCC bested 76 other provinces for this award because of its highly innovative programs and project.

One of the reasons for the award was the active participation and mobilization of the private sector in the disaster management program of the province.

Out of the total 72 regular members of the PDCC, 22 or 30% belong to NGOs and the private sector.

They are as follow:


  • PKTODAB – Pedi Kab Tricycle Operators & Driver Association of Bulacan

  • Association of Mega Taxi in Bulacan

  • Three Private Companies with MOA on the Province allowing the use of their heavy equipments in time of calamity.


  • BITAG – Bulacan Integrated Traffic Assistance Group

  • Central Satellite Communication Research Program (CESTRA 211)

  • PLDT

  • Bulacan Spectrum Inc.



  • Marilao Chinese Chamber of Commerce


  • Central Luzon Media Association representative

  • DZRH Correspondent

  • DZMM Correspondent

  • Bulleting Today Correspondent

  • Bulacan Press Club President


  • Bulacan Medical Emergency Rescue Team

Water Rescue

  • Association of Lifeguard Emergency & Rescue Team (ALERT)

Relief Organization

  • Philippine National Red Cross

  • Bulacan Social Action Center (Catholic Church)

Civic Organization / Business

  • Lions Club

  • Soroptimist

  • Bulacan Chamber of Commerce and Industry

ALERT : An NGO Partner

The Alliance of Lifeguard Emergency Rescue Team or ALERT is a group of rescuers with the commitment to respond to emergencies and other disaster operations.  Majority of them are professional divers and doctors.  They conduct continuing training program both for their members and the public.  They respond to emergency calls especially water-born accidents or drownings.

Informally, ALERT has been a member of the PDCC since its inception.  It was only later that their participation in government rescue program was reinforced by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) with the provincial government.

ALERT accepted the offer of the province for the integration of all efforts as maybe necessary to establish a fast and reliable service system during a state of calamity, disaster or emergency.  ALERT will be on call whenever the province need assistance and support in undertaking rescue operation.  In return, the province provides an annual financial assistance for the association, free access to government equipments and facilities and free insurance to all ALERT members.


People exposed to the hazards and inconveniences calamities tend to realize collectively the urgency to bring together all talents and resources possible, regardless of politics or creed, to mitigate the impact of such phenomena on life and property.  That is why the participation of the private sector particularly the NGO’s in disaster management program of the government is not very hard to harness, oftentimes, comes naturally.

The fact that the Provincial Government of Bulacan was able to pool-in the support of the private sector for a task as huge as disaster management exemplifies the great potential of NGOs in developing effective, volunteer-driven services.