RECOVERIES AFTER CHALLENGES. Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson delivers a message during the turn-over of the PHP90-million financial assistance of the National Housing Authority to the provincial government at the Capitol Social Hall in Bacolod City on Dec. 29, 2021. The amount will be used to rebuild homes damaged during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette. (Photo courtesy of PIO Negros Occidental)

BACOLOD CITY – The year 2021 is another challenging period for Negros Occidental since it started and ended with natural disasters that left the Negrenses reeling while grappling with the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

But with the tests also came the triumphs backed up by the resilience of both the provincial government and the residents.

The "Abanse Negrense", the rallying call of the administration of Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, came to the fore as the provincial government heightened its Covid-19 response to rebuild lives and recover from the health and economic crises as well as destruction due to various calamities.

Natural disasters

Last New Year's Day, massive floods hit several localities in northern Negros, particularly the third district, including the cities of Talisay, Silay, Victorias, and the municipality of E.B. Magalona, leaving thousands displaced, and homes and infrastructures destroyed.

A week after, the second wave of flooding happened, affecting more residents in the same area.

Negros Occidental 3rd District Representative Jose Francisco Benitez said construction of flood control structures and implementation of various measures worth PHP1.2 billion has been funded in 2020 and 2021 for affected areas.

Local government units (LGUs) in the third district have also identified priority sites for the implementation of socialized shelter projects as part of a long-term resilient and safe housing plan, particularly for informal settler families.

In June, farmers across the province incurred PHP19.6 million in crop damage and losses brought by Tropical Storm Dante.

Under the Negros First Universal Crop Insurance Program, being implemented by the provincial government in partnership with the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp., enrolled farmers were able to file for indemnity claims for damaged farms.

On December 16, Negros Occidental, mainly the towns and cities and southern Negros, was hit by Typhoon Odette, leaving some PHP6-billion damage across all sectors.

The onslaught left almost 40 Negrenses dead as well as 190,868 partially damaged houses and 65,871 destroyed dwellings.

Less than two weeks later, the provincial government received a financial aid worth PHP90 million from the National Housing Authority (NHA) to help rebuild homes damaged by “Odette”.

Lower Covid-19 cases

After hitting the 4,000-mark active Covid-19 cases towards the end of September, Negros Occidental sustained its efforts to bring down the number and by November 30, there were only more than 400 infections.

As of December 30, the province only has 187 active cases.

Lacson said he believes the Alert Level 2 category is just right for the province.

“It’s still best to continue in the present level and continue to practice the wearing of face mask,” he added.

A cumulative report of the Provincial Incident Management Team showed that from March 27, 2020 to Dec. 30, 2021, Negros Occidental has logged 34,880 confirmed Covid-19 cases, of which 32,962 have recovered while 1,730 have died.

Re-opening of Mambukal Resort

On December 1, the provincial government reopened its mountain tourist site in Murcia town, which has been rebranded as the Mambukal Resort and Wildlife Sanctuary, almost two years after it was shut down due to the pandemic.

Since April 2020, it has served as a quarantine and isolation center for returning Negrenses and Capitol employees found positive for the virus, but the decreasing local cases eventually reduced the need for the healing facility.

“Mambukal is like a symbol of our tourism. By having a soft opening, we’re saying that we’re also opening up our tourism, but of course, we continue to ask our visitors to still practice our minimum health protocols,” Lacson said.

While the resort was opened to the public for two weeks in December, the province temporarily closed the facility for clearing and repair of the damage brought by Typhoon Odette.

Digital health, emergency management system

On July 1, the provincial government unveiled the Digitizing Health and Emergency Management initiative to deliver more effective and efficient health and emergency services to Negrenses.

This integrates three services in a platform that can be accessed by officials and constituents in all the 31 LGUs of the province.

“Covid-19 changed the world and we are called to change accordingly; to act and adapt according to the necessity of the situation. We are taking not just a step, but a stride, in handling this crisis in an adept and consummate manner, with all the knowledge and resources available, and that includes technology,” Lacson said during the launching rites.

Under the Digitizing Health and Emergency Management are three pillars of services – the Negros Occidental Emergency 911, the One Hospital Command, and the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Program.

A mobile application for all three services is also being developed by the Negros Occidental Language and Information Technology Center.

Still ASF-free

Also in July, Negros Occidental marked the second year of the creation of the Provincial African swine fever (ASF) Task Force and commended the efforts of stakeholders for sustaining the province’s ASF-free status amid the outbreak of the hog disease in many parts of the country.

The province still prohibits the entry of live pigs, pork, and pork products coming from Luzon, Mindanao, and Eastern Samar, which all have confirmed cases of swine disease.

The Department of Agriculture has tagged Negros Occidental as a “green zone” or an ASF-free province, making it one of the most trusted and major suppliers of pigs for slaughter in Luzon and other parts of the country.

Award for the wetlands protection program

In October, the provincial government was recognized for its community-based approach in managing coastal resources across 10 localities in the southern part of the province.

The Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Area Management Alliance (NOCWAMA), with its entry titled “Network of Alliances for Coastal Wetlands Conservation”, was named one of the Top 10 winners in this year’s Galing Pook Awards, which recognizes innovative practices by local government units.

“The concern for our environment is a problem of global proportion, but reducing its adverse impact must be done locally. This honor will definitely inspire and encourage us together with all the stakeholders to do better and do more in terms of environmental governance,” Lacson said.

On Oct. 20, 2016, the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area was declared as the seventh Ramsar site (wetland of international importance) in the Philippines. (PNA)