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Philippines: civil-military coordination in humanitarian response
The Philippines, by virtue of its location, is prone to natural disasters. With the trend of increasingly severe and destructive weather disturbances unlikely to change, more communities are likely to be exposed to hazards.
The country has thus developed a comprehensive disaster management system utilized down to the local level to ensure preparedness, effective response and prompt recovery. When a disaster overwhelms national capacity, however, the Philippines may request international assistance, including military assets, to support the national response.
After Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) in 2013, military assets consisting of air, naval, medical, engineering and communications capacities, as well as personnel were deployed from 21 Member States. Thousands of foreign military personnel worked closely with the humanitarian community at the height of the relief operation. With overlapping capabilities and specific missions coupled with cultural differences, the arrival of foreign militaries posed coordination challenges with civilian humanitarian actors.
The military’s role in humanitarian response
In the Asia-Pacific region, military resources are often part of the first response after natural disasters and make a valuable contribution. The prominent engagement of the military in humanitarian operations is a by-product of its unique structure, discipline, training, manpower, equipment and the determination to bolster resilience amidst the chaos.
Coordination among the different actors is critical for sharing information, planning and dividing tasks. This is where the United Nations’ Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination framework helps facilitate interaction between civilian and military actors, which is essential to protect humanitarian principles, avoid competition, minimize inconsistency and pursue common goals.
In the event of a disaster, the Government and affected communities rely on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to be among the first to respond. The AFP has as one of its critical mission areas Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR), and it leads the Search, Rescue and Retrieval Cluster of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). It also provides manpower and logistics and communications support to other government cluster agencies.