Primed for Preparedness

By Focus FeaturesFebruary 26, 2017

“Profile your community if it lies on a hazard-prone area like fault lines, slopes or shores. Have a Go Bag filled with all the essentials. Always be alert – if you’re on the street, why don’t you check first if someone is following you instead of tinkering with your phone?” – Dr. Ted Esguerra

Primed for Preparedness
PH’s real-life McGyver asks: ‘How ready are Filipinos during disasters?’

If that Great Disaster of the future came – be it in the form of a strong earthquake, flood, or some other phenomenon (whether caused by nature or humans) – Dr. Teofredo ‘Ted’ Esguerra would be the most prepared person in the world. For a man whose life was has been marked by adventure and emergency and rescue, nothing beats anxiety and panic than an overwhelming dose of readiness.

He gave The Manila Bulletin an exclusive tour of his home somewhere in Sta. Cruz, Manila, a community that’s bustling with people and alive with kids playing patintero with no care for the cars traversing its streets. To reach his home (he quickly says that the house is his in-laws’), one must pass through a network of old and new structures built side by side, divided by narrow alleys. It is a peaceful community though, he tells us, and the neighbors would greet each other warmly as they pass the alleys.

His favorite car, a bright red orange 1999 Pajero, has been customized as a rescue truck, parked a few meters from his house.

“I call it Rescue One,” and reveals to us he casually drives it around the streets of Manila. It is quite the eye-catcher. It has been used in countless emergency missions. It has saved a good number of lives.

His home looked very minimalist, yet every fixture, nook and cranny is configured well to handle an emergency situation. A corner near the dining is where the food stockpile is – food that’s meant to last for at least three months. Going up a bunch of backpacks heavy with stuff – they would turn out to be Go Bag Kits for each member of the household.

His bedroom is spare yet near his bed, guns are strategically concealed. The children casually tinker with their laptops and gadgets, if not watching cartoons on TV. He’d call them occasionally during our conversations, asking his youngest daughter to start a small flame using a fire starter. He even instructs his 12-year-old son to demonstrate how to fire a gun, right after disarming it.

When he asks them questions on what they would do in certain dire situations, they answer very casually like they have imbibed it.

“It’s a regimen to remind them what to do if something happens and when I’m not home. I’m always away, yet I am confident they can handle any situation themselves,” he adds.

A Life of Survival

Doc Ted has always had a reason to be on his toes. “I was the son of Bagobo tribesmen, orphaned at a young age. I never knew who my real parents were. I felt that I was always alone,” he shares.

Encouraged by his adoptive mother to take up medicine, his major regret is not being able to use his doctor’s skills to save her life.

“Sometimes, the image of my mother just lingers in my mind even when I turn off the lights,” He reveals.

After graduation, Doc Ted accepted a job at a military airbase in Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen. He first learned about emergency medicine in his job, something that he enjoyed and brought along with him when he returned to the Philippines and whenever he joined emergency missions in and out of the country. He’s been with the Philippine Everest expedition and has gone to medical missions in Haiti and Nepal, among the many places he’s been to.

One of the most traumatic experiences he had while on these missions was seeing a fellow rescue worker getting shot in the head right before his very eyes in Haiti.

“When people are hungry and desperate, they will find a way to survive, and worse comes to worst, they are ready to kill,” he says.

How Ready Are Filipinos?

Doc Ted laments that while the Philippines has some of the most efficient and sophisticated monitoring agencies in the world like PAGASA and PHIVOLCS, Filipinos are generally very lax about and do not anticipate the likelihood of emergency situations.

“It’s this ‘bahala na’ mentality that usually puts us in danger,” he remarks. “How many households have stockpiles? How many homes have fire extinguishers? How many know how to apply first aid and basic life support?”

For Doc Ted, he feels the government should implement emergency measures that should be strictly complied by all.

“I really don’t like convincing people [to prepare]: I think we need to impose. In the some of the Pacific islands [like American Samoa, Marianas, and Guam], if your house has no storm shutter, they’ll fine you. If they see you walking in the middle of a storm, they’ll put you to jail.”

He also feels the need to be scientific with our methods and with what goes on with their surroundings. He gets frustrated sometimes when people are doing the wrong things even during mock emergency drills.

“When one does the Drop-Cover-Hold, one must consider the situation. Is it for an earthquake? Is it for a fire, a volcanic eruption? What if you cover your head but do not see the hazards top, down, and around? Something will fall on your head and you will not know it. It will knock you out and you’re dead,” he explains.

He reminds Filipinos to always come up with an Emergency Plan, starting with the family, with the community and even at work. “Profile your community if it lies on a hazard-prone area like fault lines, slopes or shores. Have a Go Bag filled with all the essentials. Always be alert – if you’re on the street, why don’t you check first if someone is following you instead of tinkering with your phone?”

He ends the encounter with a fatherly advice:

“You don’t know the value of the life of a person, more so the people you love, until they are gone. I’ve experienced that with my own mother and sister, that’s why whenever I can, I try to help others so that it will lessen the guilt I feel for the loss of my loved ones,”

He explains “You will prepare according to how you look at the worth of your family.”