The devastation wrought over the weekend by Supertyphoon “Rolly” on Southern Luzon, particularly the Bicol region, has revived once more the proposal to create a separate Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).
The President himself pressed Congress to pass the proposed DDR bill in his State of the Nation Address in July last year, and said that such department would ensure the safety of Filipinos during calamities.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda similarly batted for a separate disaster agency, arguing that “the complex planning required in disaster preparedness is simply too important to be consigned to a mere coordinating body.” Salceda was of course referring to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), which oversees disaster response from various government agencies.
Under the proposed measure, the DDR is mandated to be the primary government agency responsible for “leading, organizing, and managing the national effort to reduce disaster risk, prepare for and respond to disasters, recover and rehabilitate, and build forward better after the occurrence of disasters.”
While this projected mandate sounds good on paper, some logistical issues must be addressed, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson who shot down the measure in this week’s Senate hearing.
Though he acknowledged that “a council-type organization like the NDRRMC has a very limited capability mainly because it is merely coordinative,” Lacson also cited the “impractical” aspects of the proposed DDR.
Aside from adding another layer to an already “bloated” bureaucracy, a new department would also cost the government at least P1.5 billion to set up, and billions more for the salaries, capital outlay, and operational expenses, Lacson noted. “Would it be feasible, and will there be proper funding for it?” he asked.
According to data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), a new department will require at least P595 million for salaries, another P299 million for maintenance and operating expenses, and P173 million for capital outlay, among others. Given the government’s projected lean tax collection because of the pandemic’s dampening effect on business, such additional expense might go a longer way if channeled to jumpstarting the economy.
Well, then, how about strengthening already existing agencies tasked with disaster response, like the Office of Civil Defense and the NDRRMC, as suggested by Sen. Franklin Drilon? It would work—if only lawmakers appreciate the critical functions of these agencies.
In January this year, during a hearing on disaster preparedness amid the unexpected eruption of Taal Volcano, Lacson pointed out how the bicameral committee of Congress had slashed as much as P4 billion from the P20-billion calamity funds that the Senate had earmarked for the NDRRMC for 2020.
The lack of support is also apparent in the inadequate appropriation given the newly-created Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, added the senator.
Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. suggested slapping together a task force “like Task Force Bangon Marawi” to address the problem—which is laughable, considering that three years after that group was formed to facilitate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in Marawi, the city remains in ruins. Yet another task force to rebuild Bicol (and Calabarzon) only suggests more governmental bloat. Bicol, after all, given its perennial experience with typhoons, should know more than most when it comes to picking itself up after disasters.
Albay, for instance, was declared a “Global Local Government Unit (LGU) model for Climate Change Adaptation” by the United Nations and the World Bank in 2008. The award recognized the province’s bold innovations in disaster risk reduction, among which was developing a curriculum to teach climate change adaptation (CCA) from the primary level starting 2010, organizing various information and communications campaigns on the issue, and partnering with several government agencies, scientific organizations, international and local nongovernment organizations, as well as the private sector to implement CCA strategies.
The furious debate over proprietorial rights to the proposed department should surface lessons learned from previous calamities, where the timely and preemptive response of LGUs, their leadership, and the can-do spirit it generates among those affected have valiantly carried ravaged communities toward recovery and rehabilitation.
More than a peremptory task force or an expediently organized agency sucking up limited funds, might it be better for the national government to beef up its support for local leaders and the private sector which, despite limited resources, have consistently converted calamities into opportunities to move forward?
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