LGU calamity funds was Sen. Tito Sotto’s creation 26 years ago | Inquirer Opinion
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LGU calamity funds was Sen. Tito Sotto’s creation 26 years ago

/ 04:00 AM January 04, 2022

The devastating supertyphoon Odette and the two-year long COVID-19 pandemic both triggered declarations of “state of calamities” by the national government and LGUs. By using standby calamity funds, a LGU’s disaster response and management during disasters became quick and efficient.

These funds are sourced from 5 percent of the local government unit’s estimated annual revenues from regular sources. Under the amended 1991 Local Government Code, these are allocated for relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and other works or services in a post-disaster scenario.

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You may not be aware, but this timely and helpful amendment of “standby calamity funds” for LGUs was created many years ago by no less than Senate President Tito Sotto. As majority floor leader then in the 10th Congress, Sotto introduced the establishment of local calamity fund under Senate Bill 1220 that was eventually enacted as Republic Act 8185 on June 11, 1996.

In recollection, Senate President Sotto said he introduced the amendment to quicken the LGUs post-disaster response, allowing the use of calamity funds based on their own declaration of “state of calamity”, without waiting for Malacañang’s official announcements.

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Sotto cited his experience as Quezon City vice mayor when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and people from Pampanga sought refuge in his city. The LGU responded by buying food supplies, mattresses, and other basic needs of the refugees. However, the city can only spend their meager budget savings. The Commission on Audit (COA) did not allow the use of their calamity fund because the disaster was in Pampanga, not QC, he said.

Senator Sotto said one of the first bills he filed as neophyte senator in 1992 was to amend the Local Government Code and give city or municipal or provincial governments the discretion to declare a state of calamity and tap their calamity funds.

Touché Senate President Sotto! Good thinking there. The authority to dispense their calamity funds now give LGUs the upper hand in addressing the needs of their distressed people and timely responses to disasters. Thank you, Senator for that smart amendment!

Repeal RA 10121, or the Disaster Law

The massive damage and the subsequent loud cries for immediate help by victims of Odette exposed the weakness of another law, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, or RA 10121.

Under this law, an evaluation and assessment of reports in disaster areas by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) are first required before a state of calamity is declared.

But Odette devastated more than six regions, killing more than 400 people and displacing one million families. The massive damages was so extensive in almost all areas making NDRRMC unable to immediately declare a state of calamity.

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“They were too busy providing relief, rescuing and counting dead bodies in the typhoon-stricken areas”, President Duterte said. “The long wait for the delayed “state of calamity announcement” became a hindrance and legal obstacle and the national government cannot act and help immediately the LGUs which were all devastated by the typhoon.

The ideal situation is that in massive disasters or related emergencies like this, national government funds should be available even before the state of calamity is declared. But RA 10121 does not allow that, and therefore needs to be repealed or amended.

This law was passed during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time on May 27, 2010, or almost three years before Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) killed thousands in Tacloban, Leyte, in November 2013. No wonder, government response then under the late President Noynoy Aquino was also criticized particularly in immediately providing basic necessities such as food, water and shelter to the victims.

And clearly, Congress may be remiss on why this flaw of “evaluation and assessment requirement” was not amended. Instead, we were hit again, this time by Odette maybe to rouse our sleeping legislators who I think are more engrossed on their distorted priorities.

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