Unpredictable disasters affecting many people, like the sudden eruption of Taal Volcano in Batangas, demand greater preparation and unity of command, Rep. Joey Salceda said Tuesday.
He said such disasters were precisely what the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience was designed to address.
Salceda, who principally authored the DDR bill and heads the House ways and means committee, said the recent calamities that hit the country, including Taal’s current eruption, “clearly show us the necessity of placing under the DDR both Phivolcs and PAGASA, two vital government warning agencies.”
Salceda made his statement even as Senator Grace Poe again underscored the need for a permanent disaster management department as several areas in southern Luzon grappled with the impact of the Taal Volcano eruption.
Poe said it was time the Philippines had a Department of Disaster Resilience and Emergency Assistance and Management, which she is pushing in her Senate Bill 124 that she filed last year.
“I think the eruption of Taal Volcano gives yet another reason for the establishment of this department,” Poe said.
“We really need a department that has a mandate of focusing on preventing tragedy during a calamity, correct and timely response, and adequate and proper rehabilitation, including acceptable relocation of victims.”
Salceda said Taal’s unpredictability was reflected by the rapid escalation of its Alert warning levels—from level 1 to 3 and to 4 in just a few hours.
“Such unpredictability urgently demands unity of command,” he said.
Warnings and information issuances on Taal’s eruption were compounded by threats of earthquakes and tsunamis, and ashfalls reaching as far as Northern Luzon, demanding broader coordination with various government agencies.
Phivolcs Bulletin No. 12, raising Taal’s Alert level from 3 to 4, recommended the total evacuation of residents of Taal Volcano Island and other areas deemed highly vulnerable to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami within a 14-kilometer radius from Taal’s main crater. It advised areas in the north side of Taal Volcano to guard against heavy and prolonged ashfall, which have actually reached Northern Luzon.
“Volcanic tremor was recorded continuously since 11:00 a.m. and two volcanic earthquakes of magnitudes M2.5 and M3.9 were felt at Intensity III in Tagaytay City and Alitagtag, Batangas, recorded at 6:15 and 6:22 p.m., respectively,” the bulletin said.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that over 450,000 people reside within the 14-kilometer danger zone of Taal Volcano.
Based on recommendations by disaster officials, Malacañang on Monday directed the suspension of classes at all levels and work in government offices in Calabarzon, National Capital Region and Central Luzon, “except front line response agencies involved in disaster response, delivery of basic and health service, and/or other vital services.”
Airplane flights at NAIA and Clark airports were canceled following the eruption.
Salceda reiterated his call for the speedy passage of the DDR bill, which was approved by the House last year and is now pending in the Senate.
President Rodrigo Duterte has designated it as an urgent measure. The bill was stalled for a while by oppositions to its provision that places under the DDR the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical Astronomical Service Administration, which are both under the Department of Science and Technology.
The bill made it through the Lower House with PAGASA and Phivolcs placed under the “joint operational supervision” of the proposed DDR and DOST. The same arrangement was applied to the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fire Protection with the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Two strong typhoons hit the country in the latter part of 2019. “Tisoy” devastated the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions in November, while “Ursula” mauled Central Visayas in December and left behind hundreds of casualties, thousands of displaced families and damage worth billions of pesos.
The twin earthquakes that hit Tulunan, Cotabato, on Oct. 29 and on Nov. 1 last year killed 23 people with 11 still missing, and over 560 others wounded in Regions 10, 11, 12 and BARMM.
Some 72,000 families or close to 400,000 people were affected by the catastrophe. The earthquakes damaged some 49,690 infrastructures in the regions mentioned, plus Region 9. It sent people out of their homes and buildings in shock. Fire and landslides were also reported in the affected areas.
Salceda said the events that followed the earthquakes showed the utter lack of preparedness among all concerned. Numerous dysfunctional responses were also noted, such as call center agents rushing down to the ground floor of buildings from their sixth floor work stations.
“Diffused somehow, uncoordinated assistance responses by state actors clearly require continuous information, education and communications of risk assessments and scenario projections which can best be built into the DDR framework,” Salceda said.