Business groups press for efficient disaster response

Business groups on Monday rallied to an "urgent" call from the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) to press the government for efficient disaster response and preparedness program in face of calamities.

Aside from the MAP, the 18 groups that signed the statement included the American and European Chambers of Commerce, the Bankers Association of the Philippines, the Cebu Business Club, and the People Management Association of the Philippines.

The group said: “We express serious concern about the state of our country’s disaster preparedness that could have minimized the untimely deaths of our countrymen, and avoided massive damage and destruction of property.

“But even as we express this concern, we urge our countrymen to move forward in a coordinated and efficient fashion to mitigate the ill-effects of the recent typhoons and prevent further loss of life and damage to property and the economy.

“We encourage more and better public-private partnerships in making our LGUs less vulnerable to disasters, particularly in implementing extensive disaster-prevention measures, especially as recent disasters appear to be expanding in their geographic coverage and becoming more destructive in magnitude.”

The other groups that signed were the Cebu Leads Foundation, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the Fintech Alliance, the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, Institute of Corporate Directors, Investment House Association of the Philippines, IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines, Inc., Judicial Reform Initiative, Philippine Women’s Economic Network, Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc., Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines, UP School of Economics Alumni Association, and Women’s Business Council Philippines.

Meanwhile, Senator Christopher Go welcomed the announcement by President Rodrigo Duterte to create an inter-agency task force that would focus on fast-tracking recovery and rehabilitation efforts in areas affected by the recent series of typhoons. 

Go reassured the public a whole-of-government approach was underway to ensure sufficient response to the needs of typhoon victims as well as in rebuilding affected communities severely hit by various typhoons the past days. 

Go emphasized that Duterte had been consistent in his top marching orders for all concerned agencies to immediately assist all affected Filipinos, utilize all available resources to restore normalcy as soon as possible, and mobilize the whole government for a holistic approach towards recovery and rehabilitation.

At the same time, a party-list lawmaker pressed anew the Senate to pass the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience after the devastation brought by succeeding strong typhoons.

“We hope our good senators will take a second look at the significance of the DDR bill which the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved on third and final reading last September,” Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera said.

“We can minimize the loss of life and damage to property if we create a single, permanent agency that will bring better disaster preparedness and efficient delivery of government services during calamities,” she added.

Herrera said she intends to write the members of the House contingent to the bicameral conference on the 2021 General Appropriations Bill to increase the allocation for calamity fund to ensure the government will be better prepared in responding to calamities.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Josey Salceda, identified by colleagues as the House economist, expressed support for Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu’s call for a climate emergency declaration, stressing the need for more climate-adaptive and resilient development.

Salceda, chairman of the chamber's Committee on Ways and Means, also heads the Economic Stimulus and Recovery Cluster of Lower House.

In a statement, Salceda said the Philippines must now commit to a foreign policy of pursuing climate justice from the world’s largest polluters.

“The three strongest typhoons on record to ever make landfall – Goni (Nov 1, 2020), Meranti, (Sept 16, 2016) and Haiyan (Nov 8, 2013) all hit the Philippines, a country with one of the lowest carbon emissions per capita in the world.

“We are in a climate emergency. And we need to pursue international justice. We are suffering from a problem we had little to do in causing,” Salceda said.

Salceda in the same statement expressed support for Cimatu’s call for the adoption of House Resolution 535, which declares a disaster and climate change emergency in the country.

Go joined Duterte in carrying out an aerial inspection of typhoon-hit areas, such as the towns of Enrile, Iguig, and Solana in Cagayan province on Sunday.

The President also briefly talked to affected residents in Solana town upon landing. A briefing with national and local officials was held in Tuguegarao City. 

Later in the day, both went to Camarines Sur for an aerial inspection of Minalabac and Bula towns and for another briefing at the provincial capitol with key Cabinet members and local officials. 

The Philippines has been battered with a series of calamities in a span of just two months on top of the health crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

But throughout these crises, Go said that the government has shown that it is on top of the situation.

But despite these notable efforts, Go recognizes the need to institutionalize further the mechanisms necessary to ensure full recovery and rehabilitation while “building back better.”

“Aside from providing help, we must also ensure that everything we do is synchronized, coordinated, and done well. I cannot stress this enough: Government must move as one to ensure that the delivery of assistance is timely, effective, and responsive,” he said. 

While he recognizes the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s crucial role in disaster preparedness and response, Go said that the council still needs help in implementing and monitoring post-disaster recovery. 

Sen. Grace Poe organized a team of volunteers to pack and send relief goods to survivors in Cagayan Valley, one of the hardest-hit regions by Ulysses..

Volunteers from Poe’s office distributed bags filled with rice, sardines, vitamins, and calamansi juice in Ilagan City and Tumauini in Isabela, as well as the far reaches of Tuguegarao City. 

The donations were made through Panday Bayanihan, a non-government organization established in 2013 when Typhoon Maring affected 2.5 million people and displaced 800,000 residents. 

Poe recently filed Senate Bill 124 or the proposed “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management System Act” that enables local government units to go beyond recovery and build communities that are resilient to calamities. 

It also seeks greater accountability by appointing a department secretary to the Department of Disaster Resilience and Emergency Assistance and Management.

This developed as Sen. Risa Hontiveros pushed for the return of a provision in the proposed 2021 budget of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council that will empower the agency to fund disaster prevention and preparedness programs, amid reports that four more typhoons are expected to hit the country before year-end.

“These recent disasters will not be the last to hit the country. We have to invest in disaster preparedness so that loss of lives and property can be mitigated, if not avoided. The 2021 national budget should be our pandemic and disaster recovery budget,” she said. 

Hontiveros said this would allow NDRRMC to use funds for a comprehensive disaster preparedness program’ to ensure “adequate evacuation centers, proper interlocal coordination, regular disaster drills and simulation exercises for evacuation for flooding, and early warning systems”.

She said that the provision would also authorize the construction of permanent evacuation centers that adhere to basic health protocols such as physical distancing, as well as proper sanitation facilities, especially needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, the provision mandates the creation of a ‘special disaster plan’ that will guide the government’s response to calamities in consideration of COVID-19. 

The DDR bill, on the other hand, seeks to centralize the efforts of the government in creating a national Department of Disaster Resilience, serving as the key executive agency mandated to ensure the best, safest, and most efficient means to respond to disasters. 

Herrera allayed concerns raised by some senators about the funding requirements of the DDR bill considering that the creation of a new agency would mean another cost or expense for the national government, especially during this time of pandemic.

“The DDR will be funded initially by the unexpended appropriation of all the agencies absorbed or transferred to the DDR,” Herrera said.

Herrera said some adjustments may be expected while the DDR is being created, manned and empowered, but its benefits will be felt once it has been fully established.

“We can no longer allow for the same problems to occur every storm, every typhoon, every calamity, when we all know we can do better through a central agency,” she said.

She added the additional challenges brought by COVID-19 underscore the need to create the DDR to ensure the health and safety of Filipinos during calamities.

“It is unfortunate that while we are fighting COVID-19, we are also made to experience strong typhoons,” Herrera lamented. “Many were evacuated and placed in temporary shelters, and we have to be really careful that we also do not increase the spread of the virus.”

Cimatu said that early this year, the Cabinet cluster on climate change adaptation, mitigation and disaster risk reduction had approved the resolution that Salceda introduced.

The resolution is supported by several civil society organizations and think-tanks, including the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute. 

Salceda, who was the co-chairman of the United Nations Green Climate Fund in 2013 to 2014, said the Philippines must pursue foreign policy that will hold the world’s largest polluters accountable for the damage caused by the climate crisis in the country.

“I helped the Philippines get accredited with the Green Climate Fund, allowing us to have access to funding from the body. But that’s not enough. The dollar for dollar impacts of climate change on countries like the Philippines must be compensated by the countries that benefit from the causes of climate change,” Salceda added.

According to a 2015 study by the Center for International Forestry Research, Salceda said climate change caused around P145 billion in economic damage in the Philippines every year.

Salceda believes the damage has since accelerated.

He added the GCF was meant to be “an initial mechanism to help developing countries adapt to climate change.”

The GCF Board, under the co-chairmanship of Salceda and his German counterpart, delivered two milestone achievements—the completion of the prerequisites that operationalized the GCF, and mobilization that raised the Fund’s initial US$10.2 billion.

Salceda said however that the Philippines must pursue climate reparations from global powers more aggressively.

“The major powers want to the Philippines to align towards their interests. We are strategically located in the world’s busiest maritime route. We are among the world’s largest English-speaking countries, and a growing market for goods and services. If the global powers want to have deals with us, they must commit to helping us reconstruct from the damage of climate change – which they caused,” Salceda said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon branded as another missed opportunity the country’s ineligibility to access millions worth of grants from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

The Washington-based Millennium Challenge Corp has given the Philippines a failing mark on corruption, rule of law, freedom of information, health expenditures, immunization rates, access to credit, thus the country becomes ineligible for a new aid compact in 2021.

“Another missed opportunity. We missed a great opportunity to get funding aimed at reducing poverty and strengthening good governance,” Drilon said in a statement Monday.

In a statement on November 9, the MCC explained that “The scorecards are a key component in MCC’s annual competitive selection process that determines which countries are eligible to develop a five-year grant agreement, known as a compact, with the agency…To be considered for an MCC compact, countries are expected to first pass MCC’s scorecard, passing at least 10 of the 20 indicators, including the Political Rights or Civil Liberties indicator, and the Control of Corruption indicator.”

The Philippines benefited greatly from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Drilon stressed. 

He said the $434 million aid it last extended to the Philippines during the Aquino administration was used to modernize the Bureau of Internal Revenue to strengthen tax collection, provided community-driven development projects to far-flung and high-poverty communities, and rehabilitated a critical secondary national road on Samar Island.

“It saddens us that the government’s inability to curb corruption has affected our access to critical grants such as the MCC. This underscores the need to combat corruption. Otherwise, we risk losing several funding, grants and incentive programs that can help alleviate poverty in the country,” Drilon emphasized.

Drilon said the year 2021 should be a year for recovery from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the onslaught of typhoons, adding that access to various funding, grants, and incentives such as the MCC could help the country recover faster.

Topics: Management Association of the Philippines , efficient disaster response , American and European Chambers of Commerce
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