A leader of the House of Representatives on Tuesday appealed to the Senate to prioritize its approval of the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), warning that Philippines might lose more lives if it rejected the bill, a priority legislation of the Duterte administration.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, one of the principal authors of DDR and chair of the House committee on ways and means, recalled that Duterte asked Congress to pass the bill creating the DDR in his four State-of-the-Nation Addresses (SONA)—2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020.
Last month, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco supported the call of Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez and Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez for the Senate’s swift passage of House Bill 5989 creating the DDR.
Salceda, vice chair of the House committee on appropriations and co-chair of the House economic stimulus response package, said the deaths of people and destruction from the onslaught of recent typhoons, including “Ulysses,” must be a reason enough for the Senate leadership to abandon their reservations to pass the DDR.
He stressed the need for the Philippines to have an integrated and comprehensive approach in addressing the calamities and disasters.
Several bills on DDR are still pending before the Senate committees on national defense and security and peace, unification and reconciliation.
He said the current system in disaster preparedness should be corrected through the approval of DDR, which will require an initial P2 billion.
He said Sens. Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson, and Sherwin Gatchalian should reconsider their opposition in light of the continued deaths of Filipinos due to calamities.
Salceda lamented the skewed priorities of the Senate and its apparent reluctance to pass the DDR bill- an important legislation -- when it can initially allocate some P8.5 billion for the construction of its own building at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City.
The construction of the new Senate building project will initially cost about P8.5 billion, consisting of four 11-story towers.
The project is at the 1.8-hectare Navy Village administered by the Bases Conversion Development Authority.
The Senate has been paying rent to the Government Service Insurance System since 1996 for its office and to the Social Security System for the use of its parking lot in Pasay City, amounting to an annual fee of P171 million as of 2019.
Article II, Section 4 of House Bill 5989 proposes the creation of the DDR as 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. Its mandate covers all natural hazards.
Under the bill, the DDR may undertake and implement certain emergency measures in anticipation of, during, and in the aftermath of disasters to protect and preserve life and property and ensure and promote public safety and welfare.
Among these emergency measures are carrying out preemptive and forced evacuation; imposition of curfew; and temporary takeover of any private utility or business, subject to payment of just compensation when there is imminent danger of loss of lives or damage to property.
The proposed law also establishes the National Disaster Operations Center, Alternative Command Centers, and Disaster Resilience Research and Training Institute.
The NDOC is a physical center equipped with the necessary tools and systems to monitor, manage, and respond to disasters in all areas of the country, while the ACCs are command centers that would give supplemental support to the NDOC.
The DRRTI is a platform for providing training preferably on site, and for collecting, consolidating, managing, analyzing, and sharing knowledge and information to improve or enhance disaster resilience.
The bill also retains Local DRRM Offices in provinces, cities, and municipalities and renames them as Provincial, City, and Municipality Disaster Resilience Offices, respectively.
The proposed department has powers to recommend to the President the declaration of a state of calamity, whether in whole or part of an area, in case of an extraordinary disaster wherein the repercussions on public safety and welfare are serious and far-reaching.
This bill also renames the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund created under Republic Act 2 10121 as the National Disaster Resilience Fund to be managed and controlled by the DDR.
HB 5989 also gives the President powers to impose administrative sanctions against local chief executives and barangay officials for willful or negligent acts performed in the implementation of, or compliance with, this Act and its IRR.
Special courts on disaster resilience matters will also be established once this bill is enacted into law.
The House, in the previous 17th Congress, also passed the same measure on third and final reading.
Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, vice chair of the House committee on appropriations, thanked Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco for spearheading the move for a bigger calamity fund under the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.
“Natural disasters are a constant threat in our country, affecting millions of Filipinos and causing billions of pesos in damage each year. While these calamities are unexpected, our funds to address them should always be enough,” Vargas, a deputy majority leader, said.
The House earlier approved a budget of P20 billion for the calamity fund, of which P11.25 billion has already been specified for Marawi rehabilitation and quick response fund of various agencies.
“Given that the country will be experiencing La Niña until March and more than half of the appropriation has been allotted for Marawi and other specific items, the P5-billion increase will give the national government the leeway to respond to as yet unknown natural calamities,” Vargas said.
The House will formally propose raising the calamity fund during the bicameral conference committee on the 2021 general appropriations bill.
In light of the disasters affecting the country each year, Vargas also urged the national government to come up with a comprehensive mitigation, response, and rehabilitation plan for all local government units.
The plan should include provisions for housing, relocation and livelihood for residents living in permanent danger or high risk zones, and assistance to micro, small and medium enterprises, workers and other affected sectors.
“Without a comprehensive plan, the government would just be providing stop-gap measures. The national government should work with LGUs to ensure that the rehabilitation is doable, sustainable, and will protect the localities from future disasters,” Vargas said.
In a related development, Senator Christopher Go on Tuesday called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development to hasten the release of its available funds to help Filipinos in distress whose lives have been severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as recent calamities.
On the other hand, Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the DSWD to fully enforce its mental health programs for typhoon survivors, even after they leave the evacuation centers.
She flagged the ‘snail-paced’ implementation of the disaster-related MH programs since the Department of Health and DSWD reported that guidelines were still being crafted.
“The crisis is happening right now. We need to fast-track guidelines and roll out services immediately. MH is an invaluable part of rebuilding our lives after a crisis. MH issues like anxiety and depression make it much harder for typhoon survivors to recover," she said.
The DSWD explained that the unspent P83- billion balance from its 2020 budget that was raised during a Senate budget hearing have been programmed for the implementation of various programs, activities, and projects for the remaining months of this year.
These include the P40 billion allotted for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps); PhP2.1 billion for its Supplementary Feeding Program for Children; P 2.6 billion for its Sustainable Livelihood Program; P 3.9 billion for Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens; and P 13.7 billion for Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation Program.
The DSWD also emphasized that “these are all programmed funds indicated in the General Appropriations Act, which can only be modified upon receiving an approval from the DBM.”