"The Batangas session produced valuable suggestions from those directly hit by the disaster."
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano may have once again attracted his fair share of abuse from bashers in both mainstream and social media for his recent move to hold a session of the House of Representatives in Batangas last Jan. 22. However, it looks like it's his damn-the-torpedoes-full-steam-ahead leadership style that's at work here.
What was his rationale for convening the Committee of the Whole at the Batangas Convention Center?
Simply this: To hear first-hand what had to be done to respond to the needs of evacuees who had been forced to leave their homes following the Jan. 12 Taal Volcano eruption.
Cayetano said the lawmakers would “listen to the first responders, listen to those who are directly affected” by the eruption. "It is time for us to act. But it is also time for us to listen," he added. This, he explained, is part and parcel of his wish to transform the Lower Chamber of Congress into the "House of the People."
And this explanation got the support of his colleagues, with a total of 204 members in attendance during the plenary session in Batangas, which was the first time the House held an out-of-town session. Transporting the House of Representatives for a session in a disaster-stricken location was done for symbolic reasons, Cayetano later said, and reflected the lawmakers’ genuine compassion for the eruption victims.
After all, going to right where help for people in distress was urgently needed was the practical thing to do.
The Batangas session produced valuable suggestions from those directly hit by the disaster. The concerns raised there would serve as input for the lawmakers to craft a long-term rehabilitation plan for the Taal-affected communities.
Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, chair of the House committee on disaster management, has been tasked to oversee the formulation of this plan in coordination with other House committees, particularly those on agriculture and food, social services, tourism, health, basic education, housing and urban development, local government, micro, and small and medium enterprise development, among others.
The lawmakers will also seek the cooperation and expertise of various government agencies and the private sector in crafting the rehabilitation plan.
While the House cannot be first responders, Cayetano emphasized, it can harness the vast network of 300 members and obtain the support of other government agencies to help put together a long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction plan for the Taal-affected areas.
The Batangas session adopted two resolutions. The first, HR 655, urges the immediate release of funds for the aid, relief, resettlement, rehabilitation, livelihood, development and social programs and services to communities adversely affected by the Taal volcano eruption. It also directs the appropriate House committee to immediately call the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to a House committee briefing to assess the situation and determine the needs of the affected localities and the total budget requirements to address the calamity.
The second, HR 662, expresses the support and commitment of the House to work with all the concerned government agencies to pass the proposed supplemental budget to facilitate the effective and responsive assistance to those affected by the volcanic eruption.
Cayetano assured the people of the full support of the House to the President’s request for a P30-billion supplemental budget to augment the funds needed to assist the areas affected by the volcanic eruption. The House will also determine if the amount is sufficient so that it can increase the supplemental budget if necessary.
The existing P16-billion national disaster risk reduction and management fund is obviously not enough to cover the requirements of the Taal evacuees because part of this amount is already allocated for the rehabilitation of Marawi City, while another portion would be spent to aid earthquake victims in Mindanao last year. About P7.5 billion would be left under the fund.
Local government officials and evacuees expressed their gratitude to the lawmakers for holding the plenary session in the province, which gave them the opportunity to personally ventilate their urgent concerns and uncertainties about their situation.
The evacuees, local officials and congressional representatives from Batangas also welcomed the efforts of the House to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for communities affected by the volcanic eruption.
Apart from developing a rehabilitation plan, the House also wants to fast-track approval of the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience. This has gained much urgency considering that the country is among the most vulnerable to natural calamities and the devastating effects of climate change. The House Committee on Appropriations has already approved the funding provisions required under the still-unnumbered substitute bill creating the DDR.