“In these parlous times, government resources would be best put to anything other than increased personnel salaries”
Senator Imee Marcos’ sense of timing was perfect.
While the president was in Abra, inspecting the damage wrought by the massive earthquake, she asked him and their cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, to reconsider support for the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience.
True to her Ilocano roots where value for money, sometimes mistaken for being overly thrifty, is characteristic, the senator rued the fact that creating another department will just mean spending on the salaries of more undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, along with a slew of regional and assistant regional directors.
In these parlous times, government resources would be best put to anything other than increased personnel salaries.
The president, who earlier indicated conformity to a long-pushed bill in Congress, based on the number of disasters we experience each year, agreed with his sister, saying that disaster efforts are after all not a matter of crafting policy but one of proper implementation.
There is really nothing wrong with the present set-up of the NDRRMC, other than its long name, which was a modification in 2010 of what used to be the National Disaster Coordinating Council started in 1970.
The Philippines is visited by some 20 typhoons of varying strengths each year, with Haiyan or Yolanda in 2013 setting the world record for its strength and destructiveness.
Many lessons have been learned, and as far as policy is concerned, a comprehensive plan was already made by then presidential adviser Panfilo Lacson with help from both foreign and domestic agencies.
We are in the Pacific Ring of Fire, except for the island of Palawan, and we have from time to time been visited by extremely destructive earthquakes that took a heavy toll in lives and properties, be it in Mindanao, or Bohol, and all parts of Luzon.
The Intensity 7 quake with its epicenter in Abra was about as strong as those in Bohol, the Davao provinces, Baguio and Cabanatuan of recent memory.
We also have active volcanoes, whether in Negros or Batangas or Bicol, and they keep reminding us of the dangers that lurk in their bowels. Even a supposedly extinct volcano, Pinatubo, surprised us and the entire world with its explosion.
Indeed ours is a disaster-prone archipelago, but the creation of another department is not the solution.
The main responsibility should be upon the local governments of the areas affected by disasters.
With their IRA, their property and business tax collections, and now the additional windfall from the Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court, only the poorest municipalities and far-flung provinces would have problems of wherewithal, if only they prioritize spending properly.
Proper communication of plans from the national to the local government units, and from there to every citizen of the locality to be always prepared when disaster strikes, matter.
The mobilization of civilian and military personnel and their adequate training matter. The operative principle is always being prepared for the worst, and considering how disaster-prone we are, we should have forward planning already laid out.
In these days when the first order of the leadership is about right-sizing a hugely bloated bureaucracy, another department for disaster resilience, likely to be staffed by another set of political favorites, is improper.
One does not solve all problems by creating more offices, or throwing more money after bad.
Earlier, Sen. Imee also decried the huge amounts expended by government on out-of-town conferences, seminars, endless trainings, and all kinds of junkets.
Despite so many of these, most of our teachers lack knowledge of basics, and so too many government bureaucrats.
Cities with huge budgets, thanks to their IRA and real property tax collections, fete their barangay chairmen to “learning trips” to Hong Kong, Taipei, Macau, and elsewhere; and barangay councilors to Boracay, Cebu or Baguio.
Is there money to be made in organizing these events, whether from commissions by travel agencies or caterers, resorts and hotels? Likely.
It will be budget season in Congress this month onwards. The economic managers, and the President himself, should coordinate closely with the legislature to make sure that meager resources are well spent.
I was quite dismayed when President Marcos Jr. in his SONA mentioned more “farm-to-market roads” to increase agricultural productivity. These are not what farmers need these days.
In fact, if anyone should bother to add up all the “farm-to-pocket” road appropriations over the last 35 years, the number of kilometers “built” should have brought us close to the moon by now.
And yet, the president himself knows how many hectares of land were irrigated by the time his father left office, and how many, rather how few, irrigated hectares of farmland were added in the 35 years thereafter.
Our annual budget, the single most important piece of legislation produced by Congress each year, ought to be scrutinized not just by our lawmakers, but by the executive department itself, led by its economic managers.
Just as a new owner of a corporation exercises due diligence in taking over, both in terms of financial assets versus liabilities, but in physical inventory as well, we should really do cost-benefit analyses of government expenditures.
Otherwise, we will just end up adding annual increments of say 200 to 300 billion pesos over the previous year’s wastage, and then dun the taxpayers with new and more taxes to cover for such.
It’s comforting to think we have an Ilocano for president. Would that he practice the same value for money ethic of his region, similar to the Boholanos and Cebuanos.