Creation of Taal Commission pushed

Cecille Suerte Felipe, Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
Creation of Taal Commission pushed
Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto plans to file a bill creating a Taal Commission, which would be similar to the Pinatubo Commission that helped victims of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption get back on their feet.
Geremy Pintolo File

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers called yesterday for the creation of a commission or task force that would oversee the rehabilitation and recovery of areas in Batangas and Cavite affected by Taal Volcano’s eruption.

Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto plans to file a bill creating a Taal Commission, which would be similar to the Pinatubo Commission that helped victims of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption get back on their feet.

In the House of Representatives, leaders urged Malacañang to immediately create an inter-agency body or task force that would centralize efforts to address the crisis spawned by the volcanic activity.

Recto said he is reviewing Republic Act No. 7637 that created the Pinatubo Commission and appropriated P10 billion for aid, relief, resettlement, rehabilitation, livelihood services and infrastructure support in Pampanga.

The senator, who hails from Lipa City, Batangas, underscored the need for sufficient funds to bankroll the rehabilitation of parts of Batangas and Cavite adversely affected by Taal Volcano’s eruption. “Rehabilitation takes a while,” Recto said over radio dwIZ.

He said one challenge in crafting the bill at this time is determining the fund appropriation, since authorities have yet to establish the extent and cost of the damage caused by the eruption.

“Affected towns are still unreachable. There was an initial estimate in the damage in agriculture with P3 billion while NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) made an estimate of P7 billion to P8 billion,” Recto said.

He said the Pinatubo Commission had a fund of P10 billion when it was created in 1992. “But the worth of P10 billion then is different now,” the senator said.

He noted that if each of the 450,000 people displaced by the volcanic activity was to receive P100 worth of support per day, it would amount to P45 million daily.

Such an amount will easily deplete the calamity funds of concerned local government units (LGUs).

P100 B needed

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House ways and means committee, agreed to the proposal and pushed for a funding of P100 billion to get the rehabilitation work done.

He said the recovery and adaptation plan should be managed by a commission to transform affected areas into better communities just like what the government did in Clark after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga.

He said the government would need about P100 billion to rehabilitate and rebuild cities and towns damaged by the eruption, citing his experience during the eruption of Mayon Volcano in his province.

For his part, Recto echoed Sen. Sonny Angara’s earlier pronouncement that the government can tap P707 billion in unutilized funds from the 2019 national budget to address the needs of the thousands displaced in the towns surrounding Taal.

Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero also said the creation of a task force for Taal was in order.

He cited the need to centralize efforts to rebuild cities and towns hit by the calamity while Congress has yet to work on the proposed creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

“While we do not have yet a DDR, a task force to implement an inter-agency Taal rehabilitation, recovery and livelihood program will do for now. Housing, jobs and livelihood should be the key result areas of the program and its implementing task group,” Romero suggested.

The House leader said Human Settlements Secretary Eduardo del Rosario can be designated task force head while the secretary of the DDR – once created by law – can be named co-chair.

Romero stressed that the proposed task force should also include officials from the Departments of Finance (DOF) and Budget and Management (DBM) “to make sure the task group is adequately funded.”

“We should not let this Taal Volcano eruption become another disastrous and scandalous relief, rehab and recovery program, just like what happened in Yolanda,” he said.

Salceda said creating a DDR is also necessary to better address calamities like the Taal Volcano eruption in the future.

“It could have been better (with a DDR in place),” he said of government’s response to the crisis in Taal. “As you can see now, affected communities are evacuating but don’t really know where they should go.”

“Let’s pass the DDR and put Phivolcs and Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) under the DDR,” he said.

Price manipulators hit

Meanwhile, Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian pushed for amendments to the Consumer Act and the Price Act in order to impose harsher penalties on violators, especially during times of calamities.

Gatchalian, chair of House committee on trade and industry, said he visited the towns affected by the eruption and discovered how some businesses took advantage of hapless consumers.

“In the case of the Taal Volcano eruption, those profiteers are illegally taking advantage of the environmental conditions in Batangas and the surrounding areas to make unfair price increases,” he said.

Gatchalian also pushed for the law prohibiting donations of milk and similar items to be revisited.

Executive Order 51 (the Milk Code), issued by former president Corazon Aquino in 1986, is the law that protects and promotes breastfeeding in the Philippines. But it also regulates the industry of formula milk and other milk products.

“There are hundreds of infants in evacuation centers who need milk and other substitute formula, we should be able to make use of them especially if there are those willing to donate,” the congressman said.

NDRRMC assessment

Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said there is a need to constitute a congressional oversight committee on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Act amid government’s response to the calamity.

NDRRMC’s performance should be reviewed by a committee composed of six members of the House and six from the Senate, said Lacson.

“The purpose of this – within five years or as the need arises within that time – is to revisit and audit the accomplishments (of the NDRRMC) and impact of the law to disasters and the public,” said Lacson in Filipino over dwIZ yesterday.

This is also in light of the pending bill to create the DDR, which should be thoroughly discussed and tackled in Congress, he said.

At the same time, the committee will take the opportunity to discuss amendments to the Human Security Act in a bid to strengthen the anti-terrorism law, he added.

SIM card registration

His elder brother Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, underscored the need for a SIM card registration law as a deterrent for rumor mongering and spreading hoax text messages that confuse the public about the situation in Taal.

The senator said mandatory registration for prepaid SIM cards will make it easier for authorities to track the perpetrators of fake news and make them accountable for their actions.

Gatchalian cited Republic Act 10639, the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, which imposes a fine of up to P10,000 and imprisonment of up to six months for persons who spread false or misleading data or information in times of calamities.

But in filing Senate Bill 176 (the Subscriber Identity Module Card Registration Act) last year, he wants SIM card users identified and their information transmitted to the National Telecommunications Commission.

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