COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 20, 2018 - 12:00am

The proposed creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) is now gaining momentum at the 17th Congress. Before lawmakers adjourned last week for recess, the consolidated draft of the DDR bill got the go-signal for its inclusion in the order of business for plenary deliberations at the House of Representatives.

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte strongly endorsed for immediate approval into law the proposed creation of the DDR. In his state of the nation address (SONA) last July 23, the President identified the DDR bill as among his administration’s legislative priority measures.

Certified as “urgent” administration bill, the President likens the proposed creation of DDR to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States. The FEMA was created under the 1978 Reorganization Plan No. 3 in the US. Through the years, the FEMA has evolved from various US government agencies to cope with changing crisis situation. Following the September 2001 terror attack in New York, the US Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 creating the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA became part of its Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate.

Apparently inspired by this FEMA set-up, the former Davao City Mayor recognized the need to institutionalize at the national level an efficient, speedy and comprehensive response mechanism to meet whatever kind of emergency in the Philippines.

Be it man-made disasters or natural calamities, President Duterte underscored the need of such FEMA-like set-up in the Philippines.

At his level, the President has seen the weaknesses of the present system that slow down response, if not in uncoordinated actions of both national government agencies and local government units (LGUs) when such disasters strike, in any emergency situation that arises unexpectedly.

In the proposed DDR bill, its origin actually began with the sunset review in 2015 of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management (NDRRM) Act of 2010 under Republic Act (RA) 10121. A total of 34 House bills and four Resolutions were subsequently filed before the 17th Congress.

These bills were consolidated and substituted in one House bill on July 25, or two days after the President’s SONA. Heeding the presidential appeal, newly installed House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cracked the whip and got every concerned House committees to work double time to get the DDR bill through the legislative mills pronto.

Speaker Arroyo could not have picked the right person to shepherd the DDR bill with the designation of Albay Rep. Joey Salceda whose province is the global model for disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation. For nine years as Albay Governor then, Salceda succeeded to achieve zero casualty during the intermittent acting up of Mt. Mayon and typhoons passing through their province as many times as the country is struck.

Its Senate counterpart bill is authored by Sen. Loren Legarda who is the Global Champion of the United Nations International Strategy Disaster Risk Reduction.

As envisioned by the bill, the DDR shall be the primary government agency responsible for leading, managing, and organizing the national effort to prevent, reduce disaster risk, prepare for and respond to disasters, and recover, rehabilitate and build forward better after the occurrence of disasters.

Lessons learned were drawn from our country’s tragic experience with super typhoon “Yolanda” that killed thousands of people, especially in Samar and Leyte. Salceda noted the national effort under the umbrella of the NDRRM Council – actions of operating leads agencies are currently on coordination basis only and are grouped into four thematic clusters.

The four were: Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for risk reduction, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for preparedness, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for response, and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) for reconstruction.  The Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) – an attached agency of the Department of National Defense (DND) – serves as the nerve center of the NDRRMC.

The abolition, transfer, and attachment of other related government agencies in the new Department is a vital step to make it fully capable in performing its disaster risk reduction management (DRRM) functions, Salceda pointed out. The creation of DDR, he said, will hopefully resolve recurring bureaucratic issues and challenges that hamper government taking quick action on such national and local emergency situation.

Sadly though, even before this FEMA-like structure is created here, DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña has already objected to losing to DDR its two attached agencies, namely, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Peña vehemently threatened to resign his Cabinet post should he lose PAGASA and Phivolcs to DDR. Actually, these are just two agencies out of a total of 18 collegial, scientific, and technological agencies attached under him for supervision as DOST Secretary, aside from the 16 regional offices of the DOST under him.

Besides, it’s not only the DOST losing its attached agencies. The soon-to-be-created DDR will absorb the DRRM functions, assets, and funds and personnel of the OCD; the Bureau of Fire Protection of the DILG; the Climate Change Office of the Climate Change Commission; and the Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).  Also, the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health, and the Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau of the DSWD will be abolished and their powers, functions, and personnel will be transferred to the DDR.

The creation of DDR, however, does not entail additional funds. The budgets of government agencies to be absorbed to it would have a total of P51.1 billion start-up budget.

Hence, this FEMA-like bureaucratic creation called DDR deserves support.

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