God is watching us — on Earth’s battlefield
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The sleepy town of Agoncillo was awakened by the wrath of Taal volcano’s eruption. A few days after the lockdown, as the town folk returned and saw the devastating damages caused by the lahar on their homes, they dropped everything to save their Mahal Na Birhen in the church of La Purisima Concepcion. Yes, our people have a very strong faith in God and this is our saving factor – our saving grace. This is the story of the many towns in Batangas and Cavite.

The aftermath of the sudden eruption of the second most-active volcano in the country and one of the deadliest volcanoes in the world – Taal, has shown our youth and the world how compassionate we are as a people. Being a disaster-prone archipelago we never fail to keep that very strong tradition of brotherhood we call bayanihan. Since the eruption, donations from the private groups and individuals continue to flow in. Social media is flooded with pictures and message of donations given out. In every little or big way, our sense of brotherhood never fails. We are An Army of Youth and as the lyrics of the song goes: An army of youth, flying the standards of truth, we’re fighting for Christ, the Lord. Heads lifted high, Catholic Action our cry, and the Cross our only sword. On earth’s battlefield never a vantage we’ll yield. As dauntlessly on we swing! Comrades true, dare and do ‘Neath the Queen’s white and blue, for our flag, for our faith, for Christ the King.

Donation efforts have also been organized by the Philippine Red Cross, the Philippine STAR’s Operation Damayan, Caritas Manila, Akbayanihan Foundation, radio and television networks, universities and private schools, the Rotary Clubs and the good Samaritans. The Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary has also played an active role in collecting donations from the private sector and organizing deliveries to the many evacuation centers. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), more than 53,000 people have been sheltered in 244 evacuation centers located in the Provinces of Cavite and Batangas (Nasugbu, Balayan, Lian, Tuy, Calaca, Calatagan, San Luis, Mataas na Kahoy, Mabini, Alitagtag, San Pascual, Bauan, Cuenca, Malvar, Ibaan, Sta. Teresita, Sto. Tomas City, Padre Garcia,Taysan, Tanauan City, San Jose, Rosario, Batangas City, Tagaytay City, Lipa City and Alfonso, Cavite).

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As of January 16, NDRRMC reported that more than 65,0000 people have been affected; 14 towns under lockdown (Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete,Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, Malvar, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay, Parts of Lipa City, parts of Mataasnakahoy and parts of Tanauan City).

 An estimated P557.59 million damage to crops was also reported by the Department of Agriculture. This covers 2,722 hectares (27.22 km2) that includes 1,967 animal heads and 15,033 metric tons (15,033,000 kg) of fisheries. It also includes kapeng barako and coffea liberica crops, major products of Batangas and Cavite, that have damages worth at least P73.95 million ($1.5 million) for 3,541 metric tons (3,541,000 kg) and 748 hectares (7.48 km2) of land.

In order to restore the infrastructure of a town and assist the citizens in rebuilding their homes, government uses the ‘calamity fund’ approved by Congress. But where is it? Why did Secretary Eduardo Año appeal for donations from the public? Yes, Filipinos will always help. As I said, our sense of brotherhood is laudable but what about government?

Citizens pay for taxes. Taxes go to the services that must be provided by the government. In times like this, the government must be at the forefront of the relief operations. They must provide for the needs of the evacuees. Until now we still lack better systems to sustain evacuation centers.

So what is a calamity fund? It is a lump sum covering the aid, relief and rehabilitation services of a government to communities affected by man-made and natural calamities. It is also used for repairing and reconstructing permanent structures, including capital expenditures for pre-disaster operations, rehabilitation efforts and other activities.

The sad news is that the calamity fund was cut by 11 billion pesos last year. How can you do this? In a country where natural disasters are inevitable why would congress approve this? Shouldn’t the budget even increase? This is probably the reason why Secretary Año appealed for more donations. House leaders said that additional funds could be given to address needs in the relief and rehabilitation operations. The Palace said there are sufficient funds to address the calamity. But Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said the P16-billion calamity fund also known as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) that is part of the P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 might not be enough for the Taal Volcano eruption and other rehabilitation efforts for previous disaster areas affected by past typhoons and other disasters.

“This Taal Volcano eruption is just the first of many disasters this year; P16 billion may not be enough until December. Many of the people affected in the Mindanao earthquakes and by the typhoons that struck Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Mindoro and Western Visayas have yet to rebuild their homes,” the 1-Pacman congressman said. He suggested for the use of other emergency funds specifically pointing out the Department of Finance as having more billions from the $500-million World Bank disaster resilience funds. “Local government units also have their own calamity funds,” he added. But the LGUs say, the calamity fund is not enough to cover for the needs of the Taal victims at this time.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that Congress can pass a supplemental budget amounting to P10 billion to augment the funds needed. The government now has P27 billion calamity fund – P16 billion for 2020 and P11 billion carried over from 2019 – but if it will not be enough, the Senate and House of Representatives can reallocate as much as P10 billion for the purpose. So what are they waiting for?

It is far from over. There is still imminent danger. Ours is a country that is full of challenges brought about by nature. Let us continue to pray.

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