Urgency of DDR
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2020 - 12:00am

If the Almighty God allows, the 304-strong House of Representatives of the 18th Congress are set to hold their session today at the Batangas City Convention Center in response to the needs of the people who are currently suffering the catastrophic eruptions of Taal volcano last Jan. 12. That is premised there won’t be any act of God like another explosive eruption of Taal volcano.

As announced by the House leadership, the venue is located in Rizal Avenue, Batangas City “way beyond the danger areas” in the 14-kilometer zone around Taal volcano earlier identified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs). The venue is five minutes away from the evacuation center that President Rodrigo Duterte visited a few days ago.

A symbolic – if not a dramatic gesture – the leadership of Congress headed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano decided to conduct their sort of special session that would start at one o’ clock in the afternoon. Normally, regular House sessions start at three o’ clock at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City. 

In a text message sent to all congressmen, the House Secretariat issued this advisory: “Please note that we wish to keep everything simple in solidarity with those affected by the eruption. We endeavor not to be a burden to our hosts… “As we have very limited time, our Majority Leader will strictly follow the Agenda/Order of Business. We apologize that we cannot allow everyone to speak.”

Convening as a Committee of the Whole, Albay Rep.Joey Salceda told me yesterday their only agenda in their order of business is the several House bills that proposed to create a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR). Included in the priority legislations that President Duterte certified as urgent administration measure, the plenary approval on second and third reading of the DDR bill can be done before the House sessions adjourn today.

Salceda is one of the principal authors of the several DDR bills. He has been pushing its passage into law since Congresses past. The veteran lawmaker from Albay and who served for three consecutive terms as Governor of the province, Salceda is no stranger after all to natural calamities from Mt. Mayon volcano eruptions to devastating typhoons that frequently cross the Bicol region.  

According to Salceda, Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas and other local government officials in the province and the adjoining provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Quezon that were reached by the Taal eruptions, will be given a chance to speak before the House plenary discussions on the DDR bill. Also, the first responders and heads of evacuation centers will be asked to give their first-hand experiences to improve the crafting of the DDR bill, Salceda added.

As of yesterday, Mandanas placed the number of evacuees in Taal volcano eruption has reached around 800,000 evacuees who are currently staying outside the evacuation centers, or with their relatives while 200,000 are in various evacuation centers in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Quezon. 

For a disaster-prone country like the Philippines, the creation of the DDR should have been done yesterday.      It’s still not too late though.

Just like any other proposed laws, however, the DDR bill would still go through the entire legislative mills and must have counterpart bill from the Senate. There are at least six Senate bills similarly seeking the establishment of DDR.

And like any other proposed legislations, there are counter-proposals to the DDR bill.

For one, an advocacy group called Kusog Bikolandia has asked Senator and concurrent Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go who is their Honorary Member, to seriously look into their proposal to create this super body on disaster resilience. Kusog Bicolandia chairman emeritus Noel De Luna argued against creating a new national government agency to handle disaster resilience would only be counter-productive as different government agencies have already their respective mandates in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction responsibilities.

“A super body is better than a new line department,” De Luna cited. In fact, he noted, a number of lawmakers have already called for other ad hoc bodies like a Task Force or a Commission to undertake rehabilitation and reconstruction of the lives of the displaced victims of the Taal volcano eruption.

The Bicol-based regional party suggests that instead of a separate department, they asked Sen. Go to suggest an Executive Order (EO) be issued instead by the President to create the National Disaster And Reconstruction Management Authority (NDRMA) that would be responsible in the over-all disaster risk reduction operations in the country to include reconstruction and rehabilitation works.

De Luna explained the creation of such an “Authority” will simply require an executive fiat and is in accord with the existing Republic Act (RA) 10121 entitled “Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Act of 2010. Under his proposal, the current National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) shall serve as the governing board of the proposed NDRMA with its secretariat led by a Director General who reports directly to the President of the Philippines and who will supervise its regional offices. 

De Luna will do a lot of convincing arguments to sway Sen. Go because the neophyte Senator is among the six DDR bill authors. Sen. Go filed his DDR bill on July 2 last year, or just two days after he got elected at the 18th Congress.

In his latest visit of the Taal evacuation center in Batangas last Monday, President Duterte himself expressed the extreme urgency to provide immediate assistance to all the affected residents. Thus President Duterte is asking instead the 18th Congress to act speedily on the P30 billion supplemental budget this year for this purpose. 

The creation of the DDR is obviously not the answer to this urgency when Congressmen tackle this bill today in their sessions in Batangas. Knock on wood, as we say, but is there any “designated survivor” in Congress should Taal erupt today?

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