New Senate bill seeks to create new DRRM agency
MANILA, Philippines – Citing the “insufficiency” of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), the Philippine agency tasked to prepare for and respond to natural calamities, Senator Teofisto Guingona III filed a bill that seeks to transform the NDRRMC into a separate government agency and give it more power to handle major disasters.
Guingona filed Senate Bill 2417, which acknowledges that “The institutional set-up…as it exists today is insufficient to respond to disaster risks with magnitudes covering broader segments of the country." Executing recovery and rehabilitation efforts will "require huge financial and manpower support,” Guingona said in the bill's explanatory note.
NDRRMC was transformed from being the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to its current structure through Republic Act 10121. It is currently under the Department of National Defense (DND) with the defense secretary acting as its chairperson. (READ: FAST FACTS: The NDRRMC)
If made into law, SB 2417 would transform NDRRMC into the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority (NDRRMA) and would “serve as the primary arm of the national government on disaster risk reduction.” It would have the same status as that of a national government agency attached to the Office of the President.
Several bills are pending in the Senate and in the House of Representatives to amend RA 10121. Among the proposals seeking approval is Senate Bill No. 1940 or the Emergency Response Department Act of 2013, authored by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. (READ: UP Forum: Should there be a new disaster agency?)
SB 2417 seeks to reorganize the current structure of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), the office in charge of implementing RA 10121.
The new NDRRMA shall be headed by a director-general and 3 deputy director-generals. The body will have the following responsibilities, among others:
- Formulate and implement the NDRRM Plan, submitted to Congress for approval
- Develop and ensure the implementation of national standards in carrying out DRRM programs
- Ensure that Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officers (LDRRMOs) adhere to national standards
- Provide technical assistance and necessary resources to increase LGU capacity
- Establish DRR learning institutes
According to the bill, the NDRRMC – composed of cabinet secretaries – will still have supervisory powers over the NDRRMA. The council will develop the country’s DRRM framework while NDRRMA will be tasked to implement it.
Much needed reform?
According to Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) Dean Antonio La Viña, the bill will bring much needed reform to the country’s DRRM framework. He said the bill is expected to bring “positive” and “substantial” impact on how the government responds to disasters.
“It will make it possible for us to respond faster and more effectively to major disasters that have a wider impact. We will finally be able to plan for disasters properly and make sure we implement disaster risk reduction programs,” La Viña said.
The government’s response to disasters had been widely criticized for being slow. The Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) rehabilitation plan, for example, was only approved 9 months after the super typhoon ravaged parts of the Visayas.
La Viña said the current DRRM governance system is “a disaster in itself.”
“Undersecretary Alex Pama (OCD) is brilliant, competent, and a good implementor. Secretary Ping Lacson (OPARR) is decisive and a doer. But both are in positions and in systems that are designed to fail,” La Viña said.
He added: “Until we change those systems, Ondoy, Sendong, Pablo, Yolanda, etc. will just be repeated.”
Mechanism for international response
According to Guingona, the creation of the NDRRMA would also push for more transparency in disaster response and rehabilitation. Among the agency’s mandates is to “serve as the central coordination mechanism for donations with the corresponding responsibility to maintain and make publicly available a complete, accurate, timely and separate record of donations."
In a recent report by the Commission on Audit (COA), foreign aid for Yolanda-affected areas did not reach victims since it was not utilized by the NDRRMC. The donations remained intact with the depository bank. Many survivors felt abandoned despite the deluge of international assistance and funding.
If approved, the NDRRMA will be tasked to create detailed guidelines for monitoring foreign donations and making sure they reach the victims.
Foreign donations of food, clothing, medicine, and equipment will also be exempt from taxes in accordance with Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.
SB25417, if approved, will also streamline the budget allocation for the country’s disaster response, mitigation, and adaptation plans. It will make budget appropriation and access to funds from the national to the local levels easier.
Local government units (LGUs), under RA10121, set aside at least 5% of their estimated revenue from regular resources to support disaster preparedness programs and post-disaster activities. Around 30% of the LDRRM fund is allocated for stand-by funds for relief and recovery programs. (READ: The role of LGUs, local councils during disasters)
National government agencies are allocated their own DRRM fund for their own projects.
“The new agency would have to be given significant resources that’s not contingency-based. But this is so worth it, given that we are faced with major disasters annually,” La Viña concluded.