Wanted: ‘Build Back Better’ agency

Jed Alegado
It's time to rethink the role of the NDRRMC and create a dedicated disaster management agency.

The World Disaster Report of 2012 ranks the Philippines as the third most disaster-prone country next to Tonga and Vanuatu. With many typhoons and other natural kinds of disasters and occasional armed conflicts hounding the country every year, the government must prioritize preparedness and reduction of risk from disasters. (READ: Conversations with disaster experts)

The past years saw the deluge of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) which brought about massive devastation in 2009 and claimed the lives of 464 people in Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Rizal and Laguna. Tropical Storm Sendong (Washi) severely affected Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan in Northern Mindanao. In 2012, poverty stricken areas Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley also in Mindanao were hit by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) destroying the livelihoods in these areas mostly composed of banana plantations workers.

The passage of Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010 changed the government’s paradigm shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness. Institutional mechanism was enhanced by changing the mandate of the agency in-charge of disaster management and mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) into local government units. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMMC) from the original National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) became the spine of disaster management in the Philippines, running from national to municipal levels, with cabinet secretaries, the armed forces, emergency services and civil society all represented. Its structure designates four cabinet secretaries as leads for different aspects of the disaster management cycle: Preparedness, Response, Prevention and Mitigation, and Rehabilitation and Recovery. (READ: Urgently needed, a new disaster agency)

BUILD BACK. Rows of tents house evacuees in a temporary shelter in Tacloban City, Leyte. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

NDRRMC: crippled by Yolanda

However, after three years and a host of major catastrophes (Sendong, Pablo, Yolanda, and the Bohol earthquake) that brought about massive destructions to lives and livelihoods, the time has come for the country to have an independent government agency directly under the Office of the President which will work on disaster preparedness, emergency response and management, long-time recovery and rehabilitation to replace the NDRRMC. Sad to say, the NDRMMC is still the same NDCC that has failed us in delivering efficient, well-executed disaster response and management in the past years.

In the case of Yolanda, the unprecedented scale of the disaster and limited sub-national resources (now greatly reduced by the impact of Yolanda) means the government’s capacity to respond at local levels has been overwhelmed. The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) under the NDRRMC is the mandated national government lead in disasters responses. However, President Aquino has assigned various secretaries to similar roles in the response. There are too many actors with no clear designated disaster response lead to set and drive priorities. Thus, the current response management set-up has been hampered by a confusion or weakness in operational leadership.

OPARR and bureaucratic challenges

In the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, the government issued Memorandum Order No. 62 creating the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) for Yolanda which is mandated to be the “over-all manager and coordinator of rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction efforts of government departments, agencies and instrumentalities in the affected areas.” (READ: Philippine laws and decrees on disaster management and risk reduction)

The post which is given a cabinet-rank will allow OPARR Sec. Panfilo Lacson to “call upon any department, bureau, office, agency, or instrumentality of the government, including Government-Owned or Controlled Corporations (GOCCs), Government Financial Institutions (GFIS), local government units (LGUs) and request non-government organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and other entities for assistance as the circumstances and exigencies may require in carrying out his mandate.”

Sec. Lacson, however, would admit later on that his “weak powers make Yolanda rehabilitation harder.” In various newspapers, Sec. Lacson was quoted lamenting the fact that he is “governing through a Memorandum Order which after all, has no legal weight instead of an Executive Order.” It also leaves him powerless over the budget and his relegated his job as merely coordination.

Tasked to oversee the implementation of the Reconstruction Assistance on Typhoon Yolanda (RAY) which the National Development Authority (NEDA) released on December 18, the OPARR is having the hard time in working with other line agencies because of the lack of respect being accorded to the OPARR whose basis of operations is through a Memorandum of Agreement.

Last week, the international community and humanitarian organizations have marked the 100-day mark since Yolanda hit the country. A hundred days have passed since the typhoon hit the Philippines that brought about massive devastation in the Visayas region and nearby areas, and the United Nations, along with other international organizations like Oxfam, has warned the Philippine government of huge challenges that remain unresolved in the Typhoon-hit areas.

In the aftermath of Yolanda, with huge needs such as shelter, livelihoods, health and sanitation, the daunting task of “building back better” cannot be shouldered by one person alone in the person of Secretary Lacson. As part of its mandate, the NEDA has done its job and released the RAY plan last year. However, we know that execution of government plans and implementation of policies can be mired in bureaucratic red tapes and can be subjected to politicking and bickering.

Wanted: ‘Build Back Better’ agency

The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 was a landmark legislation that changed the country’s paradigm shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness and rehabilitation. The passage of this law is laudable. We can still do better by establishing a separate and fully dedicated disaster management agency to oversee preparedness, response, mitigation and rehabilitation and recovery.

Perhaps, it is not too much to ask our legislators to support the pending bill filed by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on having an emergency management agency.

The President can help jumpstart the “build back better” process in rebuilding and recovery in Yolanda-affected areas by prioritizing the creation of a “build back better” agency.

Should the Philippines have a separate disaster management agency? Share your thoughts on the Discuss & Debate section of Project Agos. – Rappler.com

Jed Alegado is Oxfam’s Media & Communications Officer. This piece is the topic of the author’s Governance Innovation Report, part of the final requirements of a Masters in Public Management (MPM) degree in the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG).    

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