House okays bill creating Department of Disaster Resilience

Mara Cepeda

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House okays bill creating Department of Disaster Resilience
But Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas opposes the bill for giving 'extraordinary powers' to the new secretary of the Department of Disaster Resilience

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives approved on Monday, October 1, the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DRR). 

Lawmakers voted 181-5-2 to approve House Bill (HB) No. 8165 on 3rd and final reading. The measure was approved on 2nd reading on September 18. 

Under the bill, DDR would primarily be responsible for overseeing and coordinating the preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of disaster and climate change resilience plans and programs.

HB 8165 also seeks to establish the National Disaster Resilience Council, which shall serve as the department’s policy advisory body on disaster risk and vulnerability reduction, emergency management, and climate change adaptation.

The bill would also order the creation of the Prevention, Mitigation, and Preparedness Fund, which shall be used to support programs for climate change adaptation, disaster risk prevention and mitigation, disaster risk transfer, and disaster preparedness of 3rd to 6th class provinces and municipalities. 

President Rodrigo Duterte had asked Congress to pass a bill creating the DDR.

He said the proposed department, which would have more powers than the current National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, would help the country respond faster to natural and man-made calamities. 

The House approved the DRR about two weeks after Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) devastated parts of Luzon, killing at least 95 people and affecting at least 1.4 million residents.  

The typhoon also triggered deadly landslides in the Cordillera Administrative Region, taking the lives of 120 people. A total of 94 people have been recorded dead in Itogon, Benguet because of the landslide there. (READ: Itogon tragedy: Disaster response gone wrong)

What happens to existing disaster-related agencies and bureaus? Under the bill, the “applicable” powers, functions, and funds of the following agencies would be transferred to the DDR:

  • Office of Civil Defense
  • Climate Change Office
  • Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau
  • Health and Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health
  • Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development
  • Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)

The BFP, however, would remain a “distinct entity” within the proposed department, including BFP employees and officials’ uniformed personnel status and benefits.

The Climate Change Office of the Climate Change Commission would also continue to serve its functions, but would be an office under the DDR.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration as well as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology would become attached agencies to the proposed department. 

Separation pay and other benefits would be given to officials and employees who would be affected by the transfer of agencies and bureaus. 

Why oppose the DRR bill? Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlenes Brosas, however, strongly opposed the bill for the “extraordinary powers” it would give the new DRR secretary.

“We are concerned of the extraordinary powers given to the secretary of the proposed department to call up government arms and the reserved forces, powers duly constituted only to the President as the commander-in-chief. May first-hand experience po tayo at natatanggap na mga ulat sa kung paano ang action ng ating armed personnel sa areas of conflict (We have first-hand experience and we receive reports on how our armed personnel act in areas of conflict),” said Brosas.

She said there is no need for the DRR because other government agencies and local government units can already fulfill its duties.

Naniniwala ang representasyong ito na walang ibang dapat gawin kundi paganahin ang mga ahensya ng national government, katuwang ang mga makinarya ng local government units para matiyak ang kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan sa sakuna (This representation believes there’s no other action needed to be done apart from agencies of the national government doing their jobs together with the machinery of the local government units to ensure the safety of our residents from calamities),” said Brosas.

Leye 1st District Representative Yedda Romualdez, however, said it is “high time” that the DRR is created.

“The DDR will effectively improve the institutional capacity of the government for disaster risk reduction and management, reduce the vulnerabilities surrounding the affected local population as well as build the resilience of local communities to calamities,” said Romualdez. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.