MANILA, Philippines – Whether a new disaster department is created or placed under the Office of the President, Office of the Civil Defense chief Ricardo Jalad said that the head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) should be made a “Cabinet-level” position.
The second Senate hearing on the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience fleshed out the remaining issues on creating a department for such a huge task that is disaster management.
Jalad, who is an undersecretary and the executive director of the NDRRMC, said that it doesn’t really matter whether a new department is created or not, as long as the disaster council is empowered.
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, who is among those who filed the bill, asked Jalad, “So pabor ka ba dito sa creation, kung sakaling magiging secretary ka, pabor ka dito?” (Would you be in favor of the creation, if you become its secretary?)
“Even if I’m not the head of that department or agency, see, I am in favor of elevating the current structure to department-level or secretary-level,” Jalad said.
Jalad said that a multi-agency approach is still better to prepare for and respond to disasters.
“Nakikita ko kasi doon sa disaster resiliency is goal nating lahat (I see that disaster resiliency is everyone’s goal). It cannot be attained just by one department,” Jalad said.
Jalad had earlier said that having just one department focused on disaster management could be “overwhelming.”
Republic Act No. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 created the NDRRMC as the overseeing body for preparedness, response, and relief operations. (READ: Gov’t eyes ‘stronger’ disaster management agency to replace NDRRMC)
But since the NDRRMC is merely a council, stakeholders had pointed out that it doesn’t have the budget nor the power to make decisions on situations that require a Cabinet rank. (READ: Urgently needed: Department for disaster resilience and climate change)
At least 14 senators have filed measures for the creation of the disaster department, while some have expressed reservations if it would make processes more bureacratic.
At a media interview, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that it would be better for NDRRMC to be a medium-sized agency rather than creating a “superdepartment” that might encroach on other departments’ mandate.
“Parang mas marami ‘yung advantages kung ‘authority’ lang siya (There are more advantages if it’s just an ‘authority’), rather than cannibalizing other departments and put it under one department,” Año told reporters on Wednesday.
“So, a plus to one is a minus to other departments. Then there will be also some overlapping of functions and probably some conflict with existing laws. Kami sa amin, whichever okay sa amin (Whichever is fine for us). We leave it to the lawmakers,” Año said.
Senators also raised concerns about the funding requirement for the creation of a disaster department which would total to P1.7 billion, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
The overhead costs for manpower already amounts to P595 million, or one-third of the P1.7 billion. Operating expenses totaled to P299 million, while capital outlay is at P173 million, among others.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado still pushed for the creation of a disaster department, saying that it would be faster to download the funds to a department than request everything from the DBM. Towards end of the hearing, however, Avisado softened his position.
“Be it a department or an authority, we need to act fast from our end. We’re saying also that we want these funds released,” Avisado said.
While the bills are silent on where the national disaster risk reduction and management fund (NDRRMF) will be placed, Avisado said that the technical working group should be the one to identify that, if the measure will be passed into law.
Currently, the NDRRMF is lodged under several agencies’ budgets. But since it is under the special purpose funds, it can only be used with the approval of the Office of the President. For 2020, the calamity fund amounts to P20 billion.
Because of the huge amount, Senator Panfilo Lacson, the chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said that it shouldn’t be placed under one department.
“‘Pag binigay sa newly-created DDR (Department of Disaster Resilience), baka maging disastrous. Mapupunta sa overhead [expenses] ‘yun,” Lacson said, who used to be the presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery.
(If we give it to the newly-created DDR, it might become disastrous. It might go to the overhead expenses.)
Lacson said that another hearing will be set before a committee report is sponsored to the plenary.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address last July 2019, he renewed his call for Congress to create the Department of Disaster Resilience.
In November, the Senate said it will prioritize the creation of the department, adding that “it’s about time” the country had its own department that oversees disaster preparedness and response. – Rappler.com