MANILA, Philippines – For a country in the Pacific Ring of Fire and that gets hit by 20 typhoons a year, should not there be a separate department for disaster risk reduction?
Senator Grace Poe made this proposal as she filed a Senate resolution calling for the re-establishment of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) as a department separate from the Department of National Defense (DND). The NDRRMC is currently under the DND.
“In as much as the NDRRMC may feasibly be considered as a separate and regular department, it is also proposed that its chief officer be accorded cabinet rank or level,” Poe said.
She said, “To effectively serve the nation, the Philippine government and the NDRRMC need not primarily burden itself on reactive relief efforts, but proactive efforts to ease the same should be focused upon.”
In her resolution, Poe cited the series of disasters that hit the Philippines in the past few months – Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the magnitude 7.2 quake in the Visayas, and Tropical Depression Zoraida.
The world’s most powerful typhoon, Haiyan left over 2,000 people dead in the Visayas, with the final death toll expected to be “horrific.” About 9.8 million Filipinos were affected, losing family members, homes, and entire cities and towns.
“It is not only during times of major disasters such as those mentioned above where the government extends assistance to the nation – floods caused by rains and volcanic activity that pose risk to the lives of the Filipino people are some, to name a few,” she said.
Poe said, “It is the NDRRMC, an agency of the Philippine government under the Department of National Defense, that is tasked to ensure the protection and welfare of the nation during disasters and emergencies.”
In making her proposal, Poe called on the Senate Committee on National Defense to review in aid of legislation “the present disaster risk management efforts and capabilities of both national and local government with the objective of recommending a more efficient coordination government plan.”
Poe asked the committee to submit possible amendments to existing laws.
The senator’s proposal echoed the comments of disaster experts who have noted that the NDRRMC has traditionally been headed by former military officers, and must have more inputs from scientists.
In a Facebook post, Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Viña said, “I have always said that you needed a full-time Cabinet secretary just doing this work (disaster risk reduction) whole year round. Otherwise, you end up with all the top officials doing something that is not really within their field of expertise.”
He continued: “From what I see now, except for DSWD Secretary [Dinky] Soliman and [Interior] Secretary Mar Roxas who have had a lot of practice in the last 6 months, most of the officials are learning disaster work on the job right now.”
La Viña was reacting to news that NDRRMC executive director Eduardo del Rosario said that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr and Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras were the ones in charge of government’s response to the devastation from Haiyan.
The dean commented on the devastation from Haiyan. “If we had a national agency dedicated only to reducing risk, preparing for, and leading the response to disaster, things would have gotten better sooner than later. Many of us have proposed this disaster after disaster but all sorts of reasons have been given not to do the obvious. And now this is what we are faced with.”
In a Rappler Thought Leaders piece, retired Army general Carlos Holganza also wrote about the challenges for the NDRRMC after Haiyan.
“We need the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) to invest in water purifiers, generators, solar power systems and redundant communication systems, items that have consistently been in demand in the past million or so disasters we’ve encountered in the country. We have not learned,” Holganza said.
He added, “The NDRRMC has the funds to buy these and more, except that fiscal quirks provide so many constraints which practically disallow the fund’s utilization for capital outlay.”
What do you think of Poe’s proposal? Let us know in the comments section below. – Rappler.com