House OKs bill creating Department of Disaster Resilience

The House of Representatives on Monday, September 21, approved on third and final reading a bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience.

A total of 241 lawmakers voted yes to House Bill No. 5989 or the Disaster Resilience Act, while 7 said no and one abstained.

If signed into law, the measure would create the Department of Disaster Resilience, which would be the primary government agency responsible for "leading, organizing, and managing national effort to reduce disaster risk, prepare for and respond to disasters, recover and rehabilitate, and build forward better after the occurrence of disasters."

The proposed department would have the authority to implement the following emergency measures in anticipation of, during, and in the aftermath of disasters:

  • carrying out of preemptive evacuation;
  • imposing curfew;
  • rationing of the distribution of basic goods in critical shortage;
  • temporarily taking over or directing the operation of any private utility or business, subject to payment of just compensation, when there is imminent danger of loss of lives or damage to property;
  • recommending to the Monetary Board the deferment of payment of monetary obligations of local government units and private entities that have been severely affected by disaster, with the concurrence of the finance department.

"Emergency measures shall be carried out in a manner that is humane, respectful of the dignity and culture of persons, without the use of discrimination and disproportionate force, and with conscious attention to the needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups," the House bill said.

The department would also have the powers to recommend to the President the declaration of a state of calamity, whether in whole or part of an area, in case of an "extraordinary disaster wherein the repercussions on public safety and welfare are serious and far-reaching."

Special courts would be established to hear, try, and decide cases "to ensure the prompt and expeditious resolution of disputes relating to disaster response, recovery, or rehabilitation measures."

The President, meanwhile, would have the powers to impose administrative sanctions against local chief executives and barangay officials for "willful or negligent acts" performed in the implementation of HB 5989, or relating to their official functions "which adversely affect disaster resilience projects, such as delayed issuance of permits or failure to implement local ordinances."

The bill also seeks to rename local disaster risk reduction and management offices in provinces, cities, and municipalities to provincial, city, or municipal disaster resilience offices.

Under the measure, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund would also be renamed to the National Disaster Resilience Fund, to be managed and controlled by the Department of Disaster Resilience.

Aside from the Department of Disaster Resilience, the proposed measure would also establish the National Disaster Operations Center, Alternative Command Centers, and the Disaster Resilience Research and Training Institute.

Since 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte has been asking Congress to pass a bill creating a new agency that would focus on disaster management.

The House also approved a similar measure during the 17th Congress. In the Senate, several bills on the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience are still pending at the committee level. – Rappler.com