Senate studying creation of a disaster resilience agency amid slow release of aid

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Senators are discussing again the possible creation of a new agency tasked to oversee all disaster-related concerns and functions in the country. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 11) — Senators are discussing the possible creation of a new agency tasked to oversee all disaster-related concerns and functions in the country. This comes as earthquake-affected communities in Mindanao continue to experience a slow release of assistance funds from the government.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson lamented the cumbersome process of requesting, granting and distributing financial aid to disaster-stricken areas. He noted in particular the current protocol where the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) still needs to wait for the Office of Civil Defense’s (OCD’s) assessment of the area before requesting funds from the Budget Department.

NDRRMC Executive Director Ricardo Jalad said they are still conducting the post disaster needs assessment of the earthquake-hit areas. The assessment usually takes three months, he confirmed.

Jalad added that the NDRRMC would also have to coordinate with other agencies in proposing interventions before moving to request for funds.

Earlier, Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista has already sought help after the city exhausted its calamity funds after the quakes. He said they still need to relocate thousands of residents who remain in evacuation centers after losing their homes to landslides.

An 'overwhelming' task

However, the NDRRMC official opposed the idea of putting the task of rehabilitation and recovery onto one agency.

Jalad said that reconstruction and relief operations should be the responsibility of government agencies with expertise on the field such as the Public Works Department, Agriculture Department and the Social Welfare Department.

“It will be too overwhelming for one department to overtake all those reconstruction activities…That (rehabilitation) will be a very big function to be placed on one department,” said Jalad.

Instead, he said the new agency should be the primary instructing body to these agencies for disaster recovery projects.

“What it can do really is just maybe plan and let the implementation be done by concerned agencies who have the expertise,” he said.

Senator Francis Tolentino said the new department could still work with its own assigned experts, but Jalad was unconvinced.

Parang isang gobyerno na rin ‘yan,” added Jalad.

[Translation: That is like being its own government.]

Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council chairperson Eduardo Del Rosario echoed Jalad's sentiment, saying it would be better to ensure that the OCD will have a stronger presence in recovery efforts.

“I think what we need is to reinforce the Office of Civil Defense so it could be more adaptive to response and rehabilitation,” Del Rosario told the Senate.

However, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel argued that creating a new department is not the same as “rightsizing” the government.

Single coordination

Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri noted that with Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana heading the NDRRMC, it also leaves room to delay recovery efforts to prioritize handling the country’s defense against conflict.

Ang dami niyang (Lorenzana) trabaho. He’s in charge with external defense, internal defense…so hindi niya matutukan ‘yan (disasters),” Zubiri raised.

[Translation: He has a lot of responsibilities. He’s in charge of external defense, internal defense…so he cannot focus on that (disasters).]

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go also pointed out that victims do not know who to turn to specifically with so many agencies at work. He said a new department with a Cabinet-level official as its head would solve this problem.

Kung mayroon taga-Department of Disaster, ito na ‘yung point person…isang coordination na lang,” said Go.

[Translation: If there is someone from the Department of Disaster, a point person…coordination will go smoothly.]

Tolentino recited a privileged speech on November 5 where he pushed for the need for a new department for disaster resilence. Zubiri on November 4 filed a bill in the Senate seeking to create such a department.

During his State of the Nation Address in July, the President reiterated that creating the new disaster resilience department is one of his priorities.