As Victor Hugo said, this may be “an idea whose time has come.”
To replace and retire the unpronounceable and tongue-twisting NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council), I earnestly propose that Congress create by law the Disaster relief and Management Agency – or DRAMA, for short.
It’s a word that can easily be remembered by citizens of every age, whether disaster victim or not. It’s a change of name that will spare our hapless broadcasters from running out of breath. It will be a memory aid for government officials who forget their membership in multiple corporations and councils.
In the United States, they call their disaster agency FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). In most countries, they simply term as agencies their government mechanisms for coping with disasters and catastrophes. They don’t employ councils and commissions to deal with an emergency, probably because of the maxim that a camel is “a horse designed by committee.” (The maxim has been attributed to Vogue magazine).
With an earnest push in both houses of Congress, we could have a law creating a new disaster management agency by January, perhaps even in time for the visit of Pope Francis. For a change, the Congress railroad could be put to good use. We should be able to tell the world by then that our country has made significant adjustments in the wake of Haiyan/Yolanda, and that we are not mere gluttons for punishment from Mother Nature’s occasional tantrums.
The formula could be the repeal of the law creating the NDRRMC, which is outdated, or the passage of a completely new legislation. I am pleased to note that Sen. Teofisto Guingona has filed a bill that’s roughly along this line. It will be a pleasure on my part to compare and blend ideas with what the Senator has in mind.
Design courtesy of UN cluster approach
The institutional and system design of NDRRMC is so bad and unwieldy, it seems as though what they were creating was not even a camel, but Frankenstein.
Under the law, the council has such a lengthy membership, naming them would exhaust the word count allotted for this column. I will lose readers and my editor for wasting their time.
This camel, believe or not, was created by Congress through Republic Act 10121 in 2009. Yet not a single congressman or senator noticed how unpronounceable was their creation.
The new council was originally the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), which was established on October 19, 1970, during the time of President Marcos, when disasters were relatively smaller and easier to manage.
The new setup envisioned a working group of various government, non-government, civil sector and private sector organizations of the country. It is administered by the Office of Civil Defense under the Department of National Defense. The Council is responsible for ensuring the protection and welfare of the people during disasters or emergencies.
The NDRRMC is the product of utilizing the UN Cluster Approach in disaster management.
The big drawback of this approach is that, as in UN security challenges, it tries “to surround the problem” with a lot of bodies and personages, and it ends up not accomplishing anything. Witness what has happened in Syria, where the situation has turned into a full-blown civil war, and the casualties now total over 200 thousand.
In February 2010, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) was renamed, reorganized, and expanded.
The council membership includes nearly every factotum in the Aquino administration and every member of the Cbinet.
The council is chaired by the Secretary of National Defense, who under the current administration is Voltaire Gazmin.
Also taking high positions in the disaster management hierarchy are Secretary of Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas; Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development Dinky Soliman; and NEDA Director-General Arsenio Balisacan.
It’s proof of the unwieldiness of the institutional design that also included as council members are the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education; the presidents of the GSIS and the SSS; and the President of the Liga ng Mga Barangay. It’s as if Congress decided to include any official who looked like a disaster.
According to Republic Act 10121, local government units (LGUs) throughout the country are also enjoined to establish their own DRRM Offices at the regional, provincial, municipal, city and barangay levels.
And yet, for all the effort to include everyone and everything, Congress forgot to write into the law an institutional structure for the disaster management mechanism, and a budget for such an important responsibility.
Learning from ‘Yolanda’
In the new law that I believe Congress should study and pass, we must learn from the hard lessons provided by Super Typhoon Yolanda, the most current findings of climate science, the inutility of the council setup, the mistake of assigning in ad hoc fashion sensitive responsibilities in disaster management and policymaking, and the crying need to recruit professionals and experts for the disaster management challenge.
It makes no sense to automatically assign the leadership of the disaster management effort to the defense secretary. Gazmin was clearly out of his depth at the height of the Yolanda emergency.
Secretary Roxas was a walking obstacle in meeting the challenge, because his head was full of foolish ideas about politics, and his own plans for the presidency. He wound up leaving behind a trail of oneliners which people will recall again and again.
The better course to follow is to create a completely new and modern disaster management agency.
The council idea can come in at most as an advisory body to the agency. There department secretaries can contribute their two cents and the assistance of their respective departments.
We can learn a few things from FEMA, which was battered silly by Hurricane Katrina and has to cope with many disasters every year.
Congress reconnects with the people
The maxim about the camel contrasts two ways of organizational development – first, by democratic consultation and consensus. And second, by autocratic decision-making where the project leader decides on the design. The latter is better to use in an emergency when an immediate decision is needed.
This is especially common in technical projects; it legitimizes the need and general acceptance of a unique systems architect and stresses the need for technical quality over political feasibility.
This is also common in other fields of design such as graphic design, architecture or industrial design. A poor decision process is often blamed for unpopular or poorly designed cars.
The first point to remember is that what we primarily need is an agency that will specialize in risk reduction, emergency management, relief administration, and then coordination of rehabilitation efforts.
The second key point is that we need an agency that is easily accessible to the public. People, who are all potential victims of disasters in this country, need an agency they understand and can relate to. It should have a human face, and it must have an empathetic soul.
DRAMA, I submit, can be that kind of government agency.
The 16th Congress, which has sustained much damage from the PDAF and DAP scandals, and from the perception of total subservience to President Aquino, could start its own rehabilitation by drafting and passing this needed law.
This way, Congress can reconnect with the people.
Action can’t be too soon. There’s a natural disaster waiting to strike just around the corner.