• Presidentiables Brief: Disasters Agenda (2)


    Second of two parts

    As the first part of this article recounted, state auditors noted the lack of funding and capability building for disaster preparedness, especially among local government units. This despite the mandate under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

    Thus, a priority for the next adminstration is to implement fully and resolutely the PDRRM Law’s disaster preparedness thrust, including the upgrading of the Office of Civil Defense to a billion-peso agency with a well-equipped, -staffed and -funded operations center for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Council (NDRRMC), as well as training institutes for LGU capability building.

    “Fully and resolutely” are the key words in the proposed priority initiative in the disasters agenda. The biggest DRRM challenge lies not in formulating and adopting the best policies and programs, but in getting them done.

    As the nation has infuriatingly seen happen in calamity after calamity, top officials from the President down lament the widespread and tragic loss of life, limb and livelihood; order investigations into official and private culpability; and pledge resolute action and ample resources to avoid future calamities. Then the hue and cry fade along with media and public attention on the calamity.

    Moreover, the need to mobilize countless national government agencies (NGAs), LGUs, community, civil society, and private-sector entities in DRRM further stretches disaster leadership. That is why former Defense Secretary and disaster council chairman Gilbert Teodoro, whose stint included the Ondoy and Pepeng megafloods, believes even the NDRRMC, with its enlarged budget and powers, may still need more clout and cash to adequately lead and mobilize disaster response and readiness.

    Empower the disaster agency and its chief
    Which brings up the second disaster priority for future national leaders: to empower a government entity and its head to undertake and sustain effective disaster risk reduction and response mobilization.

    Considering that calamities of all kinds since 1900 are estimated to have killed nearly 70,000 Filipinos, affected more than 185 million people, and caused $23 billion worth of economic damage, with far larger populations and assets at risk today, giving the disaster agency as much clout as a Cabinet department seems reasonable.

    Add to that grim reality the perennial problem of political frictions getting in the way of DRRM initiatives, even when lives are at stake. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas himself admitted this lamentable problem amid Supertyphoon Yolanda’s devastation in Tacloban, warning Mayor Alfred Romualdez of differences between the latter’s clan and President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s family,

    Hence, there may be need for a national agency with command authority over government agencies and LGUs in calamity areas, just as the Commission on Elections exercises full powers even over the military and the police during elections. Such a body could be made quasi-independent, with fixed terms for its head and governing board, like the Energy Regulatory Commission.

    A possible model is Costa Rica’s National Commission on Emergency (CNE by its Spanish initials), an independent body with its own head, rather than an attached agency of a Cabinet ministry or a council chaired by a Cabinet member.

    This kind of top-level priority given to DRRM has helped make Costa Rica rate far better than the Philippines in coping and adaptive capacities under the World Risk Index, even if both countries are highly exposed, vulnerable and susceptible to calamity risk from floods, storms and earthquake. Notably, too, Costa Rica does not have a military, so its DRRM is purely civilian in personnel and resources.

    Another option for disaster leadership, suggested previously by this column, is to make the Vice-President head of the NDRRMC, so his broad perspective and nationwide prestige are tapped for disaster prepareness and response. And having far less work than the President, the VP can give constant attention and prodding to DRRM initiatives, especially to push LGUs lagging in disaster preparedness.

    Build safer and stronger
    Among the many DRRM strategies, two measures deserve presidential consideration and nationwide adoption. One is a conventional one: building infrastructure, including safer housing, to reduce vulnerability of exposed populations and economic activities.

    Perhaps the best exemplar of this is Albay Governor Joey Salceda, who relocated hundreds of families from waterfront areas devastated by storm and volcanic lahar during the Milenyo typhoon in 2006. That took them out of harm’s way for good, while also redeveloping the vacated seaside stretch into affluent retail and leisure facilities.

    At the other end, however, there was the failure to relocate tens of thousands of families in Metro Manila’s hazard areas in 2012, exposing them to floods the following year. After devastating storms hit the capital, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson announced resettlement plans, even saying he may forcibly move families from dangerous riverbanks.

    But pressure from administration mayors, keen to get votes in the 2013 elections from the dense riverside settlements, prevented Singson from carrying out the relocation.

    The lesson here for leaders is that DRRM must be made a crucial and constant element in development planning and governance, much as food security, peace and order, job creation, and other top priority thrusts are. In this way, government plans include disaster risk reduction, readiness and response elements, and these are carried out without pernicious political interference.

    A final program needing future presidential attention is disaster recovery finance. Notably, Costa Rica’s CNE disaster agency includes in its govening council made up mostly of Cabinet members, is the insurance authority head. That points to the need to expand and strengthen disaster insurance for both LGU and private needs.

    Plainly, the country will continue to face high disaster risks, so mechanisms must be in place to hasten recovery, including ready funds for instant relief and rehabilitation. One option from Costa Rica is the creation of a mammoth National Emergency Fund with huge funding than currently available to the NDRRMC and the Office of Civil Defense. For a fuller report on this fund, google: “Costa Rica: Financing Disaster Risk Reduction.”

    The World Bank, meanwhile, has been pushing more disaster insurance, including a mechanism funded by LGU contributions out of their calamity funds, which would then serve as premiums for the state insurance agency to provide funds to disaster-hit LGUs. In this way, affluent cities and provinces spared by calamity can help fund recovery for those suffering storms, floods, eruptions and quakes.

    DRRM may not win many votes for our presidentiables, but it will save countless Filipino lives.


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    1. One component of disaster risk reduction and mitigation program that is grossly & inefficiently underutilised is the quick-response program. Under National Disaster Coordinating Council under the Office of Civil Defense during Erap’s time, there was the NERAP (National Emergency Response Program), which I think was a continuation of a program during Ramos time. This became DQRP (Disaster Quick Response Program) under Gloria’s time. I don’t know what what happened to this program under PNoy, he probably discontinued.

      We need to augment the disaster response by calling on our spirit of volunteerism. Unfortunately, volunteerism is not very much active in the Philippines except for those publicity-seeking private companies under the guise of ‘corporate social responsibility’. Volunteerism can be palatable to the salaried working class if there’s a financial incentive such as tax break for hours and services rendered in the volunteer work, similar to tax-breaks of corporations because of the charitable instituions they (i.e. the corporations) support/fund.

      Related to this quick response program and volunteerism, I think a particular missing concept is the organization and mobilisation of disaster quick-response volunteers, particularly what I call the ‘citizen volunteers’ and ‘technical volunteers’.
      Citizen volunteers are the local or grass-roots and community-based volunteers that are called-upon in the event of disaster to assist the social workers in organizing or enforcing evacuation, distribution of relief goods, etc. By having local/community-based volunteers, they know very well the affected people on how to deal with them.
      Technical volunteers, as the name implies, are volunteers with science/engineering/technical background whose technical skills/expertise are needed during post-disaster operations such as doctors and related medical professions for medical assistance, and engineers or technicians (eg. truck drivers, heavy construction equipment operators, plumbers, welders, electricians,etc.) for rebuilding and restoration of lifeline infrastructures such as roads/highways, power, communication, water utilities and drainage services . These technical volunteers need not be local-based (but it would be an advantage to have a local) but rather more provincial or regional in coverage so they can be flexible and have greater mobility.

      These volunteers (both citizen and technical) are to be equipped with a dedicated communication device, that during emergencies are activated and called upon to do their patriotic and compassionate duty to serve the disaster-affected area.

    2. including the upgrading of the Office of Civil Defense to a billion-peso agency with a well-equipped, -staffed and -funded operations center for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Council (NDRRMC), as well as training institutes for LGU capability building.

      Let’s not forget to put some incompetent clown in charge of the agency that is not qualified to even work there much less be the head guy in charge like Aquino always does. That’s always good for a laugh.

      • tama ka. dapat ang taong mamumuno nito at kanyang mga tauhan ay may ekspiriyensa sa pagayuda sa mga sakuna at disgrasya. preferably who worked with red cross or any agency that deals with disasters and not the likes of gazmin and roxas aka boy pickup. the law should be amended so that the dnd and dilg heads are not the co-chair of the agency but instead a person of known experience. we are witnesses to the mishandling of gazmin and boy pickup of the bohol, zambo siege and yolanda disasters. let us avert this calamity (gazmin and boy pickup) to happen again.