First of two parts
Starting today till December, most Republic Service columns will cover major national issues for the next administration to address. Most presidentiables are still drafting platforms of government, as Senator Grace Poe and outgoing Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas have said. May this series help in formulating strategies and policies for national advancement.
The articles shall draw from media reports as well as in-depth studies compiled by the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (CenSEI), which produces strategic research and analysis for consulting clients, media and online. Past CenSEI reports may be accessed at www.issuu.com or requested from email@example.com.
This writer is CenSEI’s Managing Director and was Secretary of the Cabinet (2002-08), Civil Service Commission Chairman (2008-09), and Presidential Spokesperson (2010). He was also Secretary of the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission, which worked on rehabilitation plans and funding for the 2009 Ondoy and Pepeng megafloods. He holds an M.S. in Public Policy and Management from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; and a Postgraduate Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.
This month articles cover two leading life-and-death concerns: disasters this week and crime next week. Both have seen unimpressive, even poor, performance under President Benigno Aquino 3rd. This and future reports will assess the current situation in each topic area, and recommend strategic priorities for coming years.
Why the country lacks disaster readiness
Calamity relief and recovery should have been much better since 2010, especially with the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (PDRRM Act) passed a month before the Arroyo administration ended, based on the Strategic National Action Plan 2009-2019 (SNAP), also for DRRM, promulgated earlier that year.
Yet as seen in major storms since 2010, disaster readiness and response have been sorely wanting. During Supertyphoon Yolanda in November 2013, no less than President Benigno Aquino 3rd announced on nationwide TV that dozens of vessels and aircraft and massive relief goods were in place before the storm. Yet it took several days before relief reached devastated Tacloban.
Thus, in the 2014 World Risk Index, the Philippines ranked second in calamity risk, up from its perennial No. 3 placing. While it’s hard to change the country’s third-highest rating for exposure to destructive nature, much can be done to reduce vulnerability and susceptibility to risk, and to enhance coping and adaptive capacities, as Japan, Costa Rica and Chile, nations also exposed to catastrophic events, have done.
That’s the aim in promulgating the PDRRM Act and the SNAP. They were drafted with substantial input from Philippine and international experts, academe, and development organizations. The law contained a broad range of policies, programs and projects to enhance disaster response, reduce risk, and mobilize agencies and resources to better protect endangered communities and help calamity areas recover faster.
A key strategy under the disaster measure is the building up of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) under the Department of National Defense (DND) into a billion-peso calamity response agency similar to America’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The upgraded body, to be headed by an undersecretary-rank Administrator who shall also be Executive Director of the Cabinet-level NDRRM Council, is mandated to draft the National DRRM Plan and set up the NDRRM Operations Center to monitor and coordinate calamity operations.
OCD would also promote risk reduction and capability building, especially among local government units, and is supposed to establish DRRM training institutes for LGUs and other entities. For these activities, OCD was due to get an initial budget of P1 billion, which it finally got in 2012, though that P1.22 billion dropped to P657 million in 2013. And the bulk of the money was for calamity response, leaving little funding for preparedness (more on this later).
Over the past several months, the government and civil society organizations (CSOs) have been assessing the implementation of the PDRRM Act. This “sunset review” five years since the law’s passage should be publicized when done, and anyone seeking national office should get a copy. Compiling CSO assessments is the Ateneo School of Government, where this writer is a lecturer.
Pending that review, we turn to the Commission on Audit’s 2014 reports on DRRM done in the wake of Yolanda: “Disaster Management Practices in the Philippines: An Assessment” and “Assessment of DRRM at the Local Level”. Both are available at: http://coa.gov.ph/index.php/reports/disaster-risk-reduction-and-management-reports.
Inadequate funds for disaster readiness
The COA reports show at least one grave deficiency: lack of funding for disaster preparedness. In 2012, the year before Supertyphoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas, auditors said there were no major achievements reported in LGU capability building for calamity response and management.
Said the first report on disaster management practices: “Even in the case of a national agency such as OCD, not much has been accomplished with regard to the projects under Disaster Preparedness, of which it is the lead agency. There were no reported accomplishments in the calendar year (CY) 2012 Performance Review and Assessment of the NDRRMP [National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan].”
COA added that DRRM funding remained skewed toward disaster relief under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, rather than risk reduction and capability building under the Department of Interior and Local Government. After 2009, state auditors noted, “there has been no Calamity Fund released to DILG responsible for disaster preparedness. [Instead,] the government has shifted its priority … giving the largest share to DSWD, an agency responsible for disaster response.”
With insufficient LGU disaster readiness funds, COA said DRRM spending was “largely reactive,” with little allotted to prepare for calamities, then massive outlays when they hit. Auditors also lamented the absence of “emergency management system; staff, equipment and other logistics; [and]systematic distribution system” as well as “inadequately trained and equipped response team”.
This Thursday, my article will look more closely at disaster response and recovery policies and capacities at national and local levels, and offer policy recommendations.