When institutions and processes fail

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Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

The wrath of Yolanda has showed to us how government can fail us during the most critical hours when we needed to feel its presence. It is even worst after its aftermath. Sad, truly sad because every peso we contribute to taxes whether in the form of withholding, value added or expanded value added taxes are pesos we worked hard for.

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When in a national address, the leader proudly said: “32 airplanes and helicopters from the Air Force are on standby together with the Philippine Navy’s 20 ships which are positioned in Cebu, Bicol, Cavite and Zamboanga,” then there was a sense that everything was in place. It was also mentioned that “relief goods are pre-positioned in many areas expected to be affected by the super typhoon.” Further, the “Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils, both national and local, have also been activated to mitigate the effects of the typhoon.” Clearly it was just a promise when hours upon hitting land, no government was felt.

Days 1 to 3 after Yolanda, the strong presence were that of the international community and it was like Day 5 when you get to feel government’s headless roam.

And so we are back to square one on two fronts: policy and rehabilitation and reconstruction. Former Senator Panfilo Lacson accepted the position of reconstruction czar. Congress, in its typical haste, is passing the Supplemental Budget without details, as if reconstruction will be another pork.

Lacson, a few months after ending his term as senator was supposed to get a position in the Aquino government only to be derailed by confirming what Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said regarding DAP. Several days after, Lacson said he wouldn’t be accepting any appointment in government. Is it a good or a bad appointment? It depends on what the appointing power will allow Lacson to do. The leeway is crucial, image-wise, when you appoint a person who never used his PDAF, it sends a strong signal that the rehab and recon fund will be used judiciously. A signal, mind you!

The other side is policy or the review of Republic Act No. 101211 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010,” otherwise known as the PDRRM. PDDRM is one of the last laws signed by then president GMA last 27 May 2010. Had there been a transition in place, this would not have fall in the proverbial cracks.

Aquino weakened PDRRM law
The PDRRM is said to be a good law being copied by our Asian neighbors but alas, in the PH setting, and without approval of Congress, the Executive amended it. There are two decision points made by the incumbent, which weakened the law in its implementation.

At the start of the Aquino administration, the fund for pre-disaster preparations was scrapped (Section 21) and the concept of a Revolving Fund found in Section 23 of the law was altered. Very bad decisions indeed since the impact were operational in nature. There were no funds for local disaster preparedness because “it has not used wisely and has been a source of corruption” and the revolving fund was not enforced by DBM Secretary Butch Abad on a carry-over principle as intended by Congress and probably gutted by the principal magician of DAP.

Section 22 of RA No. 10121 established a National DRRM Fund to be used for disaster risk reduction or mitigation, prevention, and preparedness activities while Section 21 established the Local DRRM Fund for Local Government Units. The same section allocated 30 percent of the NDRRM Fund as the “Quick Response Fund” or stand-by fund for relief and recovery programs in order that situation and living conditions in areas stricken by disaster be normalized as soon as possible.

Section 21 also allocated 30 percent of the LDRRM Fund for the same purpose. Thus, the remaining 70 percent of the DRRM Fund should be used for Disaster Prevention, Risk Reduction and Preparedness purposes.

After the suspension of the use of the fund by LGUs for pre-disaster at the start of the Aquino administration, NDDRMC, DILG, and DBM issued only last 25 March 2013, a Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2013-1 which provided for the guidelines of the use of the 70 percent of the LDRRM Fund.

Section 23 of the law also allocated to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) a budget of one billion pesos revolving fund starting from the effectivity of the Act. The congressional intent was any saving from the allocation shall be carried to the succeeding fiscal year. The effect would be a huge amount made available to disaster management. Unfortunately, DBM saw it otherwise and any saving by the Office of Civilian Defense, the lead agency implementing RA 101211, went back to the Treasury or did it became part and parcel of DAP?

And again, Congress allows this infringement of their power of the purse, resulting in what we have right now in the areas pummeled by Yolanda.

Interestingly, the law also created a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council or NDRRC headed “by the Secretary of National Defense (DND) as Chairperson with the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as Vice Chairperson for Disaster Preparedness, the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as Vice Chairperson for Disaster Response, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) as Vice Chairperson for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and the Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as Vice Chairperson for Disaster Rehabilitation and Recovery.

Clearly, the law does not provide for leadership by consensus unless the SILG is arrogating to himself the power of Congress to pass laws. Clearly, the law says the chairperson is SND and not a team. In fact, Congress went to the process of identifying the tasks of each VICE chairperson so there is clear delineation in the management of processes.

Furthermore, RA101211 talked about contingency planning (Sec. 3g), a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework (Sec. 3y) and a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (Sec. 3z), among others. So, there should be a framework and there should be a plan. The Executive Director of the Office of Civilian Defense shall serve as the Executive Director of the NDRRMC.

Congress was correct in designating the SND as chair of the Council but the Executive Director of the OCD as his operational team may not be the kind of person we would need to create a beachhead of clearing the area and getting government up and running.

Who is in charge
Who is in charge? This question was often asked in the days leading to relief and rescue. No answer was given and the message frame pointed the blame to the local, that the national should take over from the local and that it was a consensus. Different messages tested while doing disaster work. No one wanted to owe up, no wonder we are in a limbo.

The NDRRC model can’t work for us. It has proven its inability to address ground realities. We need an Emergency Management Agency (EMA) that has line functions with the head occupying a cabinet position. In any emergency, the EMA head should be given all the powers it needs to respond to the ground and cut bureaucracies. It should be an elite and composite force that is ready to do battle anytime. It should approximate the Chair of the Comelec who becomes little president during elections. If Comelec gains control of the PNP and the AFP during elections, the more the head of a disaster management organization should have the same powers.

DBM should restore the revolving fund and DILG should fast track pre-disaster training for LGUs in hazard prone areas. The President should make sure that the framework and the plan as provided by law is in place and everyone is drilled on it.

After 10 natural and man-made disasters, you would think that everything is in place in the Aquino administration. As it turns out, we will be waiting for the next disaster or calamity (mind you, they do not mean the same) to determine whether government learned its lesson.

A lawyer-friend said why not file a class suit against the incompetence of government resulting in damage to properties and increasing death toll? Why not but if I could only smile and wish Yolanda was a bad dream that would have been a lot better.

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