Last Thursday, November 7, super typhoon Yolanda roared into the Philippines and made landfall in Central and East Visayas, and Southern Luzon, wreaking destruction in its path. Yolanda exited through Palawan the next day, leaving in its wake incalculable damage and loss of lives and property.
For anxious two days, many people were glued to their TV sets. They watched in horror as image after image flashed on screens—a man running from surging waves and shimmying up a tree just in time; a coconut tree twisted in half before crashing down; galvanized iron roofing torn from the roof of a church as terror-stricken shelter seekers watched; and women and children scrambling away from a collapsing structure and clambering aboard huge rescue trucks. And everywhere, faces of desperation and hopelessness as people numbly viewed their smashed homes, and flooded farms.
Media interviewed those involved in relief operations. They reported lack of everything—water, food, medicines and shelter. One lady mayor reported that their resources were exhausted; the devastation was too great and the resources too little.
The President has commented that Leyte was not “prepared” even as full information was given. He promised that the controversial Calamity Fund, Contingency Fund and the President’s Social Fund would be utilized for relief and rehabilitation.
Does the Yolanda experience strengthen the Executive’s argument that the Calamity Fund and Contingency Fund should be held by his office? On the contrary.
The need for speed in responding to natural calamities
When calamities occur, speedy response is of utmost importance. It is literally a matter of life and death. Frontline agencies need resources for unforeseen crises. If funds are concentrated in Malacañang, devastated regions, municipalities, cities and provinces have to deal with lag time before assistance finally arrives. The approval process can be tedious. However, if these calamity funds are already integrated in the budgets of the frontline agencies, these are in a better position to prepare and respond immediately to urgent needs.
What are the frontline agencies? These are the local government units — barangay, municipalities, cities, provinces. Then we have the regional units which are certainly much nearer to calamity areas than Malacañang. Likewise, there are the Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Councils located in the local areas. Then, of course there are the relevant departments which have offices in the regions, provinces, and cities.
After Yolanda, communication lines were destroyed and infrastructure facilities impaired, making it difficult to rush supplies, all the way from Manila. Realigning these funds to frontline agencies will reduce the number of tedious administrative steps and procedures before aid finally reaches the intended recipients.
Assuring accountability for disaster funds
If delivery of services by frontline agencies are well funded, accountability is also faster at their level. These agencies are audited regularly and annual reports are issued by the Commission on Audit. The audit reports are easily available online. The Calamity Fund and Contingency Fund are part of the Special Purpose Fund. The last audit of the SPF was in 2009. Another fund, the President’s Social Fund, is audited separately since it is not part of the budget of the Office of the President.
Will the President lose control of national operations?
Of course not. He will still be giving instructions, demanding reports, making inspection trips. The difference is that funds will readily be available at the frontlines where they are urgently needed.
(Starting next week, Handurawan will come out on Tuesdays.)