Disaster dep't creation pressed

January 17, 2020
Roof ash
People clear ash from their roof in the village of Buso-Buso, left from an eruption of the Taal volcano near Laurel, Batangas yesterday. AFP/Ed JONES

HOUSE leaders led by Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez yesterday vowed to work for the swift enactment into law of the proposed bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) when Congress resumes session on Monday following the Taal Volcano explosion.

“Time and again, the wrath of nature reminds us to come up with strategic and systematic approaches to disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response,” said Yedda Romualdez, the chairperson of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children and one of the principal proponents of DDR.

Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo urged Malacañang to certify as urgent the bill creating DDR.

Castelo, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, said “our experience on the slow and uncoordinated response to the Taal Volcano eruption proved the government needs to enact the proposed law as soon as possible.”

“What we lack is a coordinating body with highly trained individuals and available budget to handle such delicate tasks,” Castelo explained.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte also sought the swift congressional approval of DDR to focus on, apart from the creation of permanent evacuation centers, the formulation of disaster management plans, particularly for communities most vulnerable to natural calamities.

Villafuerte called on the Senate to act at once on its version of the House-approved consolidated DDR bill when Congress resumes session next week, as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) ordered the mandatory evacuation of residents of Lipa and Tanuan cities plus at least 12 municipalities in Batangas in the path of Taal Volcano’s latest fury.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) are bracing for the “big bang” or hazardous explosive eruption, base surges and volcanic tsunami that experts fret could happen “within hours or days.”

Villafuerte, an author of the House-approved consolidated DDR bill, said “Taal’s continued eruption after four decades of dormancy gives the Congress more reason to pass this measure creating a new department that would let government best prepare for natural calamities along with other disasters induced by climate change.”

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, another principal author of the DDR measure, expressed belief that the response to Taal Volcano explosion could be better if the DDR is already approved into law and existing.

“Oo mas maganda sana. Kasi ang OCD (Office of Civil Defense) may powers na dapat siguraduhin na may contingency plan at updated ito,” said Salceda.

“Eh halata mo naman ngayon, biglang nag-evacuate ‘yung mga tao tapos hindi nila alam kung saan pumunta,” Salceda added.

Romualdez, wife of House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, said the department will be accountable and responsible for overseeing, coordinating and implementing comprehensive disaster risk and vulnerability reduction and management programs and redirect policy drifts among other agencies handling such tasks.

The House committees on government reorganization and disaster management already approved, last November 20, the still-unnumbered substitute bill consolidating all measures re-filed in the 18th Congress establishing the DDR.

On November 25, 2019, the DDR hurdled the House Committee on ways and Means. Meanwhile the Committee on Appropriations is scheduled to discuss the measure this coming week to approve its budget component.

The Salceda panel granted exemption from taxes, import duties and donor’s tax on foreign donations, and goods and services donated from abroad under DDR.

Last January 8, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the passage of a measure creating the DDR will be prioritized when Congress resumes session on January 20.

The House had passed on third and final reading a similar measure in the previous 17th Congress.

The Senate, however, ran out of time to pass its counterpart bill.