Solidarity for Sovereignty By Ado Paglinawan
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri’s insistence on an “office with cabinet rank” to take over the idea of a Department of Disaster Resilience is proof positive that the upper house of the Philippine legislature has already outlived its usefulness.
The Senate must be abolished.
If President Bongbong Marcos also prefers a “specialist agency” instead of a department, then he is teetering forward for a legislative trap and exposes his lack of appreciation of what the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council is all about.
Zubiri’s statement to the “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News, that “A full-fledged department would have been ideal as there would be accountability and that (disaster) would be its focus because that’s its only job,” is a lot of horse pucky.
His rejoinder as the principal author of the bill seeking to create the Department of Disaster Resilience, that he “filed because of his 25 years of experience in the Philippine Red Cross,” is state-of-the art bullshit.
The senate president is grandstanding on top of a soapbox.
The NDRRMC is already precisely the office that Zubiri and Marcos are talking about. As the American slang has it – “You don’t fix what is aint broke.”
There has been not a single complaint on how NDRRMC performed during the Duterte administration, not even past the Covid-19 and the government’s response to the Marawi Siege. The strengthening that the Council requires is making available to it more funds for increasing its science to forecast disasters, and for better provisions for preparedness, response, relief and rehabilitation.
We do not need yet another cabinet secretary to run disaster management. This not only contradicts PBBM’s earlier announcement for rightsizing, but cripples the “whole-of-government” and “whole of nation” approach that erected the present NDRRMC.
The NDRRMC is already empowered through the collaboration of five collegial cabinet secretaries and an enpowered undersecretary.
The Secretary of National Defense, with the awesome manpower and resources, heads the Council as ex-officio chairman.
The Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government in charge of Disaster Preparedness with the immense Philippine National Police and local governments that tandem with the Bureau of Fire Protection and volunteer 911 groups, as first responders. There is an RRMC equivalent in regional, provincial, city, municipal and barangay levels.
The Secretary of Social Welfare and Development in charge of Disaster Response, collaborating with nine (9) existing government agencies with clear coordination points in accordance with DSWD Memorandum Circular No. 20 Series of 2019.
The Secretary of Science and Technology in charge of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. DOST has set in place a nationwide system that will help key agencies and personalities make informed decisions to save lives and properties.
The Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority in charge of Disaster Rehabilitation and Recovery. The restoration and improvement, whenever appropriate, of facilities, livelihood and living conditions of disaster affected communities, including efforts to reduce disaster risk factors in accordance with the principle of “build-back better” per R.A.10121, Section 3 paragraph (aa).
In the midst of this all, its executive director (or chief operating office) has the rank of undersecretary and is the administrator of the Office of Civil Defense, which coordinates which assets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and DND attached offices are to be mobilized based on the prevailing emergency.
It has a pre-existing building and facilities.
The DND, DILG, DSWD, DOST, NEDA all have existing structures, manpower, resources and budgets. The only budget it required as per its IRR was a startup fund of P1 billion, intended primarily for the Office of Civil Defense, the heart of the NDRRMC operations.
Has Zubiri read the NDRRMC law at all? What Zubiri is carelessly proposing, I can only surmise for failing to do his homework, is to put a new cabinet secretary, with another fat office, staff and additional budget for the added bureaucracy, between the present NDRRMC and the president!
I seldom appreciate Secretary Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson, but in their objection to Senate Bill 205 that was filed in the 18th Congress, both had wisdom. Drilon said there was no need for a DDR because it would only bloat the bureaucracy instead of streamlining it. Lacson was more graphic – a new DDR will have to receive its own allocation from Congress from an office all the way down to personnel, office supplies, equipment and vehicles, “all the way down to toilet paper”.
Both correctly asserted that the present Council, under the Office of the President, that can mobilize existing agencies could do the job with much less maintenance funding and a minimum of staff and personnel. Now just because we just had an earthquake of an intensity 7, our senate becomes a busybody.
Well to start with, the rationale for Senate Bill 205 is inherently flawed. It cited the government response to Supertyphoon Yolanda as basis.
Now listen, NDRRMC was created under President Gloria Arroyo, in fact she signed it into law a few days before the 2010 elections. Its implementing rules and regulations were completed by President BS Aquino’s Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin, with in fact at least a year of enforcement and capability-building among component departments and agencies, even drills, before Yolanda struck on November 3, 2013.
Know what? With a better law and all the dress rehearsals, Noynoy Aquino toyed with the Yolanda disaster management as if he could be as agile as a monkey with it as he does his video games.
Instead of enforcing the NDRRMC laws and procedures, he appointed his Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, whose only government management experience was administering Quezon City, as chairman, in lieu of Gazmin, the secretary of national defense and ex-officio chair.
Worse, he took out Dinky Soliman, the social welfare secretary out of the response function and replaced her with Mar Roxas, the DILG secretary. So instead of Roxas presiding over rescue as DILG has been prepared, he only anticipated distributing relief, which explains why a lot of relief packages were lost, damaged or rotted.
Worst, he created the position of Rehabilitation Czar naming Panfilo Lacson in lieu of NEDA secretary and director-general Arsenio Balisacan.
So much larger than Yolanda was the Aquino disaster.
I hope the sitting president will not repeat this history. His reference to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency seems to be proceeding south, instead of an improvement. FEMA is not a department but an agency under the US Department of Homeland Security. That is moving NDRRMC further down, not strengthening it.
FEMA miserably failed when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, because President George W. Bush Jr, like Aquino, also improvised and wanted to personally control everything.
NDRRMC is even an improvement of FEMA, because it took that sad Katrina experience of 2005 in consideration, when it made the Armed Forces of the Philippines an instrument of quick national response.
Ochoa could not mobilize the military faster than Gazmin could. He was a bureaucracy added to the formula, and he has had no drills with the DILG and the PNP beforehand. In fact, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and his 911 quick-response team coming all the way from Davao City, beat Aquino and Ochoa to ground zero.
Similarly, it took the US government a costly five days before it could mobilize the National Guard. When that happened, instead of tens of thousands of evacuees being bussed out to outside counties where their needs could be sustained, they were centralized into New Orleans Coliseum for relief. The superdome experience turned more of a disaster than succor.
Just as Bush denied the Louisiana governor to coordinate the aftermath of Katrina, Aquino did not trust the Tacloban mayor, who know the terrain better, to head the relief operations, with Roxas turning the scene into a political embarrassment insulting Mayor Alfred Romualdez that he is not an “Aquino” in the midst of the confusion.
As for Lacson in charge of rehabilitation, the best picture I could remember were doghouses he was offering the Tacloban evacuees to move into.
So what are we aping FEMA for, that is not yet in the NDRRMC mix? Moving forward, the president must first identify specifically what vacuum there is still to filled in the present setup. He ought to be careful because he might be recklessly admitting that his response to his first “disaster” has failed which makes for this legislation as unnecessary and a political trap.
The new senate president just wants another head of a beast displayed on its wall.
Remember how in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, the senate allocated an extra P2 billion to its budget, making for a total about 360 million appropriation for each of its 24 seats? The same year it also provided for P8 billion for a new Senate building at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, which will be completed at the tune of P10 billion.
Earlier, Zubiri dispelled charter change as one of its senate priorities. But the 18th Congress railroaded a franchise for the Bulacan aerocity and airport that lapsed into law, and a ecozone and freeport adjacent to the same project that PBBM vetoed.
As we speak, its new priorities seems to be passing the Vape law instead of advocating for a stop to smoking and legalizing medical marijuana, which is already legal under the New Dangerous Drugs Law and is only awaiting for the Food and Drug Administration to approve a prescription formula.
In an earlier article, I advocated for a start of rightsizing from the top, for instance the abolition of the senate whose budget stands at P9.5 billion, for besides becoming a mill for inferior and ulterior bills, has devoted much more time for investigations that has been used to besmirch our own citizens rather than legislation.
Its new building can house a unicameral parliament, post charter change and other government offices that are erstwhile renting private buildings.