Solidarity for Sovereignty By Ado Paglinawan
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has joined Senate President Jose Miguel Zubiri in the latter’s soapbox for a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) by filing Senate Bill 188 in the 19th Congress which is just a renumbering of Senate Bill 205 that did not pass the last Congress.
Their only rationale – the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit Northern Luzon.
Both senators have not given any qualified reason why they are fattening the bureaucracy in the midst of President Bongbong Marcos’ call for rightsizing government.
Senator Go recklessly argued: “the Philippines’ experiences with natural disasters have shown that the existing laws, policies, resources, and institutional arrangements governing disaster management lacked responsiveness to the country’s requirements for disaster resilience.”
Is the former sidekick of President Rodrigo Duterte, overnight a senator, saying that his master’s handling of disasters had been wanting of anything?
Go did not specify what “lack in responsiveness” the present National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council is guilty of. On the contrary, I still have to recall a single complaint from the general public on how the Duterte administration performed on disasters from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2022.
What Bong Go doesn’t realize is that he has judged Duterte somewhat failed in this area. Actually, I doubt if he could provide any rhyme to that whatsoever because what is evident is that NDRRMC under its ex-officio chairman Delfin Lorenzana had been a resounding success.
In fact, the Council, which Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law May 2016, has served as the template of the “whole of government” and “whole of nation” approach that birthed Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) that made our streets safe, the National Task Force for the Elimination of Local Communist Armed Conflicts (NTF-ELCAC) that beat the CPP-NPA-NDF terrorists, and the InterAgency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that managed the Covid-19 pandemic.
If we follow Zubiri and Go’s flawed logic – Must we therefore also create separate departments against illegal drugs, terrorists and pandemics?
Bong Go’s oversimplification is ridiculous: There is no problem that requires any solution. “Iyon po ang gusto nating mangyari, isang departamentong nakatutok po sa disaster-related situation.” (The senator maintained that a new department with a secretary in charge would ensure more focused government efforts during calamities.)
So, what will this “department” do when there is no disaster?
This is proof positive that the senator from Davao has not read the charter that created the NDRRMC. Here is a lowdown of the component provisions of the proposed DDR under Senate Bill 205 and how it stands against NDRRMC:
- The DDR proposes the utilization of advancements in information technology to be called an Integrated Disaster Resilience Information System. This is already in full force. In fact, just to cite an example, computer-aided flood and hazard mapping is available from barangay to regional levels.
- It proposes an early warning system. Again, this is already in full force. In fact, about 76 emergency alert and warning messages on top of preemptive evacuation directives were issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) before Typhoon Ulysses made landfall in Luzon.
The council issued preemptive evacuation instructions and in coordination with the country’s telecommunication giants, have issued emergency alerts and up-to-date information to keep the public informed. It also emphasized the cascading of information down to the community through other means such as utilizing the communication system of the uniformed services — the PNP, AFP — as well as to cascade information house-to-house using the “bandillo” system.
- Emergency powers during, and in the aftermath of emergencies, hazards and disasters shall be exercised by the Department, primarily guided by the principle of “Building Forward Better”. This is already being implemented as one of NDRRMC’s best practices.
- Remedial measures under a state of calamity like the imposition of price ceiling on basic necessities and prime commodities and programming and reprogramming of funds, and grant of no-interest government loans are already inherent in the NDRRMC chairman’s power to declare a state of calamity, although the declaration of the higher state of emergency is reserved to the president of the Philippines.
- A one-stop Humanitarian Assistance Action Center is deemed unnecessary under the NDRRMC setup because in the cluster concept, not only are the component clusters capable of executing pre-planned or adhoc assistance programs but their link to international sourcing is laid out as automatic mechanisms.
- Assisting relevant cultural and heritage agencies for the protection and restoration of national treasures or national historical landmarks, including those of the indigenous communities are part of the characteristic empowerment of the NDRRMC to rule and extend. Specifically, rehabilitation and recovery under this exigency is under the cluster headed by NEDA.
- Provision for a National Disaster Operations Center is superfluous because there is already an NDRRMC headquarters with state-of-the-art facilities located inside Camp Aguinaldo. Likewise, an office performing the functions of a proposed Disaster Resilience Research and Training Institute is already existing and the provincial, city/municipality and barangay counterparts linked with the Bureau of Fire Protection.
- DRRM offices are also existing as devolved at the provincial, city and municipal as suggested for renaming for Local Disaster Resiliency Office. The present NDRRMC setup, in fact, exceeds the DDR devolution by going all the way down to the barangay level.
Superfluous cost-centered proposal
Aside from the DDR bill, Senator Go also refiled Senate Bill 193, or the Mandatory Evacuation Center Bill, which will require every province, city and municipality to construct such centers that will be equipped with emergency packs, medicines and other basic necessities.
The DDR bill merely duplicates ample contingencies under the present NDRRMC setup such 9) Evacuation centers are not just available upon request but pre-laid out up to the barangay levels and 10) Rules on procurement which aim to facilitate the flow of basic goods to affected areas, not impeded by bureaucratic obstacles are already a standard-operating procedure adopted by DSWD to the extent that non-perishable relief items are already stocked way in advance of prospective need.
These ten markdowns leave nothing in the proposed legislation that can anymore provide any strengthening or substantial improvement from NDRRMC to DDR. In fact, the reverse is true.
Bong Go’s appeal to emotions is pointless: “Tuwing mayroong disaster, inililikas sila sa evacuation center. Kadalasan po ang mga evacuation center na paglilikasan sa kanila ay eskwelahan o gym.” lamented the senator.
Under the Senate bill, the construction and maintenance of evacuation centers in all localities, inclusive of the location, structural or building capacity, and minimum amenities and accessibility shall be implemented by a coordinated Department of Public Works and Highways, the local government units concerned, and other line agencies.
Does the senator even listen to himself? These permanent structures will require General Appropriations of astronomic proportions which we can ill afford. What is instead plausible is that disasters do not strike at the same spot so what will be the use of these facilities in between disasters?
What a freaking extravagance on the road to economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic – making permanent what by its very nature should only be contingent.
For purposes served by beer, Bong Go prescribes champagne!
Go’s lack of rhyme further showed as he said: “Ito pong bill na ito kung sakaling pumasa ay magkakaroon ho tayo ng isang cabinet level na departamento. Secretary level na iyon po ang tututok,” he added, as Senate Bill No. 188 aims to establish a Department of Disaster Resilience which will bring together all essential functions and mandates currently scattered among various disaster-related agencies.
Distinction between DDR and NDRRMC
The ghost difference lies in Article I Section 4 and Article IV of Senate Bill 205, “Organization and Management”.
- In Article I Section 4 the bill provides for the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience, primarily as a cabinet position, directly under the President of the Philippines. This is an added layer between the president and the operating clusters.
The NDRRMC is basically a “council” directly under the President of the Philippines.
- In Article IV Section 7, the Department will be headed by a new Secretary who shall be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.
The NDRRMC as a Council, reports directly to the President and is headed ex officio by the Secretary of National Defense, as chairperson.
- Senate Bill 205 provides for four new undersecretaries, namely:
- Undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction
- Undersecretary for Disaster Preparedness and Response
- Undersecretary for Recovery and Building Forward Better
- Undersecretary for Administration
This is where this bill hits its lowest point, and presents a bridge to nowhere.
Go is not only proposing to remove the synergetic role under NDRRMC of five Cabinet secretaries and one undersecretary performing as a Council directly under the President, each with his own portfolio, manpower, equipment, resources, budget and defined levels of autonomy to act as the situation warrants, but replaces them with four undersecretaries whose only power is to report to the farcical DDR secretary.
Test question: Pray tell me, how will this new member of the Cabinet and his undersecretaries mobilize, at a moment’s notice, the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the nationally designated responder, and the police and local governments who are the first responders at ground zero?
By the time the proposed DDR secretary would seek presidential approval, many lives could have already been lost or endangered. The DDR, as proposed, is only concerned with responding after the disaster has already struck, a return to the disaster that was National Disaster Cooordinating Council (NDCC) that the NDRRMC replaced by law.
The NDRRMC mission as its name suggests, is most interested in risk reduction, before, during and after the disaster strikes.
This is why the DDR cannot be a go! You can squeeze blood out of turnip!