Reelectionist Senator Sonny Angara said the country needs a strong and empowered institution capable of responding to the new normal of national disasters and climate change, as he pushed for the immediate passage of a bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience after a magnitude 6.1 earthquake jolted parts of Luzon that killed at least eight people and injured others, and damaged critical infrastructures.
He noted that the strong earthquake reminds Filipinos on the urgency of creating a single, independent and permanent agency devoted to disaster management and resilience.
She said the new department will oversee a comprehensive and coordinated strategy in managing natural disasters with the main goal of saving lives and minimizing damage to property.
Last year, Angara filed Senate Bill 1994 or the proposed Disaster Resilience Act which seeks to establish the Department of Disaster Resilience that will provide a “whole of government, whole of nation approach” to disasters and emergency situations.
“What we want to ensure is a seamless synergy among government agencies and stakeholders from national down to the grassroots levels to effectively respond to disasters,” he said.
The bill, along with other similar measures, is pending with the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security. Its counterpart in the House of Representatives was passed in third and final reading in October last year.
According to Angara, it is imperative for the Philippines to have a line agency focusing on disaster resilience given that the country is considered among the countries most vulnerable to natural hazards and climate change as it is geographically located along the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Tropical Cyclone Belt.
In 2016, the Philippines ranked third in the World Risk Index of most disaster-prone countries in the world. Every year, it experiences almost all forms of natural disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and landslides.
Under Angara’s bill, the proposed new department will be tasked to spearhead efforts to ensure disaster resilience by delivering on the highly critical and intertwined functions of disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response, as well as recovery and building forward better. Macon Ramos-Araneta
“The Department of Disaster Resilience shall be the principal government institution responsible for ensuring safe, adaptive and disaster-resilient community,” Angara said in his bill, which defines the powers and functions of the proposed agency.
He added: “It shall lead, spearhead, initiate and integrate the crafting of plans, programs, projects and activities to reduce the risk of natural hazards and effects of climate change, and manage the impact of disasters.”
Angara is also proposing to empower the head of the DDR to recommend the declaration of state of calamity, which allows the exercise of remedial measures such as price ceiling, the grant of interest-free loans and tax exemptions.
The lawmaker from Aurora noted that each year, the Philippines sustains immense damage and tremendous losses due to natural disasters.
These include loss of life or injury; damage to infrastructure, properties and equipment; interruption of food supply; disruptions to critical services; loss of livelihood, business or revenues from business interruption; disruption of economic development; and damage to the environment.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, meanwhile, exhorted everyone to work together in rebuilding the damage and in ensuring the safety of the public following the jolt that hit some parts of the country.
She said this is indeed a tragic time for our country and “I express my heartfelt gratitude to the men and women who are taking part in the effort to accelerate rescue operations and to alleviate the suffering of our people in the most affected areas.”
The reelectionist senator also said she has faith that the strength and resilience of our people will carry us through this sorrowful time.
In the wake of the strong earthquake that hit Luzon, Sen. JV Ejercito for his part urged both national and local government authorities to immediately conduct comprehensive inspections of all buildings and vital infrastructure in order to ensure that they are safe.
“Let us pray for the rescue of those trapped in the collapsed building in Pampanga and hope that no more casualties will be reported. I ask the government to provide all possible support to those adversely affected by the quake,” said Ejercito,
“After the shock of this earthquake, let us work to strengthen disaster preparedness and resilience of our communities. Let us empower our local governments so they can respond effectively to disasters,” added the reelectionist senator.
Another reelectionist, Senator Nancy Binay asked the public to be calm as the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) already announced that the quake on Monday was not a major earthquake.
She also appealed to netizens to help stop the spread of alarming social media posts about the quake coming from dubious sources. She is seeking help from the Department of Information and Communications Technology and National Telecommunications Commission to help crackdown those who are using the quake to sow fear and panic through social media and SMS..
Instead of sharing these posts, she said netizens should help spread disaster awareness and post what to do during earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros expressed her support to first responders, emergency personnel and rescue workers who are even at this very moment working very hard to assess the damage, look for survivors, and help the affected communities recover.
She said it is important that even as Filipinos express their solidarity with one another, they have to remain calm and help the communities rebuild.
“I highly encourage all of us to keep ourselves informed at all times, to help inform others, to keep communication lines open and to work with the proper authorities on the correct procedures and emergency protocols.”
Meanwhile, Senate Deputy Secretary Jose Arnel Banas said the engineers found “superficial cracks, but did not provide details.
He said they will come out with a decision on the resumption of work in the Senate based on the assessment of the DPWH engineers
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said work in the Senate will resume only after the Senate Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms declared that the building is safe.
Work at the Senate was suspended Tuesday after a strong quake hit several parts of the country late Monday afternoon.
Recto, the officer in charge while Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is abroad, said he received reports that there were cracks in the building.
Due to this, he ordered all employees to go home shortly after the quake jolted the Senate building.
Senate Sergeant of Arms Jose Balajadia said all powers in the Senate building were shut down and people were allowed to go home.