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Salceda urges colleagues on Taal: Help first, probe later

Congress must prioritize mobilizing the necessary material and policy assistance for districts affected by Taal’s eruption and investigate alleged lapses in warning afterwards, when the crisis has passed.

In a January 15  ‘Aide Memoire’ to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Majority Leader Martin G. Romualdez, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, House Ways and Means Committee chair, urged his colleagues to prioritize measures and policies designed to immediately address the tragic plight of the Taal eruption victims over investigations called for on certain issues.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda
Some sectors have called for a congressional investigation of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) over what many perceived as the agency’s lack of advanced warning on Taal’s eruption. Malacañang, however, has immediately defended the agency.

“Composed of members from every district and from a broad segment of civil society, the House is uniquely capable of acting as a national action center for gathering resources for disaster relief. As such, it must dedicate its time and resources to efforts that meaningfully improve the situation of Filipinos. It can devote some time to congressional investigations when the situational urgency has receded,” Salceda noted.

“We must help first and investigate later,” he stressed. Salceda is widely regarded as a disaster risk reduction expert. He principally authored the Department of Disaster Resilience bill which the House already passed and is now pending in the Senate.

“Offices of members of the House can also help link constituents who would like to help with affected constituencies. Congressional district offices can serve as collection points and information offices for relief efforts,” he added.

Salceda said the House’s broad scope of powers also makes it a critically-needed partner in recovery and resiliency efforts. Most importantly, the House is about to deliver on the most important piece of policymaking needed for disaster risk response and preparedness pp the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

He proposes that Congress immediately prepare to accommodate a request for supplementary appropriations if and when requested by the Executive branch.

“In particular, we anticipate the formulation and legislation of  a Taal Eruption Recovery Rehabilitation and Adaptation or TERRA Plan,” he said.

The TERRA Plan will be based on the principle of building back better forward which should go beyond restoring areas to their former state or condition but instead use this opportunity to leapfrog area development given its proximity to Metro Manila, the economic power center.

This includes the creation of a reconstruction commission which shall be primary agency for implementing TERRA Firma which could possibly cost from P60 billion to P100 billion, he explained.

For institutional reform, Salceda proposes the immediate passage of the proposed DDR law as soon as Congress resumes session, and complement it by expediting committee deliberations on calamity insurance and social benefits such as calamity leaves.

As a long-term strategy, Congress must embed in the measure an “’all-of-nation’ convergences for disaster resilience into national policies such as the General Appropriations Act,” said that among the actions Congress can undertake, the most critical one in future-proofing a country that is arguably the most disaster-prone in the region would be the enactment of a structurally sound DDR, for the following reasons:

1)     Ease of monitoring. Currently, disaster risk monitoring under agencies like Phivolcs and PAGASA are only among the many mandates of their mother agency, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). As such, disaster risk monitoring receives only sub-Cabinet level resources, attention, and latitude;

2)     Decision-making speed and latitude. Disasters wait for no one. The effectiveness of disaster response depends almost exclusively on how quickly crucial decisions are made. By creating a department solely devoted to disaster preparedness and response, and which does not answer to another Cabinet agency, Congress can ensure that disaster response is quickly decided at the highest levels of government.

3)     Clarity of direction and coordination. Inter-agency coordination or the    lack of it consumes time and creates confusion. Creating one department solely responsible for the response sets a path for clear implementation and direction;

4)     Institutionalization of national support. With the DRR, national support for local disaster preparedness and response becomes institutional and thus more dependable. Disaster preparedness should not be a work in bursts, but should instead be a sustained effort;

5)     Effective mobilization. Currently, disaster response mobilization is  fragmented, with different agencies under different mother departments performing different functions at often different timetables. The DDR will unify these functions and assume the task of on-time delivery of disaster relief and personnel. And

6)     Effective public communication. In disasters, information asymmetry   is often what determines who lives and who dies. With the DDR, the public will be able to rely on disaster-related information packages that are clear, consistent, and coordinated.

Topics: Department of Disaster Resilience bill , Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano , Majority Leader Martin G. Romualdez , Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda , Taal
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