"It’s a systematic government response to disasters."
Every regime, from as far back as I know, has had its own share of disasters to deal with. The late President Cory Aquino had the Ormoc tragedy and the Pinatubo eruption, former President Fidel V. Ramos had Typhoon Rosing, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had Ondoy, the late President Noynoy Aquino had Yolanda and a couple of other strong typhoons. President Rodrigo Duterte has the Taal Volcano eruption and of course, this pandemic.
Ironically, while the country has this unfortunate title of being a “suki” of natural disasters, none of the former regimes ever created a body solely dedicated to managing calamities.
Last year, when Taal Volcano erupted, Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino pushed for the establishment of a new agency to handle disasters – the Department of Disaster Management or a Department of Disaster Resilience.
In fact, he even gave us an inkling of how the proposed agency department will work, when he, at the height of Taal’s fury, called for an inter-agency meeting among the mayors of Batangas and Cavite towns representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Public Works and Highways, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Southern Luzon Command, Department of Health, National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Office, Batangas provincial government, and others whose offices are concerned in attending to disaster, in order to systematize government response to the disaster.
And the result was overwhelmingly positive – zero casualty.
Tolentino knows where he is coming from. He is a former local executive. He was a former chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. He has been a political adviser of President Rodrigo Duterte and his point-man in every major disaster and catastrophe such as typhoons and earthquakes. He has overseen operations for countless disasters both man-made and natural. And he knows the limits of a per-need activation of any agency to address any issue at hand.
And for him, the key to every disaster is preparedness. And that is what his proposed new agency aims to address.
Unfortunately, the bill proposing the creation of such an agency remains pending before the Senate. And surprisingly, the House is now leading the move for the enactment of the measure that Tolentino first proposed and was also included in one of Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, into a law.
And as Taal Volcano has again hit the headlines regarding its latest eruption, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez has renewed his appeal to the Senate leadership to pass a bill creating the DDR amid the continued unrest of Taal Volcano.
Like Tolentino, Romualdez is no stranger to disasters, having personally experienced the wrath and the horrors brought by Yolanda in 2013.
“I experienced the pain felt by thousands of families who lost their loved ones. Yolanda was a tragedy that should never happen again,” Romualdez recalls.
And like Tolentino, Romualdez avers government resources should not be mobilized “only when a calamity is about to strike or after a disaster has ravaged entire communities as the Department of Disaster Resilience will provide leadership in the continuous development of strategic and systemic approaches to disaster prevention, mitigation preparedness response, recovery, and rehabilitation.”
Romualdez says that under the bill, the DDR may undertake and implement certain emergency measures in anticipation of, during, and in the aftermath of disasters to protect and preserve life and property and ensure and promote public safety and welfare.
Among these emergency measures are carrying out preemptive and forced evacuation, imposition of curfew, and temporary takeover of any private utility or business, subject to payment of just compensation when there is imminent danger of loss of lives or damage to property.
The proposed law also establishes the National Disaster Operations Center, Alternative Command Centers, and Disaster Resilience Research and Training Institute.
The NDOC is a physical center equipped with the necessary tools and systems to monitor, manage, and respond to disasters in all areas of the country, while the ACCs are command centers that would provide supplemental support to the NDOC.
The DRRTI, meanwhile, is a platform for providing training preferably on site, and for collecting, consolidating, managing, analyzing, and sharing knowledge and information to improve or enhance disaster resilience.
While Romualdez acknowledges that much work is still expected in the 18th Congress until the 2022 elections, one of the bills he admits he wants enacted into law is the creation of the DDR, a measure he has co-authored with his wife, Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez.
Nothing could be more than a fitting legacy for this administration to leave behind other than the creation of the DDR – which although cannot be totally expected to eradicate damages brought about by the calamities, but with a systematic government response, it would at least minimize damages that this disaster-prone country suffers each year.