Citing the vulnerability of the country to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and typhoons, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Monday, November 11, said that it is time for the establishment of a Department of Disaster Resilience to mitigate the consequences and take a more proactive approach to such calamities.
The proposed measure is currently being tackled in the Senate at the committee level during the Joint Committee Hearing of the National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation; Civil Service, Government Reorganization and Professional Regulation; Ways and Means; and Finance Committees.
“It is high time that we recognize the fact that our country is highly vulnerable to ominous disasters given the frequency of natural calamities, like typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, that hit and affect us every year,” Go said.
“I would like to put on record that only through the realization of the Department of Disaster Resilience can we mitigate the consequences of such calamities, resulting to very few casualties, if not none,” he added.
Concurring with Senator Miguel Zubiri who earlier remarked that the country’s response to natural disasters is simply “reactionary”, Go emphasized the need for a more proactive approach to natural disasters.
“Equally important na proactive tayo bago ang sakuna. Dapat may magtuturo sa mga LGUs kung ano ang dapat gawin sakaling may darating na sakuna. Handa tayo dapat bago pa ito dumating, not only after,” said Go.
Go also emphasized the importance for the public to know what agency is in charge when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. He stressed that under the current structure, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council merely acts as an ad hoc inter agency coordinating body when dealing with disasters.
“For example, pag health, DOH ang in charge. Kapag housing, that is why department of housing was created. Kapag may Department of Disaster Resilience po, alam ng tao sino lalapitan at sino in charge. Mas magiging mabilis at maayos ang pagresponde natin para matulungan ang mga kababayan nating apektado ng sakuna,” he said.
The senator cited the recent earthquakes in Mindanao, which led to numerous casualties and economic losses, as a proof of the country’s need for improved preparedness when dealing with such catastrophes.
“In terms of economic impact, it is projected that earthquakes could lead to a temporary rise in poverty and delay in infrastructure projects, on top of the costs and losses incurred by civilians and businesses in the region,” Go said.
“Isa po ako sa mga naunang pumunta para makapagbigay ng pakikidalamhati at makapaghatid ng tulong sa ating mga kababayan na naging biktima ng kalunos-lunos na paglindol sa iba’t ibang parte ng Mindanao. Nais ko pong ipabatid sa lahat na ang aking serbisyo ay walang pinipili, ako po ay laging bukas sa ating mga kababayan para makapagbigay ng tulong at handang makinig sa lahat ng inyong hinaing,” he added.
Go said that during his visit, it has become clear that a comprehensive, specialized, and holistic approach is the most effective way to address the catastrophic effects and mitigate the adverse impacts caused by natural disasters.
The senator filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 205 or the “Disaster Resilience Act of 2019”. The measure proposes for the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience, “an empowered, highly specialized department with clear unity of command and primarily responsible in ensuring safe, adaptive and disaster-resilient communities.”
The bill seeks to establish a clear system of responsibility for disaster preparedness and response in all levels of the government, given the increasing number and devastation brought about by various disasters.
Through the proposed measure, the existing Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) offices will be renamed as Local Disaster Resilience Offices. A Disaster Resilience Fund will also be established to finance DDR’s operations, disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness, response, recovery, rehabilitation and building forward better programs, projects and activities formulated in the national level.
The National Disaster Operations Center will be established, with its corresponding Alternative Command and Control Centers, while a Disaster Resilience Research and Training Institute will also be created to provide training and to collect, consolidate, manage and share knowledge and information resources to boost disaster resilience.
Currently, disaster-related responsibilities are shared among various government agencies. Stating his recent visit to North Cotabato, which was one of the provinces hardest hit by the Mindanao earthquakes in late October, Go expressed his frustration over the lack of centralized response to the disaster.
“Sa totoo lang, si Pangulong Duterte, gusto niya talagang magkaroon ng isang point person na mamamahala sa lahat. Dapat magkaroon ng secretary-level na mayroong authority.
“Kung may (isang) secretary (in-charge), siya na ang makikipag-coordinate. Noong nagpunta kami ng North Cotabato, wala naman taga Office of Civil Defense (OCD). Ilan po ba ang personnel meron kayo dun?” Go asked OCD Usec. Ricardo B. Jalad during the hearing who then responded that there were twenty OCD personnel on ground in North Cotabato to respond to the earthquake.
“Isipin mo 20 lang, eh ang biktima 20,000,” Go lamented, stressing the need for an executive department with enough personnel who would assist disaster victims.
“Kailangan talaga ng isang department. Kung mayroon ka nang sarili mong departamento, madali mo i-gather ang personnel. Kapag hiwa-hiwalay, mahirap i-gather. Hindi makahihintay ang mga biktima tapos napakaliit ng opisina ng OCD. That’s why I’m pushing for this department.”
Go added that the creation of the DDR is also one of the priorities of President Rodrigo Duterte as stated in his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
“Kasama ‘yan sa kanyang SONA. Priority n’ya ‘yan. Sabi nga ni Senator Panfilo Lacson, kulang-kulang ang resource persons ngayon. Hindi sila interesado. Pero ang ating Pangulo ay interesado. Punta kayo mismo sa tinamaan ng lindol. Kulang-kulang ang tulong. Ngayon, kung merong DDR, ito na makikipag-coordinate sa lahat,” said Go.
Ending his statement, Go urged those in the hearing to act immediately to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on the country.
“Huwag na po tayong magsayang ng oras. Huwag na po natin antayin na may dumating pang matinding kalamidad na tumama sa ating bansa. It is time to scale up our preparedness and resiliency against natural disasters. Panahon na para magkaroon tayo ng ahensyang magbibigay ng buong atensyon sa ating paghahanda at pagresponde sa mga kalamidad at sakuna,” Go concluded.