BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA
CONGRESS resumes session today after a month-long holiday, with focus on a bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) amid the activities of Taal Volcano in Batangas.
Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said government agencies are doing well in relation to evacuation and relief efforts after Taal spewed ash and steam on Sunday last week, but the DDR is needed for more efficient and coordinated efforts in times of disasters
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, chair of the House rules committee, said the House aims to pass the measure before the next congressional recess in March.
In November last year, the House committees on government reorganization and on disaster management approved a substitute bill consolidating all measures seeking to create the DDR which will be the primary agency responsible for leading the national effort before, during, and after disasters.
Alert level 4 has been in effect at Taal Volcano since January 12. Level 4 means a “hazardous eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is 5, which means a hazardous eruption is underway.
Cayetano said the House is set to tackle two other priority measures of President Duterte.
These are the bills seeking to create the Department of Filipinos Overseas (DFO) and the Department of Water Resources.
“The creation of three key vital departments is among our top priorities – Department of Disaster Resilience, Department of Overseas Filipinos and Department of Water,” Cayetano said.
Zubiri lauded the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) “for its diligent monitoring of Taal and warning us since last year when it issued alert level 1.”
“But, we need to create an agency that is quick-footed, scientific, focused and well-equipped,” he said adding the Office of Civil Defense “is stretched to the limit.”
“The creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience will ensure a more efficient, coordinated, and complete system of disaster management — from risk assessment to emergency response right down to reintegration assistance and rehabilitation.
Zubiri said he will also call for the passage of the National Hazard Mapping Act of 2019.
“Once enacted, resources can be directed to concerned agencies for the identification of high-risk areas and pinpoint possibilities of occurrence, magnitude, and location of potential earthquakes, volcanic activity, and other natural hazards,” he said.
The Senate will tackle three other disaster-related bills. These call for the provision of decent, sanitary, and secure temporary shelters and evacuation centers, filed by Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Ralph Recto, and Christopher Go.
Zubiri said also among priority measures are the anti-terrorism act, one proposing a separate facility for convicts of heinous crimes, and a bill upgrading the salary grade of teachers.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Malacañang will study the possibility of creating a commission that will oversee the rehabilitation of areas affected by Taal but said he could not say if President Duterte will certify as urgent a bill seeking to create a “Taal Commission.”
Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto, who is from Batangas, has said he will file a bill seeking to create the Taal Commission which will be patterned after the Pinatubo Commission that helped victims of the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga.
The body will oversee the rehabilitation of the areas affected by Taal’s activities, particularly in Batangas and Cavite.
The Mt. Pinatubo Commission, which was created in 1992, formulated policies and plans for the relief, rehabilitation, resettlement, and livelihood services as well as infrastructure support for Central Luzon areas affected by the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo. It also supervised the spending of P10 billion in rehabilitation fund.
Panelo rejected the suggestion of Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero to create a Taal task force to centralize efforts to address the crisis. He said a system for the evacuation and relief operations in the Taal-affected areas is in place and working well.
The House committee on appropriations is set to approve the budget component of DDR on January 22.
The bill seeking to create a Department of Filipinos Overseas is being deliberated upon in the plenary.
The committee on overseas workers affairs is set to resume its special hearing on January 21 to discuss the situation of Filipino workers in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East, particularly repatriation efforts amid the tension between Iran and the United States.
The bill seeking to create a Department of Water Resources has been approved by the House committees on government reorganization, on public works and highways, and on ways and means amid the series of water interruptions in Metro Manila last year.
Also in the House priority list is the passage on third and final reading of House Bill No. 5673 which authorizes the Department of Health to set and approve the bed capacity and service capability of all DOH-retained hospitals in all parts of the country.
Before the Christmas break, Romualdez said the House of Representatives processed 900 measures, or an average of 28 measures a day, during the 32 session days.
The Senate’s other priority measures are the Philippine High School for Sports Act (pending second reading), Teaching Supplies Allowance Act (pending second reading), Solo Parents Welfare Act (pending in the committee), Security of Tenure Act (pending in the committee), Coconut Farmers & Industry Development Act (pending comments by the Department of Finance), Creation of A Philippine Water Commission (pending in the committee), Potable Water Supply for every Barangay Act (pending in the committee), and the Anti-Single Use Plastic Act (SBN 40, 333, 557).