‘Help first, investigate later’

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    ALBAY Rep. Joey Salceda urged the House leadership to prioritize giving assistance to victims of the Taal Volcano eruption over the conduct of an investigation aimed at determining if the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) was able to do its job of monitoring the volcanic activities.

    “The House of Representatives must prioritize mobilizing the necessary material and policy assistance for districts affected by Taal’s recent volcanic activity,” Salceda, chair of the House committee on ways and means, told Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez in a letter.

    Salceda said the House, being composed of representatives of every district and from a broad segment of civil society, “is uniquely capable of acting as a national action center for gathering resources for disaster relief.”

    Offices of members of the House can also help link constituents who would like to help with affected constituencies, Salceda said, adding that district offices can serve as collection points and information offices for relief efforts.

    “Its broad scope of powers also makes the House a critically-needed partner in recovery and resiliency efforts,” said the veteran lawmaker. “Being both at once uniquely capable and uniquely needed, the House 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. We must help first and investigate later.”

    Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. earlier filed House Resolution No. 643 urging the appropriate House committee to find out if the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has conducted a “comprehensive monitoring” of the volcanic activities and if it has the equipment to carry it out, as Filipinos “were taken by surprise by the recent Taal Volcano eruption.”

    Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum, in a briefing in Malacañang on Wednesday, said the agency has long been warning the public about the activities of Taal which has been under an alert level since March last year.

    Also defending Phivolcs was Mark Timbal, spokesman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction management Council, who said communities around the volcano have been “educated” about the dangers posed by the volcano.

    Salceda said the House is about to deliver on the most important piece of policy-making needed for disaster risk response and preparedness which is the passage of the bill creating The Department of Disaster Resilience.

    He said Congress must prepare to accommodate a request for supplementary appropriations if and when requested by the Executive.

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

    “The plan shall be based on the principle of building back better forward which should go beyond restoring the area to its former state or condition but instead use this opportunity to leapfrog area development given its proximity to Metro Manila- the seat of economic power,” he said.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, yesterday said lawmakers are free to conduct an inquiry but as far as Malacañang is concerned, it is satisfied with the agency’s actions.

    The United States is providing Phivolcs with remote sensing equipment to help in the round-the-clock monitoring of Taal.

    The embassy said the equipment came from the US Geological Survey’s Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (USGS-VDAP).

    “VDAP has loaned an infrared camera and is providing remote analytic support to Phivolcs as needed,” the embassy said.

    It said disaster experts from the US Agency for International Development continue to monitor the humanitarian impact of the eruption. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero