House eyes P5B hike in calamity fund

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    Super Typhoon Rolly destroyed vessels and bancas in Gigmoto, Catanduanes. (Photo by Cecilio Hagos, Good Neighbors International Philippines, originally featured in an ABS-CBN report)

    By Wendell Vigilia and Victor Reyes

    THE House of Representatives will seek an increase of at least P5 billion in the 2021 calamity fund under the P4.5-trillion proposed national budget for 2021, for the reconstruction of areas devastated by recent typhoons.

    Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the House contingent will propose the increase during the bicameral conference meeting with senators right after the Senate approves its own version of the budget.

    “Given the tremendous damage caused by these successive strong typhoons, it is imperative that we augment the calamity fund in next year’s spending plan. We have to help our people rebuild their lives and their communities,” he said, adding there are enough funds in the proposed 2021 budget from which the P5 billion could be sourced.

    The latest of the weather disturbances, typhoon “Ulysses,” left nearly P13 billion in damage to infrastructure and agriculture, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). It caused massive flooding mostly in Cagayan province.

    The damage from Ulysses is about P4 billion less than that caused by super typhoon “Rolly” which devastated mostly the Bicol region also this month.

    The NDRRMC said nearly half of the P12.9-billion damage from Ulysses was recorded in Cagayan Valley. The region registered P4.95 billion in damage to infrastructure and P1.12 billion to agriculture. The rest of the damage was recorded in seven other regions — Cordillera Administrative Region, Ilocos, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, and Metro Manila.

    The official death toll from Ulysses stood still at 73 persons with 19 still missing.

    Velasco said total damage caused by “Quinta,” Rolly and Ulysses to infrastructure and agriculture has so far reached P35 billion.

    Velasco said next year’s calamity fund has to be increased to provide additional funds for the reconstruction of typhoon-damaged communities or alternatively, “we can allocate the additional money in the budgets of the agencies involved in reconstruction and helping typhoon victims.”

    Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, whose province was one of the worst-hit by the typhoons, said the “lion’s share” of the calamity budget in the next year’s GAA should be earmarked for the relief and rehabilitation work in Camarines Sur and the rest of the Bicol region, along with the other areas devastated by the three successive typhoons.

    Under the budget submitted by President Duterte to Congress in August, the calamity fund amounts to P20 billion, up by P4 billion from this year’s P16 billion. However, of the P20 billion, P5 billion will go for Marawi City reconstruction, while P6.25 billion would be augmentation for the quick response funds of six agencies.

    Of the P6.25 billion, P2 billion will go to the Department of Education, P1.25 billion to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P1 billion to the Department of Agriculture, P1 billion to the Department of Public Works and Highways, P500 million to the Department of Health, and P500 million to the Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense.

    “That’s a total of P11.25 billion that is specifically appropriated, leaving a balance of P8.75 billion President Duterte could use to help victims of calamities and other disasters. That balance is not even enough to rebuild Bicol, which was hardly hit by typhoon Rolly,” Velasco said.

    Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas filed Resolution No. 1361 seeking a probe by the House special committee on reforestation into the status of government’s reforestation programs and initiatives to protect watersheds.

    “The extensive damage caused by typhoon Ulysses, as well as the previous typhoons, should be seen as a wake-up call for us to work for a viable and successful reforestation program and to protect our forest areas and watersheds from such extractive activities as illegal logging and quarrying,” said Vargas, a member of the House committee on disaster resilience.

    He said he wants to know what the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other government agencies have been doing to address illegal logging in protected areas, such as the Sierra Madre mountain range. He is also seeking an explanation on why quarrying activities are allowed to continue at the Marikina watershed.

    The Department of Social Welfare and Development said 34,328 families or 139,866 individuals remain in 723 evacuation centers in six regions affected by Ulysses.

    The DSWD said the affected evacuees are from 6,321 barangays in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, Cordillera Administrative Region, and the National Capital Region.

    DSWD said 12,829 families or 46,848 persons from Regions II, III, IV-A, V and CAR are staying with their relatives and/or friends or outside the evacuation centers. — With Jocelyn Montemayor