Supplemental budget eyed for rehab drive

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    PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday said Congress may consider drawing up a supplemental budget for relief and eventual rehabilitation of areas affected by the activities of Taal Volcano in Batangas.

    The President made the statement during a visit to Batangas and after Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said the Risk Reduction and Management Funds (RRDC) or calamity fund of some local governments in Batangas are getting depleted. He said one municipality in Batangas, which he did not name, claimed that they now have “zero calamity funds.”

    President Duterte, in Santo Tomas town in Batangas where he led the distribution of relief goods and cash aid to evacuees, said the budget for this year has been passed and it was not expected that the Taal would act up this year.

    “Itong pangyayari na ito hindi naman ito kasali sa budgeting. Hindi naman natin akalaing puputok. So baka magkaroon tayo ng supplemental budget sa Congress (This event was not included in the budgeting. We did not expect that there would be an eruption. So Congress might come up with a supplemental budget),” he said.

    Taal had been under alert level 1 since March last year until January 12 when it started spewing steam and ash. It is now under alert level 4 which means a hazardous explosion is possible within hours or days. The next level, 5 which is the highest alert, means a hazardous eruption is underway.

    The President also said Congress is eyeing a P30-billion fund that could be used for the rehabilitation of the areas affected by Taal. He did not give details.

    He said he will also ask Congress for funds to set up big evacuation centers in several parts of the country, first in Samar, Isabela, Cagayan and Batangas provinces.

    Densing and Casiano Molina, assistant secretary of the Office of the Civil Defense, said they have advised the local government units to ask fund assistance from the provincial government first.

    Molina said government has funds it can tap, including contingency funds of the national government. Densing said concerned national government agencies are talking with Congress about the aid needed in the affected areas.

    “I would like to announce that Speaker Alan Cayetano has already called upon us at the DILG to meet with him at the soonest possible time so that we can talk about the assistance that Congress can give to the situation right now. So, hopefully, we can get additional funding through Congress or from the funds Office of the President,” Densing said.

    House members will hold a plenary session in Batangas City tomorrow with the end in view of approving a bill seeking to create a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) following the eruption of the Taal Volcano which has displaced at least 100,000 individuals.

    The DDR is envisioned to be the lead agency for national efforts before, during, and after disasters.

    Batangas, where Taal is located, has been under a state of calamity since last week because of Taal’s activities. Also under a state of calamity is nearby Cavite province.

    Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano delivered brief privilege speech highlighting the House’s plan to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan to help the severely affected municipalities and cities in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna.

    He said the comprehensive rehabilitation plan will entail funding, logistical and operational support from national government agencies while different House committees and relevant government agencies and urban planning experts “can work on this plan to ensure that it is disaster-resilient and sustainable.”

    The Philippine Institute Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) earlier said a prolonged eruption of up to seven months could be the worst-case scenario.

    The 2020 General appropriations Act allocates P16 billion for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund, including P3.3 billion for aid, relief, and rehabilitation services to communities affected by calamities and P4.2 billion for repair and reconstruction of permanent structures including capital expenditures.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Congress can pass a supplemental budget to augment the calamity fund in case displaced residents would have to stay long in evacuation centers.

    He said tracing the P4-billion cut from the P20 billion in calamity funds for this year might prove difficult because there were no minutes of the bicameral conference committee where it was tackled.

    “Walang minutes sa bicameral conference committee. Talagang usapan lang yan, walang record, walang nagmamasid. That’s why I’m always fighting for a transparent and open discussion of the bicameral (meeting),” he said, adding that he heard the reason for the P4-billion slash in the 2020 calamity funds was that there is an P11-billion leftover from the 2019 fund.

    Lacson said local government units can use their own funding while waiting for assistance from the national government.

    “Every LGU allotted a portion of their regular sources of revenues, internal revenue allotment, about 5 percent for calamity or disaster response. Last year, Batangas had a budget of P3.9 billion so if they allowed 5 percent of that to the local disaster risk reduction and management fund that should be P183 million,” he said.

    The Department of Agriculture said damage to agriculture from Taal’s eruptions has reached P3.2 billion, affecting some 16,150 hectares of farmlands and killing at least 55,880 farm animals that include chicken, carabao, cattle, horse, swine, and goat.

    The damage is almost equivalent to that from typhoon “Tisoy,” at P3.7 billion, and typhoon “Ursula,” P3 billion. — With Wendell Vigilia, Ashzel Hachero and Jed Macapagal