A new department to manage disasters

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    THERE is an ongoing debate in the Senate involving the creation of the new Department of Disaster Management or a Department of Disaster Resilience, and it is a must that the senators, members of the House of Representatives, the media, and ordinary Filipinos should study the ramifications of both sides of the argument.

    Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino has been one of the principal proponents of this new department, even when he was MMDA chairman and later, political adviser of President Duterte and the President’s point-man in every major disaster and catastrophe such as typhoons and earthquakes. On the other hand, Sen. Richard Gordon, also the chairman of Philippine Red Cross and as experienced as Tolentino in handling emergencies, said there is no need to pass a new law that will help victims of natural disasters and calamities as long as government funds appropriated for these are readily available and properly used by the existing government agencies tasked to handle these problems.

    Gordon said instead of new legislation, what we all need is proper utilization of government funds. He cited that all local government units are equipped with calamity funds that they can use for emergency response. The senator from Zambales is just worried the creation of a new department for this purpose will just mean bloating the existing bureaucracy. He proposes to put the matter under further study and scrutiny.

    Sen. Gordon’s counter-proposal is for the government to create a program that will manage all the disaster relief efforts, citing as an example the creation of the Mt. Pinatubo Commission when the Pinatubo volcano erupted. This program to be administered by the Commission should handle all the nitty-gritty of rescue, rehabilitation and relief work needed in major catastrophes.

    However, Sen. Tolentino insisted there must be a single department that should oversee all matters relating to disaster relief efforts, because there is no single agency which people can trust and run to in case of a national emergency.

    Tolentino noted that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is only activated in times of nationwide crises. What the country needs now, he said, is an agency that will actively and continually respond to natural disaster and calamities on a daily basis.

    The senator from Tagaytay City noticed that starting that weekend when Taal Volcano spewed smoke and gases, local officials were hard put in trying to help their constituents, especially those who were living on Volcano Island which previous to this had become a tourist spot. The following Monday, Sen. Tolentino had to convene an Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee composed of all national government agencies involved in rescue, relief and rehabilitation, together with local officials and mayors of Batangas and Cavite to coordinate their efforts, with the clock ticking at every turn and rescuers/volunteers were racing against time. “If we have a Department of Disaster Management, they will be in charge and will be able to work from the very minute that the emergency happened,” said Tolentino.

    He said there’s no need to come up with another set of funds as Congress can consolidate the budget of the NDRRMC, and other government agencies that would be under the new department. He even proposed that the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), now under the Department of Interior and Local Government, be transferred to the new department.

    Tolentino believes that this way, we will have more people in the field doing rescue and relief work.

    Other senators and representatives have their own ideas on how best the national government could respond to national emergencies and we also need to hear from them.