IN matters of showmanship and braggadocio, you have to give it to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the architect of the P7.5-billion 2019 Southeast Asian Games with its P50 million cauldron and similar grand events.
It was decided last Monday by the leadership and members of the House of Representatives to convene its session today, Wednesday, at the Batangas City Convention Center. The move, in the words of Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, is clothed with “unanimity in spirit and consensus arrived at by leaders of the House.”
What will the lawmakers do in Batangas City? Most likely before the session, Cayetano and the congressmen — special mention on the representatives of Batangas, Laguna, Cavite and Quezon — will visit a nearby evacuation center and distribute some relief goods. Also, cameras and video gadgets of the media will be there to document the show.
In the session itself, we could expect impassioned speeches from the congressmen about the hardships and travails of the Taal volcano evacuees, the losses they suffered in terms of lives, properties, livelihood, etc. Some would blame the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) for their reported inefficiency (which we believe is not true) and even call for a congressional investigation. In fine, what we see in Cayetano’s insistence on convening the House of Representatives as a “Committee of the Whole” and holding out-of-town sessions in Batangas City is the Speaker’s propensity to grandstanding.
Another manifestation of this trait is the House leadership’s announcement that it is ready to increase to P50 billion the supplemental fund requested by President Duterte for the rehabilitation of volcano-ravaged areas, which the Palace pegged at P30 billion. This is obviously a knee-jerk reaction, something that did not undergo serious scrutiny. For the House leadership to say this without considering all the facts may be termed as irresponsible.
Duterte’s visit to the scene of devastation in Batangas resulted in his listing of rehabilitation priorities for Taal victims. These are housing, agriculture, and construction of permanent evacuation centers. This was the reason why he was looking for newly-appointed Secretary Eduardo del Rosario of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.
Knowing the nation’s balance sheet, Duterte was quick to assure Batanguenos that there is money available for the construction of new housing projects for them. The Chief Executive also promised the poor farmers that the government will help them, following the Department of Agriculture’s estimate that some P3 billion worth of crops and livestock were lost in the ongoing volcano eruption. Duterte also wanted an additional P20 billion for the construction of permanent evacuation centers in calamity-prone areas.
Instead of making a superficial roadshow, what the House of Representatives can do is conduct sessions in their own home at the Batasang Pambansa and pass legislation for the rehabilitation of Taal victims. They can also support the proposal of the senator from Batangas, Sen. Ralph Recto, for the government to release quickly part of the P16 billion fund of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund or the calamity fund for the purpose of Taal recovery.
It looks like President Duterte was able to calm down the anxiety and fears of Taal calamity victims with his promises of swift official action, while some senators and most of the congressmen were just looking and watching from afar.
The provinces of Batangas and Cavite have been placed under a state of calamity. Phivolcs has maintained Alert Level 4 over the volcano and advised evacuation of residents within the 14-kilometer danger zone.
The situation in Batangas looks like it will deteriorate before it gets better. The government, the private sector, and even the victims themselves are now called to cooperate and lend a hand for the Batanguenos’ desire to recover from the tragedy.