By Ellson Quismorio
The House of Representatives approved at the committee level a substitute measure on the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) which President Rodrigo Duterte requested from Congress earlier this year.
The approval came Wednesday after a three-hour joint panel hearing by the Committees on Government Reorganization and Disaster Management, chaired by Batangas 5th district Representative Marvey Mariño and Leyte 4th district Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez respectively.
Tingog Party-List Rep. Yedda Romualdez began the proceedings by submitting the technical working group (TWG) report on the substitute bill, which harmonized and consolidated the provisions of 32 individual bills from House members on the creation of the DDR.
Romualdez led the TWG which produced the as yet-unnumbered measure. Duterte asked lawmakers to institutionalize a DDR during his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July.
“It is high time that we create a truly empowered department that will focus on natural hazards and disasters…as the country’s primary disaster management agency,” read House Bill (HB) No.1151, which served as the draft bill. It was authored by Rep. Romualdez and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.
The substitute bill underwent fine-tuning via several amendments that were requested by congressmen during the course of the joint panel hearing.
Deputy Majority Leader and Camiguin lone district Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo moved to have it explicitly stated in the measure that the primary responsibilities of the DDR would be the creation of standards for evacuation centers, the construction of such evacuation centers, and working with the local government units (LGUs) for the maintenance of the evacuation centers.
Deputy Speaker and Antique lone district Rep. Loren Legarda frowned at how the loosely the term “evacuation center” has been used in local disaster response.
“There must be firm government standards on evacuation centers…A basketball court is not an evacuation center,” she said.
Torres reckoned that the “first and most important job of DDR” should be the conduct of a local risk assessment based on national criteria. “Risk assessment is the first thing you do for resilience,” she said.
Lanao del Norte 1st district Rep. Khalid Dimaporo proposed that the government set aside at least five percent of the national budget as allocation for the DDR, noting that the substitute bill “was silent regarding its budget for disaster preparedness.”
Mariño responded by saying that the House would get to tackle and determine the budget of the proposed department during its annual budget deliberations, since the chamber possesses the power of the purse.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) representative at the hearing said the initial cost to establish the DDR would be P1.05 billion.
The Philippines, located in the earthquake-prone Pacific Ring of Fire and visited by an average of 20 typhoons a year, has a population of 105 million people. Of this figure, 36 million are said to be at high risk during disasters.
Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Salceda, one of the bill’s main authors, said the DDR is envisioned to be the primary government agency that is “responsible, accountable, and liable for leading, managing, and organizing national efforts to prevent and reduce disaster risks; prepare for and respond to disasters; and recover, rehabilitate, and build forward better after the destruction.”
Salceda said the approved proposal settled for a new provision that allows the “joint supervision” of various government bureaus, which the DDR will need for unity of command during disasters.
These agencies include the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Service Administration, the Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and the Bureau of Fire Protection.
The DDR will still have the Office of Civil Defense as its core organization into which will be integrated the Climate Change Commission Office, the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health, and the Disaster Response Assistance and the Disaster Response Management Bureaus of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Salceda said.