Joint Committee Hearing on the Proposal to Create a Department of Disaster Management

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Sen. Lacson’s Opening Statement at the Hearing:

The World Economic Forum conducted in Geneva, Switzerland in 2017 identified both natural and man-made disasters as among the top global risks that can cause significant negative impact for several countries and industries within the next 10 years. But long before this risk has been widely talked about in international fora, disasters have unfortunately become a frequent life experience in the Philippines, and our recent history attests to this untoward reality.

Just last Friday, Nov. 8, we commemorated the sixth anniversary when category-five Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) cut a swath of unprecedented destruction across 171 cities and municipalities in Central Philippines. In the same breath, we are one with our brothers and sisters in Mindanao as they continue to heal from the scars caused by the Zamboanga siege in 2013 and the Marawi crisis in 2017. In between, various parts of the country are being shaken, quite literally, by earthquakes and numerous aftershocks; most recent of which were the three strong quakes that hit the island of Mindanao in the past weeks, affecting 146,000 Filipinos, most of whom are still living in tents as we speak.

The cycle goes: the country has barely recovered from one disaster but here we are again, already taking a heavy beating from another. Five years after RA 10121 otherwise known as the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 was enacted, a special report prepared by the Commission on Audit in 2015 tells us that: “The government’s response and recovery efforts in Yolanda-ravaged areas already showed that the implementation of RA 10121 still leaves a lot to be desired. The recorded below par performance was primarily attributed to the multi-sectoral, multi-organizational structure of the NDRRMC.” As former PARR, I say without reservation the COA’s report cannot be more truthful.

Experience tells us that creating a task force or an ad hoc body every time a disaster strikes is deemed ineffective and inefficient, especially now that scientists postulate that we are entering a time of climatic uncertainty, also tagged as the “new normal.” Hence, after my stint as PARR, among my priority recommendations was to strengthen the Office of Civil Defense, to give it the necessary authority and wherewithal to fulfill the promises of RA 10121. This representation filed a resolution during the 17th Congress that called for the oversight committee to convene to conduct the long overdue sunset review of RA 10121, the PH Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, which would have been accomplished as early as 2015, as called for under Sec 27 of the said Act: “Within 5 years after the effectivity of this Act or as the need arises, the congressional oversight committee shall conduct a sunset review.” For purposes of this Act, the term sunset review shall mean a systematic evaluation by the Congressional Oversight Committee of the accomplishments and impact of this Act as well as the performance and organizational structure of its implementing agencies, for purposes of determining remedial legislation. Unfortunately, having been overtaken by events, the proposal hurdled in the past Congress’ legislative agenda.

Having said all that, we must not forget H.E. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on July 24, 2017, and July 22, 2019, SONAs emphasized the need for Congress to enact legislation to rightsize the national government. In his second SONA July 24, 2017, he said: “We will rightsize the national government. Let us trim the excess fat and add more muscle through the expeditious passage of the act of rightsizing the national government to improve public service (institutions).” And then again during his 4th SONA on July 22, 2019, he said: “I urge Congress to review and pass the Government Rightsizing Bill to reconfigure the existing Metro Manila-centric bureaucracy; streamline government systems in order to deliver services without delay and within a short timeline.“

Now, this puts us in a dilemma. As a matter of policy direction, do we create another department that will further bloat an already bloated bureaucracy, or simply make do with a council called NDRRMC that has no focus and responsibility to address natural and man-made calamities that have become permanent and frequent in a country such as ours, which is located along the boundary of major tectonic plates and at the center of a typhoon belt coupled by its socially and economically vulnerable population? In fact, the Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

I need not emphasize the members of this committee are representatives of the Filipino people. Hence we are here to listen to all the discussions and arguments and decide what we deem is beneficial to the people that we all serve.

At this point I welcome our resource persons. Our aim in this committee hearing is to deliberate on the legislative proposals manifested through 11 Senate bills and two privilege speeches, which include the creation of an independent DRRM department, expansion on the scope of Local DRRM Fund, and mandatory civil conscription for disaster and humanitarian services, among others.

Somebody once said that an apparent significant issue ignored today can spawn tomorrow’s catastrophes. We have had our share of catastrophes and it is only a matter of time until the next one.

Let this public hearing be guided by our learnings from the past as we pursue our overall goal of having safer, adaptive and disaster-resilient Filipino communities toward sustainable development.