LGUs' hands tied in using calamity funds

Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak

Posted at Sep 30 2009 01:06 PM | Updated as of Oct 01 2009 01:28 AM

Rules allow them only to respond after damages are sustained, not to prepare before disasters strike

MANILA - Local government units (LGUs) are normally caught unprepared when disasters strike, despite the fact that they have calamity funds, because the overly strict rules that government their utilization do not respond to the hard and fast decisions that have to be made during emergencies.

According to local governance specialists interviewed by Newsbreak, calamity funds are not optimized to cover research on risks, training on disaster management, and purchase of monitoring and rescue equipment. The rules only allow calamity funds to be utilized only for relief and rescue operations, or when calamity has already struck.  These cannot be disbursed without the local councils passing a resolution declaring a state of emergency in the area.

“There is a need to allow LGUs to use portions of their calamity funds for disaster mitigations like trainings,” said Local Government Undersecretary Austere Panadero. He cautioned, however, that “calamity funds should not be used extensively for this purpose only.”

Panadero said that in some instances, auditors in LGUs do not allow them to charge against the calamity fund the trainings on disaster preparedness in communities.

Panadero said that some LGUs use portions of their annual budget for capital outlay for buying equipment for disaster relief operations since these expenses may also not be charged against calamity funds.

Indeed, LGUs that seriously want to invest in disaster preparedness and reducing risks are forced to use part of their capital outlay for this. Capital outlay is supposed to cover the regular personnel, operations, and infrastructure requirements of the LGUs.

Only for fires?
Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code mandates local government units to allocate a portion of their regular sources to expenses caused by calamities.

Section 324 reads: “Five percent (5%) of the estimated revenue from regular sources shall be set aside as an annual lump sum appropriation for unforeseen expenditures arising from the occurrence of calamities: provided, however, That such appropriation shall be used only in the area, or a portion thereof, of the local government unit or other areas declared by the President in a state of calamity.”

RA 8185 amended this provision by transferring the power to declare a state of calamity from the President to the LGUs: “Such fund shall be used only in the area, or a portion thereof, of the local government unit or other areas affected by a disaster or calamity, as determined and declared by the local sanggunian concerned.”

RA 8185 defines calamity as “a state of extreme distress or misfortune, produced by some adverse circumstances or event or any great misfortune or cause or loss or misery caused by natural forces.”

The law says that the calamity fund shall be used only for the relief operations in case of fire and conflagration and that the local development council shall have the responsibility to monitor the use and disbursement of the calamity fund.

All sorts of failure
Antonio La Vina, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said that LGUs should invest not only in disaster response but in identifying the risks from disasters. “They have to invest in the science—knowing the risks they face and then act on it. Disaster risk reduction and disaster risk preparedness are much more cost-effective than rescue and relief that is not based on preparedness.”

He said LGUs can use calamity funds for disaster preparedness but they have to budget it based on an ordinance.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda, whose province’s local disaster management program has been cited as one of the best, if not the best, in the country, said that the weakness of the calamity fund is that is usually used for disaster response and seldom for disaster risk reduction.

Salceda said that LGUs should also invest in installing early warning devices and in conducting community-based trainings because these can help bring down the number of casualties.

“If there is community preparedness, people would know what to do even if some government agencies did not give warnings,” Salceda said.

Salceda said that the damage caused by typhoon Ondoy could have been minimized if LGUs have trained their constituents.  

“What happened was a failure of warning, a failure of evacuation, and failure of communities to respond.” Salceda told Newsbreak, referring to the damage and fatalities caused by floods triggered typhoon Ondoy, which battered Luzon over the weekend.

Ondoy left at least 200 people dead and displaced nearly half a million people.
He said that LGUs affected by the typhoon, particularly those in Metro Manila, have overlooked the importance of investing on disaster preparedness program. “They are so rich and yet they took it for granted.”  - Newsbreak