MANILA - The House committee on appropriations on Tuesday approved a consolidated bill abolishing the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), citing its failure to immediately rescue and provide relief to victims of tropical storm Ondoy.
The still unnumbered consolidated bill, “Strengthening the Philippine disaster risk reduction and management system,” seeks to replace NDCC--a council convened only when need arises—with the permanent National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC).
“The bill proposes to create a stronger disaster and risk management organization, which will be attached to the Office of the President. It will be under a different structure under the Office of the President. It is closer to the commander-in-chief,” explained House committee on appropriations chairman Quirino Rep. Junie Cua.
Like the NDCC, the bill proposes that the NDRRMC is to be headed by the secretary of national defense. It will still have, as ad hoc members, the secretaries of various government departments involved in disaster management--interior and local government, health, public works and highways, social work and development, budget and management, transportation and communications, among others.
Permanence of the council will be ensured by appointing a director-general and three deputy director-generals. They will have the ranks of undersecretary and assistant secretary, respectively.
“The idea is to orient us with preparedness. It should be an ongoing effort. It shouldn't be activated only when there is disaster,” said Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, a co-sponsor of the bill.
The damage wrought by tropical storm Ondoy in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces was an eye opener that the NDCC is not effective, said Rizal Rep. Michael John “Jack” Duavit, a co-sponsor of the bill. Large parts of Rizal province were submerged in floodwaters due to the massive rains.
“Now we can see that there were breakdowns in communication. There were difficulties in actually deploying assets. We saw a lot of time wasted just setting up the organizational structure because it [NDCC] was an ad hoc,” Duavit said.
Biazon acknowledged that the bill needs more improvements. He said he expects a lively discussion in the plenary.
Biazon has written President Arroyo requesting certification of the bill as urgent so that the bill can be taken up in the plenary before Congress goes on recess on October 17.
“The significance is that we can fast track the bill. We never know when the next disaster will happen. We might as well act on it,” Biazon added.
The bill also seeks to empower the NDCC chairman to form policies which will be executed by the director-general.
Under the present structure, the NDCC only serves as the President's adviser on disaster preparedness programs and disaster operations and rehabilitation efforts undertaken by the government and the private sector.
“As you will note, this is one way of strengthening the structure. The regional organizations will continue to function under a strengthened council. The secretary will head the policy-making, and execution will be done by the director-general,” Cua said.
Last September, the Senate passed a similar measure—the Disaster Risk Reduction, Management and Recovery Act of 2009. It calls for the formulation of a comprehensive approach to addressing disaster risks through the formulation of the “National Disaster Risk Reduction, Management and Recovery Framework.”
Biazon said differences in the House and Senate versions can be resolved in a bicameral conference.
In the House bill, there is no new funding for the NDRRMC. Cua said funding for NDRRMC, if approved, will come from the budget allocations of the various member-departments.
“Disaster management is always part of the budget of the different agencies involved in disaster management. I suppose that because of the frequency of typhoons and frequency of calamities, the different agencies must have already proposed in their budget corresponding increases in disaster and risk management activities,” he said.
Involvement of LGUs
The House bill also seeks to task local government units to create local disaster risk management councils.
“It should be institutionalized. The idea is to spread out disaster preparedness down to the grassroots. We need to change our orientation. Ang tanong natin: bakit ang NDCC has only three rubber boats? Bakit hindi natin tanungin: bakit ang local governments didn't have them?” Biazon said.
Local governments have been “reactionary," said Duavit. He said Rizal province doesn't have rubber boats because they had never experienced such a high a level of floods before.
“If something happens, you want to be able to respond immediately. Ang nangyari sa amin, di makapag-convene ang council kasi ang members, napinsala rin. Paano bubuoin ang council kung lubog pa ang mga bahay nila? Stranded pa sila sa bubong. Independent of the council, there has to be assets that can be deployed. That's one thing we learned from this. Although theoretically, magandang i-asa sa local, hindi pwedeng lahat i-asa sa local,” Duavit said.