Not once in a lifetime, says climate change expert
MANILA - Tropical storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng,” which wrought massive damage and flooding in Metro Manila and northern Luzon, respectively, did not bring once in a lifetime floods, warned climate change expert Antonio La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government.
“Ondoy and Pepeng are not one in 50-year floods. As someone who's been working on climate change for 20 years, our models have shown to us again and again, this is going to be a once in 5 years, once in 10-year event. In modeling, it means it can happen in the same year, two to three times. Then it might not happen for five to ten years,” he said.
President Arroyo has described "Ondoy" as a once in a lifetime typhoon.
That's why La Viña and representatives of various groups like Oxfam on Wednesday trooped to the House of Representatives to call for the immediate passage of a bill seeking to abolish the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC)—a council which convenes only when need arises—with the permanent National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC).
Being an ad hoc council, the NDCC responds when damages are wrought by natural calamities.
In contrast, the NDRRMC will be a permanent council that will act even before calamities happen. This way, there will be less loss of lives and damage to properties, said the bill's co-sponsor Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino Biazon.
The permanence of the council will be ensured by appointing a director-general and three deputy directors-general. They will have the ranks of undersecretary and assistant secretary, respectively.
Like the NDCC, the bill proposes that the NDRRMC be headed by the secretary of national defense. But instead of merely being the president's adviser on disaster response, the chairman of the new council will be empowered to form policies which will be implemented by the director-general.
Evacuation plans, best practices
A lot of things can change by simply restructuring the NDCC, said Rep. Biazon.
A permanent office means there are people in government who will do nothing but simulate and prepare for disasters, and promote good or best practices on disaster management in the communities.
Instead of coming in only for rescue and relief operations, the disaster council should also focus on, among others, urban planning, said Oxfam program manager Donna Mitzi Lagdameo.
La Viña said local government units (LGUs) should, for instance, have a strong evacuation plan.
He cited other good practices on disaster management in neighboring countries like India and Bangladesh, and those undertaken by LGUs in the Philippines' Bicol region, the usual entry point of typhoons.
“You have to be ready to evacuate thousands of your people. If you are prepared, disasters become less traumatic. There are a lot of best practices that you can actually do. We need an authority that will map this out 24 hours a day and 7 days a week,” he said.
An evacuation plan would mean LGUs have to dedicate resources. But it's money well spent, La Viña said.
“Kahit once mo lang gamitin, it comes out much cheaper [than the damage that will result if you are not prepared],” he said.
The proposed agency 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.
Pass before December 2009
At the latest, La Viña said the bill should be approved before Congress adjourns in December.
“Timing is so important. We really need to pass this bill as early as possible, certainly before December. If we don't, we lose one whole year,” he said.
He cited two basic reasons for the bill's urgency.
First, the bill gets funding in the 2010 national budget. The two chambers of Congress are currently deliberating on the 2010 budget. Historically, the budget would be finalized by a Congressional bicameral committee by the end of the year.
Second, he said President Arroyo has to appoint the officials of the NDRRMC before the appointment ban towards the elections. This way, the new council can get to work immediately.
Beyond December, it will be too late to set up the infrastructure, he said.
“If we don't pass this bill before December, next year, when something like this happens again, we will be completely unprepared again. It cannot go beyond December," he added.
Congress will adjourn for a break on October 16. When session resumes in November, there will only be 14 session days left.
The Senate passed its version of the bill in September.
In the House, the bill recently hurdled the committee on appropriations and is now pending in the committee on defense, which has yet to report it to the plenary for second reading.
A bill is passed on third and final reading. It becomes a law after it is approved by a Congressional bicameral committee and signed by the President.