Cayetano wants Emergency Response Department

by Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2013 07:10 PM | Updated as of Nov 23 2013 03:10 AM

MANILA - A new government department on disaster is being eyed by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda.

Cayetano on Friday proposed the creation of an "Emergency Response Department" (ERD) through Senate Bill 1940.

The bill seeks to establish a focused and specialized government department that would oversee humanitarian emergency assistance and concentrate on disaster-risk reduction and management in a full-time capacity.

Cayetano said the department should be headed by an official with a rank of Cabinet secretary.

He said there's much to learn from the last 3 natural and man-made disasters, namely the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake, and Yolanda.

There is a need for a government department that will solely be in charge of disaster preparation, relief operation, humanitarian assistance, and community rehabilitation, he explained.

"Ang nakita nating problema is command. Pag tinanong mo sino ba ang in command, hindi masagot," Cayetano said. "You cannot expect us not to be prepared. We have 20 typhoons a year, nasa top 5 tayo ng nasa high risk on disasters."

He added that the government should get rid of the "once-in-a-lifetime" mentality, meaning, the government should start realizing and preparing for more destructive disasters.

"Iyung habagat, sabi natin noon once-in-a-lifetime, then it happened again the following year," he said. "Iyung earthquake sa Baguio, sabi natin once-in-a-lifetime, but it happened again."

Cayetano said calamity funds should be funneled through one department.

"Iyung calamity fund, ilalagay natin sa ilalim nila, kasi ngayon di natin alam kung saan ilalagay eh," he said. "Baka makalimutan natin ang bagyong Santi dahil mas mabigat nangyari sa earthquake. Pero baka makalimutan din ang earthquake dahil mas malaki nangyari kay Yolanda."

Cayetano said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is only a coordinating agency.

His proposal will establish a clearer chain of command during disasters through a specialized agency that functions not only after the occurrence of disasters, but works year round to ensure that effective mechanisms for disaster risk reduction are in place.

His proposed legislation will allocate more funds for disaster preparedness and response.

The department will also manage a Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Disaster (HEAD) Fund, including those from donations, to ensure accountability and the responsible use of public funds.

The legislation will also penalize theft of public funds or donations devoted to disaster risk reduction and management efforts.

According to the bill, ERD is envisioned to have the following functions:

Assume all of NDRRMC and Office of Civil Defense (OCD)'s functions related to disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM);
Supervision and control over regional and local emergency response offices;
Supervision over PAGASA and PHIVOLCS;
With consent of President, may call out AFP and PNP to suppress lawless violence;
May call upon other agencies, NGOs, civic orgs for use of facilities and resources;
Power to call the civilian reserved forces to assist in relief/rescue.

Another salient feature of the bill is grant of power to the ERD secretary to "commandeer any private property for urgent public purpose, subject to payment of just compensation in appropriate cases, when there is a clear and present danger that a disaster or humanitarian emergency would cause imminent loss of lives and/or the massive destruction of property."

Cayetano is hopeful that other lawmakers will support the bill and for President Aquino to declare the bill urgent for its immediate passage.

"It needs the support of the President. Kung ide-declare niyang urgent ito, maraming kongresista excited na rin sa ideyang ito," Cayetano said.

"I'm expecting more will support or file their own version. Ilang senador na ang nagsabi na kailangan na talaga ng isang ahensya, you cannot put a price on human life," he said.