MANILA – Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, who heads the House Committee on Disaster Management, said Wednesday that rehabilitation and recovery efforts for those affected by the Taal Volcano eruption have to be holistic.
A native of Ormoc City which endured the 1991 flash flood tragedy and 2013 supertyphoon Yolanda, Torres-Gomez said helping displaced residents is more than just giving them shelters.
“You cannot just relocate them in a place they are unfamiliar with, not knowing what their livelihood would be, where their children would go to school. It has to be a holistic approach. I think it’s also important that we set timelines. There has to be realistic deadlines set,” Torres-Gomez said on ANC’s Headstart.
The national disaster agency reported Wednesday that more than 412,000 people from Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Quezon have been affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano on Jan. 12, of which 125,178 are staying in evacuation centers.
Torres-Gomez said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council approved last year a disaster rehabilitation and recovery plan that had disaster-specific templates, catering to either natural or man-made calamities.
She said she is thankful it was approved before the current crisis. When typhoon Yolanda struck, the government scrambled to put together a plan while also attending to relief operations, she recalled.
“But this time, we have a template that's broken down into specifics para (so that) it addresses all the bottlenecks of the response during Yolanda. It’s a good start. What we in the House can do is create a Taal-specific rehab plan based on that guide,” the lawmaker said.
The first country-specific plan, which she said is ready for adoption in the national, regional, and local level, has the benefits of global best practices, including lessons learned from Yolanda, dubbed as one of the strongest typhoons to hit land.
“Our function talaga (really) is oversight, to make sure the plan, when it’s done, is implemented expediently and efficiently,” she said.
When the new plan is in place, she is hopeful the much-needed help would reach the victims faster and more efficiently.
"In the (proposed) new disaster resilience (department), the lines of reporting is clearer. You know that there is a head, somebody who can really be accountable for however the department will perform and it's streamlined," Torres-Gomez said.
The Department of Disaster Resilience, she said, "will simplify everything."
"In the case of Yolanda, if the tasks are fragmented and there's a deadlock, there's a difference in opinion of different heads, who calls the shots? Who gets followed? But in a Department of Disaster Resilience where there is a head, then siya lang magsasabi 'di kayo magkasundo lahat (only he can say, 'You can't all agree), but I think this is what should be done.' (Then), everybody just follows," she explained.
Packing winds of up to 235 kilometers per hour, Yolanda swept the islands of Samar and Leyte, and then on to Cebu, Iloilo and Palawan provinces on Nov. 8, 2013, leaving a trail of more than 7,300 either dead or missing. Authorities estimated the cost of damage to infrastructure, properties, agriculture and others at nearly P90 billion.
Torres-Gomez said the proposed agency will have adequate powers and mandate, as well as financial-backing, to be able to implement disaster-related rehabilitation programs of government.
But while it is needed the earliest possible time, with the solon eyeing its creation this year, the proposal has to be threshed out.
"We cannot make it happen just because we need it fast. It has to be done right, because if it's not done right then, that's a whole domino effect again of problems in the future," Torres-Gomez pointed out.
"We need that with the kind of disasters we face, with how many disasters we are subjected to every year. We need that department to streamline everything, to make everything come together. And it's important that we have really that one person who will be accountable for everything."
Meanwhile, Torres-Gomez said her colleagues in the lower House are willing to approve more funding if the P30-billion supplemental budget requested by President Rodrigo Duterte will not be enough for the rehabilitation of areas affected by the Taal eruption.
"It's a supplemental budget. The House leadership was saying, if we need more, the House can pass... This is just initial. We cannot pass masyadong malaki (kasi) baka naman sobra din ("We cannot pass a much bigger budget because it might just result in some excesses")," she said.
"The (proposed supplemental) budget can be released even if the plan is still being put in place... The plan will be flexible kasi (because) we're still gathering data. Hindi pa tapos ang Taal (Taal is still restive)," she said.