'Strengthen' NDRRMC, instead of creating new disaster department, Senators told

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 29 2020 06:10 PM

Volunteers and members of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council gather donations from different groups at the Main donations distribution hub located at the Batangas Provincial Sports Complex in Batangas City on January 23, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Two Cabinet members of President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday dissuaded senators from creating a "super department" that will oversee disaster response and resilience programs in the Philippines, saying the proposed agency might "cannibalize" other offices.

Secretaries Eduardo Año of the Interior department and Fortunato Dela Peña of the Science and Technology department expressed their views during the Senate's hearing on bills that seek to create a new department for disaster response.

At least 14 senators have pushed the proposal, with some of them recommending that existing agencies like the Bureau of Fire Protection and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council be absorbed by the new agency.

"Parang mas marami yung advantages kung authority na lang siya, rather than cannibalizing other departments," Año told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing.

("There are more advantages if it'll just be an authority, rather than cannibalizing other departments.")

"A plus to one [department] is a minus to other departments. There will be some overlapping also of functions and probably some conflict in existing law," he added.

Dela Peña expressed his reservations before the senators about transferring state weather forecasters and seismologists into the proposed department.

"While they are mandated to predict and forecast, they also have a mandate to exploit the aspect of exploring opportunities in a volcanic terrain... or to collect data and provide information for the benefit of the agriculture industry," Dela Peña said of the state weather and state seismology offices.

"Honestly, we have to give a chance to the NDRRMC... I would prefer that we maintain the NDRRMC," he said.

FASTER RELEASE OF FUNDING

Senator Bong Go is among those pushing for the creation of the new department, saying this will hasten the release of disaster funds.

"Ang tagal po ng proseso ng pag-download natin ng pera. Ang haba-haba ng calamity fund process flow. Baka mamaya, ilang linggo pa bago ma-release yung pondo," he said.

("It takes a long process for us to download the funds. The calamity fund process flow is very long. The funds could be released several weeks later.")

"There is nothing wrong with changing how our bureaucracy works if the goal is to make the delivery of government services more efficient, more effective and more responsive," added the longtime aide of Duterte.

Having a Disaster Resilience Department will also streamline meetings and the decision-making process, said Senator Francis Tolentino, who was Duterte's former disaster point person.

But Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad, Administrator of the Office of Civil Defense and Executive Director of the NDRRMC, said the lawmakers' concerns may be addressed by simply "strengthening" the NDRRMC.

"Sa gitna kasi ng NDRRMC ngayon, nandun yung OCD headed by an Undersecretary. Siya yung overall orchestrator... So we can just strengthen the orchestrator," he said.

("At the core of the NDRRMC now is the OCD, headed by an Undersecretary. He is the overall orchestrator.") 

P1.7-B PRICE TAG

The Senate Committee on National Defense and Security will hold another hearing before deciding on the creation of the new department, the panel's chair, Senator Panfilo Lacson, said.

The chamber must consider that government will have to spend at least P1.7 billion just to create the new office, he said.

A new department will require at least P595 million for salaries, another P299 million for maintenance and operating expenses, and P173 million for capital outlay, among others, data from the Department of Budget and Management showed.

Senators Imee Marcos and Cynthia Villar also expressed reservations about the proposed department's funding requirement.

"Mauubos kasi sa suweldo ng mga undersecretary kapag department agad," Marcos said in the hearing.

("If it's a department right away, the funds will be all go to the salaries of the Undersecretaries.")

Funds should instead be allocated to enhance existing programs, Villar noted in an earlier interview.

"Ano ba mas mabuti: mag-create ka na lang ng programs to solve the problem or mag-create ka ng department at gamitin sa overhead [expenses] yung pera? It's their decision," she said.

("Which is better: creating programs to solve the problem, or creating a department which require funds for its overhead expenses?")

Surrounded by waters and lying in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is among the most disaster-prone countries in the world, a 2017 study showed.