MANILA - Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson on Monday opposed a proposal to create the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), saying existing government agencies are already performing the mandate of the proposed addition to an already "bloated" bureaucracy.
The two senators' objection to the establishment of the new agency being pushed by Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, the longtime aide of President Rodrigo Duterte, came as the country reels from the devastating impact of super typhoon Rolly (international name: GONI) in the southern part of Luzon.
In a statement, Lacson said a new department will cost the government at least P1.5 billion to set it up, and billions more for the salaries, capital outlay and operational expenses.
"It is relatively easy to pass a law creating new departments. But would it be feasible, and will there be proper funding for it?" he said.
"We can see that the newly created departments like the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development cannot be properly funded, or at least are not given the appropriate funding to work properly," Lacson noted.
Finance officials had told senators that tax collections this year are expected to reduce after the closure of several businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and next year after the Supreme Court ruled that local government units (LGUs) are entitled to its Internal Revenue Allotments (IRAs) on the basis of all national taxes.
It would be better to strengthen existing government agencies that have the mandate to respond to calamities, said Gordon, who chairs the Philippine Red Cross, a humanitarian organization that also addresses needs during disasters.
"It doesn't thrill me that we have to create departments... I'm ambivalent towards that," Gordon told reporters in an online press conference.
"Kahit ano [na department] ilagay mo, nasa sa leader yan e. Kung ilalagay mo medyo mahirap at yung mga local governments hindi naman magco-cooperate, patay pa din tayo," he said.
(Whatever department you place there, it will depend on the leader. If you will appoint a difficult leader and if local governments will refuse to cooperate, we are still in trouble.)
The Department of National Defense, whose chief heads the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, can respond to calamities, Gordon said.
"'Wag na tayo gumawa pa kasi mas makakabawas pa sa pera ng gobyerno. Pagalingin na lang 'yung mga nandiyan," he said.
(Let's not make a new department anymore because it will just reduce government funds. Let's just strengthen existing agencies.)
Since his election to the Senate last year, Go has been pushing for the creation of the DDR, saying it would consolidate and improve government response to typhoons, earthquakes, and other calamities that hit the Philippines.
Go said he "respects the opinions" of his peers in the Senate, but urged other lawmakers to discuss it in the chamber before ruling out the creation of the department.
The House has already passed on final reading a similar measure, Go noted in a statement.
"Dapat magkaroon ng isang departamento na may Secretary-level na in-charge para mayroong timon na tagapamahala ng preparedness, response, and resilience measures pagdating sa ganitong mga krisis at sakuna," he said.
(We should have a department and a Secretary who will take charge in the preparedness, response and resilience measures when it comes to these crises and disasters.)
Some netizens criticized Duterte for failing to attend a public briefing after Super Typhoon Rolly made landfall in Luzon on Sunday.
A day after the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo trended online, Go said Duterte would be visiting typhoon-hit areas in Albay.