MANILA - The proposed departments of water and disaster resilience are relevant but not urgent as government must focus on the pandemic after a series of typhoons brought widespread flooding in Luzon, a lawmaker said Thursday.
Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, who has authored bills for the creation of both agencies, said she was willing to "set it aside for now" and urged government to mainstream disaster risk reduction.
"During this COVID-19 pandemic all our resources must be focused to a sustainable recovery both in economic, livelihood and health of our people. I am willing to set it aside for now because COVID-19 has slowed down and changed everything," she told ANC's Headstart.
"It does not mean these departments are not relevant. In the meantime, we must mainstream climate change mitigation and disaster risk reduction."
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said government does not have the budget to create new agencies and urged lawmakers to focus next year's spending plan on the health and social sector as the pandemic persisted.
"It will be a disaster because what we need are additional disaster or calamity funds, not additional bureaucracy. For every department you create you spend one and a half billion in terms of salary and MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) and you add to the bureaucracy," he said.
Legarda, however, said whether the body that would be created was a council or a new agency depends on its leaders.
"Whether you are an NDRRM council…or if it’s a new department, hindi 'yan sa form, sa istruktura. Nasa mga pagpapatakbo 'yan. Of course nand'yan ang mandato, ang pondo," she said.
(It's not about the form, the structure but the officials. Of course mandate and funds are given.)
"I would not want to raise false hopes of our people, if it’s not funded, if it’s not populated with the brightest minds, it will just be ink on paper."
Government should also prohibit logging and quarrying in protected areas and watersheds as the country only has less than 1 million hectares of primary forest left out of its total land area of 30 million hectares, Legarda said.
"Watersheds are known to all of us and protected areas have been legislated. Sa tingin ko, I may sound too idealistic, 'pag watershed, 'pag protected area, talagang protektahan," she said.
(In my opinion, I may sound too idealistic, but watersheds and protected areas should be really guarded.)
"It is up to science to decide which areas would be allowed to be quarried, to be mined."
Legarda also said she filed a resolution in February calling for the declaration of climate emergency.
"Just 3 points on the drivers of climate change: Ecosystems decline, rural vulnerable livelihood, and weak governance. 'Pag yang tatlong yan, 'pag yan ay mangyari, 'yan ay nagdudulot ng kamatayan at sakuna na nangyari sa atin," she said.
(If these 3 happen, these will cause death and disaster that happened to us.)
A staunch environmentalist and former chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, Legarda said investing in disaster risk resilience is imperative, but this is not limited to budget allocations.
She cited the example of Bangladesh, where "indigenous and low-cost" early warning systems tell everyone of forthcoming disasters and advise them to evacuate if necessary.
She also reminded agencies that information must be communicated to the public early and in a manner that is easily understandable.