Duterte okays Salceda's proposed Department of Disaster Resiliency

LEGAZPI CITY — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the proposal creating an independent, well structured Department of Disaster Resilience (DRR), contained in a bill submitted by Albay Representative Joey Salceda in Congress last year.

The Chief Executive gave his nod to the proposal that aims to strengthen the country’s disaster response efforts during the regular Cabinet meeting early this week.

Salceda has been tasked by Congress to head the technical working group and finalize the draft measure for plenary consideration, from 43 related legislative proposals on disaster response in the Lower House similar to his House Bill (HB) 6075.

The lawmaker said a really strong disaster agency is “essential to a sensible economic blueprint and since disastrous typhoons were noted to have been getting stronger and broader in impact in recent years, the creation of the DDR should be an urgent agenda.”

The proposed new department is designed to manage a broad climate-disaster program of governance as the country confronts more and more calamities of greater frequency and magnitude, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Salceda, a noted economist and disaster resilience advocate, filed HB 6075 in Congress in response to a call made by Duterte during the 2017 State of his State of the Nation Address (SONA), urging lawmakers to craft a law that will establish an agency that will help Filipinos adapt better to extreme weather conditions.

He thanked President Duterte for agreeing to his proposal as he noted of Albayanos' passion and commitment to attaining zero casualty during calamities.

The new agency will be “tasked to carry out a continuous, consistent and fortified calamity defense program and ensure the country’s sustainable development and inclusive growth,” Salceda said.

The country's disaster risk reduction efforts are spearheaded by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). But doubts were raised concerning its organizational structure, following the destruction caused by Super Typhoon "Yolanda" in 2013, which claimed thousands of lives and destroyed billions of pesos worth of assets.

“The main contention against NDRRMC is whether an independent institution should be established to specifically address the country's mounting challenges in disaster risk reduction and management,” said Salceda.

A Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) pioneer in the country, Salceda was former co-chair of the Green Climate Fund of United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change and was United Nation’s Senior Global Champion for CCA and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). As governor of Albay for three consecutive terms, his “Zero Casualty” goal strategy was proven effective and has since then become a household byword.

Salceda said that to face the onslaught of disasters, the country needs “strategic and systematic approaches to disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and the effective programs on rehabilitation and recovery” handled by an agency with its own mandate.

The country’s situation, Salceda said, is critical since the Philippines ranks third among 171 countries worldwide considered “most exposed and vulnerable to natural calamities,” and is listed as 13th in the Climate Change Vulnerability Index. Almost 74 percent of the country’s population and 80 percent of its land area have been identified as vulnerable to disasters with Manila marked as “in extreme risk,” he added.

With an initial budget of P10 billion, the new agency will be accountable and responsible for overseeing, coordinating and implementing a comprehensive disaster risk and vulnerability reduction and management programs and redirect policy drifts among other agencies handling such tasks.

Salceda’s proposed DDR aims to take in at least four government entities critical to an effective disaster planning and operation -- the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology or Phivolcs under the Department of Science and Technology; the Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; and the Bureau of Fire Protection under the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

He said the idea is akin to US Department of Homeland Security that has under its operational control major federal agencies to effectively confront security issues and threats in many areas. Salceda said HB 6075 is a result of “action research, sharing of experiences and dynamic discussions among various stakeholders from national and local government agencies, organizations and communities and is a product of comparable international experiences.”

The bill also seeks to amend the eight-year old Republic Act 10121, which created the National Disaster Risk and Reduction Framework, a landmark legislation but which falls short in creating “an institution that is sufficiently in a high position to oversee the implementation of streamlined disaster risk reduction and management policies nationwide. It will have the necessary authority, mandate and resources to lead and coordinate efforts of various stakeholders towards a more resilient nation,” Salceda said.

Under the concept, the DRR will be separate from the Office of Civil Defense, which will continue to perform its original mandate, particularly its duty to administer a comprehensive national civil defense and civil assistance program, training of community volunteers for civil defense and assistance, and other mechanisms for community preparedness. (PR)