Romualdez urges Senate to prioritize DDR measure

By Maricel Cruz and Macon Ramos-Araneta – Manila Standard

Leyte Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez on Monday appealed to the Senate to prioritize the approval of the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience following the bill’s approval on third and final reading at the House of Representatives.

“I appeal to the Senate leadership to also fast-track the passage of the DDR bill as this would help drastically reduce, if not totally eliminate, the bureaucratic red tape that has caused many delays in the delivery of immediate assistance needed by disaster and calamity victims,” Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on accounts, and principal author of the bill, said.

The bill was approved on third and final reading Monday by a 181-5-2 vote.

Romualdez acknowledged the commitment of the House led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to support the measure.

“I thank my colleagues and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for their strong commitment to pass the DDR that guarantees a unity of command, science-based approach, and full-time focus on natural hazards and disasters,” Romualdez said.

“With Speaker Arroyo’s competence and sterling qualities as experienced leader, we can be assured that the measure will also be approved in the Senate and becomes a law very soon,” she added.

“Speaker Arroyo has a clear vision for the country and has a great ability to get the job done,” she added.

The proposed DDR is solely dedicated to concerns on disaster mitigation and quick response. The measure guarantees fast and responsive procurement process to ensure the swift delivery of assistance.

“Guaranteeing disaster resiliency through closer coordination and stronger management synchronization at all levels of the country’s disaster risk reduction and management system cannot be delayed any further. With the lives, safety and the welfare of our people at stake,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez said it is high time that we create a truly empowered department that will focus on natural hazards and disasters; and characterized by unity of command, a science-and ICT-based approach, and the wherewithal to take charge of three key result areas: (a) disaster risk reduction; (b) disaster preparedness and response; and (c) recovery, rehabilitation and building forward better

“The DDR will effectively improve the institutional capacity of the government for disaster risk reduction and management, reduce the vulnerabilities surrounding the affected local population as well as build the resilience of local communities to calamities,” Romualdez said.

Another author of the bill, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, echoed Romualdez’s appeal.

Villafuerte said the trail of death and destruction left by Super Typhoon ‘‘Ompong’’—the strongest typhoon thus far to hit the country this year—should prompt senators to write new legislation creating a Cabinet-level department that would institutionalize the government’s disaster preparation, risk reduction and relief and rehabilitation efforts.

“A new Cabinet-level department would put in place and oversee disaster preparation, risk management, and post-disaster relief and rehabilitation operations in lieu of the ad hoc nature of current government efforts, which has now become untenable with climate change,” Villafuerte said.

Several similar bills filed in the Senate, including one submitted by Senate President Vicente Sotto III last August, remain pending at the committee level. These measures were read on first reading and were referred to the Senate committees on national defense and security; civil service, government reorganization, and professional regulation; and finance.

“In relation to this, I am supporting the President’s directive to build permanent evacuation centers to replace the usual practice of converting public schools into temporary shelters for calamity victims. This should be the first order of business for the would-be Department,” Villafuerte said.

House Bill 8165 proposes to create DDR, which shall be the primary government agency responsible for leading, organizing and managing the national effort to reduce disaster risk, and prepare for and respond to disasters, recover and rehabilitate.

The bill also provides that the DDR shall oversee and coordinate the preparation, implementation, monitoring, evaluation of disaster and climate resilience plans, programs, and activities.

The DDR shall also provide leadership in the continuous development of strategic and systematic approaches to disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, and rehabilitation, and anticipatory adaptation strategies, measures, techniques and options.

It shall also augment the capacity of local government units (LGUs) in collaboration with relevant national agencies and other stakeholders to implement disaster risk reduction and management and climate change action plans, programs, projects and activities.

Romualdez is the wife of Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) President Martin Romualdez, the original proponent of the bill during the previous 16th Congress where he served House Independent Bloc leader as congressman of Leyte.

Meanwhile, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III exhorted the public to assess their readiness to respond and to provide needed disaster relief and assistance in times of natural calamities.

“Our education drives and simulation drills should be sustained and continuous. An alert and informed citizenry is best equipped to deal with emergencies,” he said.

He made the remark as the Philippine government sent its condolences to the Indonesian government in the aftermath of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that caused the death of at least 800 people. The death toll continues to rise as more responders reach affected areas.

Meanwhile, a “severe” tropical storm, codenamed “Kong-Rey” was reported to be entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) in the coming days.

This comes after Typhoon “Ompong” lashed out at Northern Luzon two weeks ago, destroying crops and livestock estimated at P26.7 billion according to the Department of Agriculture. Human casualties reached close to 70.

“We cannot prevent natural calamities from happening, but we can prepare well, especially considering we belong to the same earthquake and volcanic zone. Typhoon-wise, we’re actually more prone to be hit by storms compared to our ASEAN neighbors.”

Pimentel called on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to hold more nationwide drills, apart from the quarterly exercises, to better prepare citizens.

“NDRRMC’s closer coordination with the Department of National Defense’s Office of Civil Defense as well as the DILG and DepEd is direly needed. Schools at all levels should be a particular focus for earthquake drills because of the large concentration of young citizens in school zones,” the lawmaker said.

The Mindanao senator discussed the idea of possibly creating a separate ‘Department of Disaster Preparedness and Resiliency” to address year-long disaster management concerns.

“The name, of course, can be modified, but the important aspect here is preparedness at the highest executive level. We need a full-time and dedicated bureaucracy for disaster management.”

Pimentel likewise said he was studying the economic viability of earthquake, typhoon and similar insurance coverage, focusing on aspects of affordability and how Filipino households can be conditioned to consider insurance coverage as necessary expenses.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of maturity and openness to spending on insurance, especially since it’s an added cost that competes with more basic living expenses,” he said.

“Eventually, however, we must deal with this issue of coverage because our country experiences damaging weather and natural disturbances quite regularly. Insurance is in itself a form of preparedness,” the senator said.

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