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Department of Disaster Resilience

IN 2010, Congress passed Republic Act (RA) 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (DRRM Act), which was considered a landmark legislation for Philippine disaster-risk reduction and management. This replaced Presidential Decree 1566 enacted sometime in 1978. Since the enactment of PD 1566, the Philippines was hit with unfortunate large scale disasters—Typhoons Reming, Ondoy and Peping—hitting Luzon, particularly hurting Albay, Bicol, (2006) and Metro Manila (2009).

This compelled the passage of RA 10121 after 32 years from PD 1566 of 1978.  Since the passage of RA 10121, several disastrous typhoons followed: Typhoons Juan (2010), Sendong (2011), Pablo (2012), Yolanda (2013), Ruby (2014), Lando (2015), Lawin (2016) and Paolo (2017). In addition to these typhoons are the habagat floods, the Bohol-Cebu earthquake in 2013, and last week a powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Luzon and was followed by a  6.4 magnitude in Samar, 4.5-4.7 magnitude in Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental and Surigao del Sur.  At least 16 fatalities in Luzon have been confirmed.

Among the institutional innovations of RA 10121 was the establishment of permanent disaster management offices at all levels of local government in contrast to the disaster management councils before under PD 1566 but, for economic expediency, was maintained at the barangay level. The membership of the interagency body, the National Disaster Coordinating Council was radically expanded under RA 10121 transforming it into the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) which is now mandated by law to supervise and lead not only in emergency management but also in the implementation of disaster-risk reduction through its “policy-making, coordinating, integration, supervision, monitoring and evaluation” functions.

But, the weaknesses of the institutional set up under RA 10121 was exposed when large scale disasters like Supertyphoon Yolanda revealed that problems encountered in coordinating and implementing large scale disaster-risk reduction and management efforts required an institution that is in a sufficiently high position with the necessary authority, mandate and resources to lead and coordinate the efforts of local government units and the different stakeholders, and to oversee the implementation of streamlined disaster-risk reduction and management policies nationwide.  President Duterte apparently recognized the need for a new authority or department that is more responsive, efficient and competent.

In President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017, he enjoined “both houses of Congress to expeditiously craft a law establishing a new authority or department that is responsive to the prevailing 21st century conditions, and empowered to best deliver an enhanced disaster resiliency and quick disaster response.” Both the Senate and the House have filed various bills answering the President’s clamor.  Notable are House Bill 6075 introduced by Rep. Joey Sarte Solceda, Senate Bill 1994 introduced by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara and SB 1735 filed by Sen. Grace L. Poe.

These bills seek to create the Department of Disaster Resilience (DRR) to replace the existing DRRM.  The Explanatory Note of HB 6075 is enlightening as to the purpose for creating a high level institution such as the DRR:

It is the intention of this bill to establish a much-needed, stronger, self-governing DRR, one that is clearly mandated to lead in the planning, coordination, monitoring, oversight and implementation of disaster-risk  and vulnerability reduction and management, equipped with the necessary competency and resources to engage new actors, particularly in the field of risk transfer and insurance, and built with the necessary structure to manage broader climate-disaster governance arrangements, and oversee the implementation of disaster-risk and vulnerability reduction and managements toward Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals, as enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These agreements are of particular significance for the Philippines for addressing common, interlocking issues affecting the country’s aspiration for a prosperous, sustainable future. These issues converge on the Philippines’s vulnerabilities, which stem from its geographical location, socioeconomic features including a rapidly growing population, and external factors like climate change which is outstripping the country’s natural coping capacity.

This bill has the strategic clarity of describing and empowering the DRR as the lead agency for the implementation of (1) vulnerability and risk-reduction policies, programs and projects; (2) rehabilitation and reconstruction; and (3) assess collective progress toward achieving purpose of agreement and its long-term goals, and to do so in a comprehensive sustainable manner, considering prevention, mitigation, anticipatory adaption measures and support, in the light of equity, capacity building, best available science, technology transfer and other development.

The DRR ensures that it has a sufficiently high level of expertise to orchestrate different actors, policies and programs for disaster-risk and vulnerability reduction and management.  It has the authority not only to receive but also to administer, mobilize, report, monitor and oversee the utilization of the DRR Fund, recovery and rehabilitation funds, and absorbing funds and donations for disaster-risk reduction and management.

The DRR will be separated from the Office of the Civil Defense, which will continue to perform its original mandates that are not directly or indirectly repealed by this amendatory bill, particularly its duty to administer a comprehensive national civil defense and civil assistance program, the training of community volunteers for civil defense and assistance, and other mechanisms for community preparedness. The NDRRMC will now focus solely on policy-making and function as a platform for coordination of policy concerns with the DRR organizing and managing the secretariat and the operations center to support the NDRRMC.

It is hoped that both houses of Congress will cross party lines, desist from its juvenile antics and urgently enact into law the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience.

The recent earthquakes are a wake-up call.  Let us not wait for “the big one” to happen.  By then, it would be too late!

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