‘Knee-jerk reaction?’ Rolly revives issue on need for new disaster response dep’t
MANILA, Philippines — The destruction brought about by Super Typhoon Rolly in the country has revived the issue of whether there is a need for a department focused on the government’s disaster response.
While some senators renewed their calls for the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience, some of their colleagues stressed it would “bloat” the bureaucracy further.
In separate statements on Monday, Senators Grace Poe and Christopher “Bong” Go said the creation of a“dedicated agency that will focus on disaster resilience and management” should be prioritized.
“We also call on Congress anew to pass the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience and Emergency Assistance and Management that we have earlier proposed,” Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said.
“Every calamity coming our way reminds us of the missed opportunity to be better prepared and give a more adequate response to the people and local governments. Let’s make this a priority,” she added.
Go, likewise, urged his colleagues in the Senate to act on measures seeking the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience.
“Let us deliberate on it and let the legislative process take its course,” Go said in a separate statement.
“I am sure other Senators, subject matter experts, and executive officials can also contribute to the discussions on how to improve further the mechanisms in making our country more prepared, responsive, and disaster-resilient,” he added.
Go noted that there are six pending Senate bills seeking the creation of such a department. The House of Representatives has already passed the measure on final reading last September.
“Ang Pangulo rin mismo ang nagsabi na prayoridad niya ito,” he added. (The President himself said that this will be his priority.)
“We should be more proactive in improving further our mechanisms to ensure that the whole government is responsive to the needs of our people amid changing times,” he added.
Senate Minority Franklin Drilon as well Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, however, are wary of the creation of a new department.
“I do not see the need for a full department only for disaster resilience. I believe that an overall plan on the number of departments should be in place, instead of a ‘knee-jerk’ push for a creation of certain departments,” Drilon said in a text message to reporters.
“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” he added.
He underscored that instead of a new department, the coordination and planning between and among agencies involved in government’s disaster response should be strengthened.
This coordination, Drilon said, includes the timely access to disaster funds by local government units, which are at the forefront of disaster management.
“The challenge remains on the planning and better coordination,” he added.
Lacson also raised concerns over the creation of a new department.
“It is relatively easy to pass a law creating new departments. But would it be feasible, and will there be proper funding for it?” Lacson said in a separate statement.
He said that according to the Department of Budget and Management, at least P1.5 billion is needed to set up the department.
This amount Lacson said does not yet include additional salaries, capital outlay like office facilities, furniture, vehicles, and maintenance and other operating expenses, among others.
Like Drilon, Lacson reiterated that the bureaucracy is already “bloated” and is in need of right-sizing.
He also cited the cases of newly-created departments such as the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development , which he said was not “properly funded” or “at least are not given the appropriate funding to work properly.”
“One good example is the DICT, which for two budget years in a row has been asking for additional budget to establish and develop the country’s national broadband program and free Wi-Fi services for all government agencies,” Lacson said.
“But the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) has provided just a paltry sum – in the case of the national broadband program, providing only P900 million out of the agency’s request for P18 billion,” he added.
Gordon, for his part, said he is “ambivalent” when it comes to proposals to create a new department for disaster response.
He said that while it would be “helpful” should the creation of a new department push through, it would be better to invest in improving already existing mechanisms of the government to respond to disasters.
“Meron na tayong mga tao na in-charge e. ‘Wag na tayo gumawa pa dahil makakabawas sa pera ng gobyerno na dapat ilaan sa ibang bagay. Pagalingin na lang natin yung nandiyan,” Gordon told reporters in an online interview.
(We already have people in charge. Let’s not create another one because it will just reduce budget from the government which should have been intended for other things. Let’s just fortify what is already there.)
He said the government could just purchase more C-130 aircraft that would transport personnel and supplies to disaster-stricken areas.
“Yan ang kailangang kailangan natin. Yang eroplanong ‘yan, dapat marami tayo. Pero mahal yan,” Gordon said. (That is what we really need. Those airplanes, we need more of that, but those are expensive.)
“Kaya dapat e wag na natin dagdagan yung kung anu-anong gastos sa kalokohan because yung C-130 ang magdadala ng tao, magdadala ng equipment yan at relief,” he added.
(So let’s not add more expenses to those foolishness because the C-130 will carry people, bring equipment and relief [goods].)
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