Lawmaker says up to ₱100-B needed for Taal rehabilitation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 16) — A lawmaker on Thursday suggested a rehabilitation plan that will cost up to ₱100 billion, to "recreate" and reform the Batangas area in the wake of Taal Volcano's eruption.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the TERRA Firma or the Taal Eruption Recovery Rehabilitation and Adaption Plan, will focus on restoring the impacted areas to their former state as well as to "leapfrog area development." This means rebuilding the province into a new "road center" akin to the billion-peso New Clark City in Tarlac. He pegged the budget needed at ₱60 to 100 billion.

This was among the recommendations he mentioned in a memorandum addressed to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.

"Kung gusto lang nila harapin 'yung ngayon, mga ₱12 billion, kaya na," he later added , speaking to CNN Philippines' On the Record.

[Translation: If they just want to face what's happening now, then P12 billion would be enough.]

The congressman also urged his colleagues to “help first, and comment later” on issues surrounding the lapses of the government, particularly in the information dissemination ability of Phivolcs on Taal’s volcanic activity.

“[The House] can devote some time to congressional investigations when the situational urgency has receded. We must help first and investigate later,” he said.

A former Albay governor and UN-honored senior global champion for disaster risk reduction, Salceda insisted that the lower chamber should instead “mobilize the necessary material and policy assistance for districts affected by the Taal’s recent volcanic activity.”

His recommendations also include:

- Passage of the Department of Disaster Resilience bill which remains pending approval on second reading in the House

- Embedding “all-of-nation convergences for disaster resilience” into national policies, such as the General Appropriations Act, to provide necessary funding and resources as needed

Salceda stressed that among these measures, the implementation of the DDR bill stands as the “most critical,” as it could decide on matters involving disaster response at the highest levels of government and unify the currently “fragmented” disaster response mobilization of different agencies, among other functions.

On Tuesday, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga filed a House resolution calling for an investigation on how the involved government agencies fared in the wake of the eruption.

READ: House urged to probe gov’t response to Taal's eruption 

Barzaga particularly called out Phivolcs in the resolution, questioning the timeliness of communicating necessary information on volcanic hazards and making real time warnings of Taal's volcanic activity.

Phivolcs officials said they are open to any investigation as they are confident that they are “performing their jobs well.”

Meanwhile, Malacañang said that Congress can conduct a hearing as part of its legislative powers.

"That's the prerogative and privilege of the legislature to call for a hearing in aid of legislation. Hayaan mo sila (let them be)," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Panelo added that the government can provide additional funding to Phivolcs, should they ask for it.

"That goes without saying. Nasa Phivolcs 'yan, 'pag sinabi nilang kailangan nila ng isang bagay (it's up to Phivolcs, if they say they want something) to make them more effective, syempre ibibigay natin (of course, we will give it to them)," he added.

Alert Level 4 remains raised over Taal Volcano after it showed a marked unrest Sunday afternoon.

Phivolcs said this means the threat of a “hazardous explosive eruption” remains, although volcanologists said Taal exhibited less activity on Thursday.

READ: Phivolcs: Alert level 4 remains despite a quieter Taal