House OKs release of additional funds for Taal victims

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 22) — The House of Representatives has adopted two resolutions that will pave the way for a supplemental budget and immediate release of funds to assist the Taal victims.

During its special session in Batangas on Wednesday, the lower chamber, with 204 congressmen present, adopted Resolution 665 calling for the immediate release of funds for the aid, relief, resettlement, rehabilitation of areas affected by Taal Volcano’s unrest.

Under the measure, funds which will be appropriated under the 2020 General Appropriations Act may include the calamity fund and appropriations for development and social programs and services of various national government agencies.

It also designates a House committee which will coordinate with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council for a briefing to assess the situation and determine the needs of the affected localities.

The House also adopted Resolution 662 expressing the chamber’s “support” and “commitment to work with all the concerned agencies” to pass a proposed supplemental budget to expedite effective and responsive assistance to the affected victims.

Six congressmen from Batangas — Reps. Vilma Santos-Recto of the 6th District, Elenita Ermita-Buhain of the 1st District, Raneo Abu of the 2nd District, Theresa Collantes of the 3rd District, Lianda Bolilia of the 4th District, and Mario Mariño of the 5th District — were among those who filed the resolutions.

While these two measures stress the impending action of the lower chamber following the latest developments in the situation in Taal, over ₱30 billion worth of supplemental budget is in fact being targeted in the House, through a separate bill.

₱30-billion supplemental budget sought

Also on Wednesday, the six Batangas lawmakers filed House Bill 5998, or “an Act appropriating the sum of ₱30 billion as supplemental appropriations for FY 2020, and for other purposes.”

The measure states that the proposed amount, to be appropriated out of any available funds in the National Treasury, will give immediate relief to communities affected by the eruption, establish resettlement centers, homesites and townsites for displaced families, provide livelihood and employment opportunities for local residents, construct and rehabilitate public infrastructure, and adopt other interventions that could expedite the return to normalcy in the affected localities.

The amount appropriated will be released by the Department of Budget and Management to the implementing agencies in accordance with the approval of the President who may consider the recommendation of the NDRRMC.

“Not only are we supporting the ₱30-billion additional funding this year plus supplemental budget, we are asking our chairman on committee on appropriations to make representation with the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) to include all rehabilitation funds in the 2021 budget not only in the Taal eruption but also in the Mindanao earthquakes, [Typhoon] Ursula and other areas awaiting rehab funds,” Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said during the session.

No action was taken on the measure so far.

‘Department of Disaster Resilience’ bill still hanging

Meanwhile, the bill seeking the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) is still pending second reading approval.

Deliberations on House Bill 5989, or an Act seeking to create the "Department of Disaster Resilience, defining its mandate, powers and functions, appropriating funds therefor” only reached sponsorship level in the afternoon.

Nagagalak po kaming mga Batangueño, na isinigawa ang session na ito. With the recent calamities that hit the Philippines, ito po ay isang napaka-importanteng departamento na [gagawin]” said Rep. Mariño who sponsored the measure.

[Translation: We Batanguenos are happy that a session has been made here. With the recent calamities that hit the Philippines. This is a really crucial department that needs to be made.] 

Hours before congressmen are set to hold a special session in Batangas, a House committee approved Wednesday a measure creating the DDR.

The House Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, voted to approve the consolidated bill which will allow for the funding and operations of the new agency. The proposed new body will oversee the country’s disaster risk reduction efforts and emergency response.

At least 34 bills were consolidated into the unnumbered measure this morning, with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano as its principal author.

Iloilo Rep. Lorenz Defensor, a co-author of the bill, said the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience would absorb the Office of Civil Defense and other relevant agencies, their personnel and their funds.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, also a co-author of the measure, previously told CNN Philippines that the implementation of the DDR stands as the “most critical” of other pending disaster-related measures 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.

The House-approved bill on the DDR failed to hurdle the Senate before the 17th Congress closed in June.

The current version of the bill is still pending approval on second reading in the House so far, but it is slated for discussion in the plenary later today.

The session in Batangas will be the first-ever-out-of-town regular session by the lower chamber in history, amid the threat of an imminent hazardous eruption of Taal.

Cayetano said it was proposed by lawmakers was a bid to connect with the Taal victims, listen to the different representatives from Laguna, Cavite, and Batangas, as well as the first responders amid the calamity.

READ: House to hold Wednesday session in Batangas amid Taal unrest 

Alert Level 4 remains raised over Taal Volcano after it spewed ash and steam on January 12.