Greater LGU support needed more than new agency on disaster response – Fernando

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — A lawmaker and experienced disaster responder said the government may be better off releasing funds to local government units rather than building a new Department of Disaster Resilience or DDR.

Representative Bayani Fernando of Marikina's first district said LGUs should be equipped better as frontliners in the face of calamities, adding that it would be more efficient rather than creating a new agency from scratch.

"Sa pagkakataon na 'to, palagay ko naririyan naman ang mga departamento natin. Meron na tayong mabuting balangkas na tumutugon dito sa pangangailangan na ito. Baka mamaya'y magkaroon na naman ng extra gastusin natin," the lawmaker told CNN Philippines' The Exchange.

"Dapat ipukol natin ang ating pansin sa mga lokal na pamahalaan na siya ang talagang nakatutok diyan at siyang maaasahan natin sa anumang oras. Iyang mga disaster management na 'yan, 'yung mga preparation na 'yan, prevention ay hindi kaya ng isang departamento, 'yan ay pagtutulong-tulong ng lahat, " he added.

[Translation: In this case, I think we already have existing departments in place. We already have a good strategy to respond to people's needs, we might just incur extra costs if we create a new agency. We should instead give the resources to LGUs who are focused and reliable at any time. Disaster management, preparations, and prevention cannot be done by just one department anyway.]

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly lobbied for Congress to pass a bill creating the new Cabinet-level agency.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 5989 on third reading in September that puts in place a "unified command system." The DDR will plan out disaster risk reduction management and response projects to mitigate the impact of natural and man-made disasters.

Currently, typhoon monitoring is lodged under the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration while earthquake and volcano monitoring is under the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Both are under the Department of Science and Technology. Meanwhile, Emergency response is under the Office of Civil Defense.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council coordinates relief and recovery efforts of the government.

Fernando said local government response would be the most effective intervention, as towns, cities, and provinces should know their terrain. In Marikina's case, the 2009 Typhoon Ondoy tragedy forced authorities to have early warning systems to track Marikina River's level and put up three-story evacuation centers for low-lying areas.

Signaling and public communication systems are also key.

READ: Rolly's onslaught highlights need for better anticipatory plan, improved science and technology – expert

Sorsogon Governor Francis "Chiz" Escudero also said that part of provincial preparations for the wrath of Typhoon Rolly and similar disasters was to pass an ordinance that will clear trees at risk of toppling over electric posts and on roads.

"Ang pinakamaitutulong ng pamahalaan ay pondohan ang crop insurance [The best way government can help is to fund crop insurance]," Escudero said, referring to farmers who lost their harvests to the disastrous rains and floods.

However, a private sector-led coalition on disaster response said a unified agency such as the DDR could get more things accomplished and allow closer coordination.

"We need one authority that we can turn to during a crisis. It happens so often that it's not a question of if, it's a question of when," Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation president Rene "Butch" Meily also told CNN Philippines' Rico Hizon.

"In terms of a budget, the idea is the cost of not doing something is a lot more than actually setting something up. We are among top three or four most disaster-prone countries in the world... It makes everything better if we are prepared," he said.

The Philippines is among countries most vulnerable to climate change, with high risk for typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions which could cost lives and damage properties.