Located in the Typhoon Belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines has always been prone to natural disasters. Super Typhoon Rolly, the world’s strongest tropical cyclone in 2020, unleashed powerful winds reminiscent of Yolanda in 2013, while torrential rains near the end of the year brought back destructive floods to areas previously devastated by tropical storm Ondoy in 2009.
The ground refused to be set aside in nature’s show of force. Earthquakes in Davao del Sur, Cotabato, and Masbate in 2019 and 2020 reduced villages into rubble, while the eruption of Taal Volcano in January 2020 covered many parts of Luzon with a blanket of ash that destroyed hectare upon hectare of crops, and forced thousands of people to flee the towns surrounding the volcanic lake.
With thousands injured, hundreds killed, and millions displaced by natural disasters every year, calls for a new department devoted to cushioning the impacts of natural disasters and improving the way relief and rehabilitation efforts are conducted is gaining steam within the halls of Congress.
“The reality is that we need a department that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to see how to make us more resilient and how to give relief and rehabilitation,” former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said in a visit to typhoon-hit cities in Laguna.
At the start of the 18th Congress, Alan filed House Bill No. 4 which seeks to establish an Emergency Response Department that would lead, organize, and manage all plans, programs, projects, and activities of the national government on humanitarian emergency assistance and disaster risk reduction and management.
Led by a Cabinet Secretary, the Department would take over the functions of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and Office of Civil Defense, manage the Human Emergency Assistance Fund, and ensure mechanisms for accountability and transparency in the distribution of donations and use of public funds.
Alan’s call enjoys resounding support inside Malacañang. The creation of such a department has been one of the priority legislative initiatives of President Rodrigo R. Duterte since his second State of the Nation Address in 2017. He repeated it in his fifth SONA in 2020: “I emphasize the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience; our people‘s safety cannot be delegated to a council or commission. We must act [now] before another major disaster shakes [us] into action.”
The creation of such a department has been one of the priority legislative initiatives of President Rodrigo R. Duterte since his second State of the Nation Address in 2017.
In November 2019, HB 4 was consolidated with other measures into House Bill No. 5989, which hurdled the House panels on government reorganization and disaster management. The House of Representatives approved the substitute bill on third and final reading on September 21, 2020.
As the country moves toward a new and more hopeful decade, Filipinos will soon be steps ahead of any natural disaster. Preparation, damage limitation, and response agility will be the name of the game in the better normal.
“Such specialized department shall stubbornly bear laser-like preciseness in focus, give primacy to pre-disaster resilience-building, and prioritize life preservation and basic subsistence needs in the communities affected by a disaster,” Alan says.