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Lacson wants head of PHL disaster resilience efforts to be of Cabinet rank

Senator Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday he would try to convince his colleagues to elevate to a Cabinet rank the head of an office or authority that will handle the country’s disaster resilience efforts instead of creating a regular department.

Lacson said the creation of a separate department could add more confusion to the structure of the country's disaster management framework.

Instead of a department, he wanted an office under the Office of the President (OP) to lead the efforts.

The chair of the national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation committee said he was glad during the committee hearing on the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience he received honest answers from the resource persons, a number of whom are Cabinet members themselves.

“Even Budget Secretary (Wendel) Avisado, while pressing for the need of a permanent body eventually admitted that it may not necessarily be a regular department,” he said.

He agrees that a council type structure or ad hoc bodies like the Office of the Presidential Assistance for Rehabilitation and Recovery, which he headed during the Aquino administration, or the numerous task forces created to address specific types of disasters may not be the correct response of the national government.

“Having said that, I will try to convince the members of the committee on defense and security to agree to just elevate to cabinet rank the head of a permanent office or an authority under the OP who will be clothed with enough powers to consolidate the efforts to address the four thematic areas of preparedness, response, prevention/mitigation, and rehabilitation and recovery and see to it that the national as well as local disaster risk reduction management plans are made workable and  implementable,” he said.

Lacson said he will prepare a committee report for plenary deliberations only when he has convinced his colleagues.

During the hearing, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council executive director Ricardo Jalad said while he supports the creation of the department, a national disaster resilience council should be retained and it should be headed by a Cabinet secretary or the Executive Secretary.

“The retention of a council led by the Cabinet secretary or Executive Secretary will not only maintain the gains but also further strengthen the institutional arrangement between agencies,” he said.

At present, Jalad, who heads the NDRRMC,  is an undersecretary at the Department of National Defense.

He said in Mongolia, it is their deputy prime minister who heads the national disaster management council. 

“In my engagement with my counterpart in Mongolia, he admitted that their model was Republic  10121 (Philippine Disaster Management Act) but they saw the weakness of the structure of the NDRRMC so they made the head of their council the deputy prime minister,” he said.

Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Pena said the NDRRMC should be given a chance.

“We can see that in the recent occurrence of disasters, it is the President himself who said he was satisfied with the way coordination and response were done. I would prefer that we maintain the NDRRMC,” he said.

Lacson stressed the importance of shifting from reactive to proactive in dealing with disasters.

”Prevention and mitigation na so we can prevent loss of lives, instead of being reactive (na kung nangyari na ang disaster), that’s the only time we scramble,” he said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said there could be lapses in the NDRRMC mechanism but it can be addressed.

“There is that lacking mechanism, we are just looking per LGU (local government unit) not lateral. That is a lapse in the  NDRRMC  mechanism,” he said.

He also admitted that NDRRMC is not fully responsive to recent disasters considering that the country is in the Ring of Fire and Typhoon Belt.

Año said these are the reasons NDRRMC should be strengthened.

“Maybe not necessarily making it into a full department but elevating the NDRRMC,” he said.

Also during the hearing, former NDRRMC executive director Alexander Pama said in 2014 and 2015, they have conducted a study on the implementation of RA 10121 and the result was a creation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority.

He does not think creating a new department is necessary.

"I don't think we need a department that will now cannibalize other departments," he said.

Under the different proposed measures for the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience, the expertise of different agencies should be included in it.

Lacson asked what will happen to the agencies.

"There are agencies under the different departments. Are we going to uproot or pull out these agencies under the different departments? For example, PAGASA and Phivolcs under DOST,  BFP under DILG, Health Emergency Management Bureau under DOH, Climate Change Office, Geohazard Assessment and Engineering, Geology Section under the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau of DSWD. Ito bang lahat na mga agencies, kung magtatayo tayo ng standalone department, ipu-pull out natin to be absorbed by the new department?" he said. — BAP, GMA News