President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. said Wednesday that he is supportive of a proposed measure that would create the Department on Disaster Resilience, following the strong earthquake that hit northern Luzon this morning.
Asked if he would push for the passage of the measure, Marcos replied, "Yes."
"Mukhang...I don't like to say it, mukhang mapapadalas ito eh... not the earthquake pero 'yung weather, lalo na 'yung extreme weather... kahit hindi bagyo, nakikita mo sa Europe, sa Amerika, baka naman abutan tayo ng ganyan, 'yung napakainit masyado," Marcos added.
(Yes, I don't like to say it but it has been happening more frequently... not the earthquake but the weather... the extreme weather... it's not necessarily the storms, but in Europe and America, you will notice that it is very hot.)
"So these are the things that we have to be careful, we need more capability that we have now. Magaling na tayo sa bagyo, marunong na tayo sa lindol pero ang mga dangers, the effects of climate change present are different, that's why we need a specialist agency," he added.
(We are good in our typhoon measures, we know how to handle the earthquake but the dangers, the effects of climate change present are different, that's why we need a specialist agency.)
The Philippines is among the countries hardest-hit by natural disasters in the last 20 years, with weather effects exacerbated by climate change.
In January of this year, former senate president Vicente Sotto III said the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience was unlikely to be approved in the 18th Congress because of intense interpellation.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in 2020.
According to Phivolcs, the quake—earlier reported as magnitude 7.3—occurred at 8:43 a.m. and was located at 17.64°N, 120.63°E - 003 km N 45° W of Tayum in Abra. It had a depth of 17 kilometers.
The quake was felt strongly in many areas in Luzon, including in Metro Manila.
Following the quake, some legislators emphasized the need for the Department of Disaster Resilience as they believe that this will consolidate government resources towards "a more unified disaster preparedness, response, and management strategy."
For one, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go said the quake "makes our long-running clamor for the establishment of the Department of Disaster Resilience relevant."
"Once established, we will have a Cabinet secretary-level department whose primary tasks are not limited to extending immediate assistance but also making sure the rapid recovery and rehabilitation of affected communities," Go said in a separate press release.
Meanwhile, Senator JV Ejercito said the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters "calls for a fully fledged department dedicated to disaster preparedness, response, and management."
Senator Grace Poe likewise said this recent earthquake "brought to fore" the previous calls to create the Department of Disaster Resilience and Emergency Assistance and Management which, she said, would be the first responder during calamities.
"The proposed body will also efficiently plan and collaborate with concerned agencies and local government units on disaster mitigation and management," she said.
"Our people especially in vulnerable communities should not suffer more in the face of calamities," she added.
In a virtual interview with Senator Imee Marcos, the president's sister agreed that there should be a government body that will respond to these natural calamities like the United States' Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The lawmaker noted that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council usually lacks budget as it is just a coordinating body and some of its funding were realigned for the rehabilitation of Marawi City.
"Halos ang konti lang ng budget niya. Nailagay pa halos lahat sa Marawi rehab kaya hindi makakilos ang NDRRMC. Kung tutuusin namamalimos lang siya sa iba’t ibang department, sa quick response fund ng [Department of Agriculture], [Department of Social Welfare and Development]. So we wanted them to have more teeth," Imee said.
(It has a small budget, and most of it has been allocated to Marawi rehabilitation so NDRRMC can hardly take action. They have to ask other departments for their quick response funds.)
Although she raised this suggestion, Imee said she is not in favor of creating a new department, considering the recent stand of the administration on rightsizing the bureaucracy.
"Ayaw ko naman agad-agad gawing department kasi mauubos lang sa sahod ng [undersecretary] at [assistant secretary]. Subukan muna natin na isang authority o di kaya admin o kaya council, basta something na mas maliit na hindi kailangan ng full-blown department," she said.
(I don't want to immediately make another department because we will use up the funds towards salaries for the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. Let's try an authority or council first, something that is smaller and doesn't need to be a full-blown department.)
“Isang authority directly under the president with its own powers and functions. Some budget and more teeth," she added.
During the Senate's Wednesday plenary session, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano cited the 2021 World Risk Report which showed that an average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines and the country ranked eighth out of 181 countries in terms of disaster risk.
In another study by German Watch, Cayetano said, the Philippines ranked fourth among the countries that are most affected by climate change and weather catastrophes from 2000 to 2019.
"No less than our Senate president pro tempore [Loren Legarda] yesterday fittingly was the first one to speak on the environment. So, I would just like to manifest and ask the leadership to consider asking the president to consider these bills urgent," he added.
The lawmaker noted that several bills introduced by several senators like Senator Pia Cayetano, Go, and himself have already been filed in the chamber.
Although he acknowledged the commitment and the dedication of the people in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), Cayetano said the body is composed of 44 agencies which are only tasked to coordinate with each other during the times of catastrophes.
"I've seen them work but Mr. President ano ito, 44 agencies, ad hoc coordination. Coordinating lang sila. We need one department that will be accountable, one department that will be the one to do the job and we can pinpoint if any coordination is needed," Cayetano stressed.
The lawmaker said he will draft a personal letter to Marcos to ask the Palace that these bills will be certified as urgent.
"But if the majority leader can consider in the Rules Committee meeting if the Senate as a whole wants to ask for this bill to be certified urgent, I'd greatly appreciate that," Cayetano added.
In response, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said he wants to be part of this measure creating the DDR and the Committee on Rules will consider Cayetano's suggestion as soon as they finish its organization.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who manifested that he also filed a bill creating the DDR, also expressed his full support on Cayetano's manifestation.
"I fully support it and You have the support from this chair," Zubiri said. — BM, GMA News