By Hannah Torregoza
Giving local government units (LGUs) the capability and funds to provide immediate disaster relief is key to a successful disaster response program.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian offered this assessment as he weighed in on the response of local chief executives that responded to the Taal volcano eruption.
“From a governance standpoint, the local governments including the provincial government should do a rapid assessment so they can already declare a state of calamity, and they can use their calamity funds to repair, to buy food, and for the evacuees,” Gatchalian said in an interview over ANC Headstart.
The senator noted that Taal’s volcanic behavior remains uncertain, according to the country’s geologists and other experts. “Right now, it’s really uncertain, because it is a new animal…and for the next few days, the local government should have the capability and the finances to support the evacuees.”
“At the same time, by declaring a state of calamity, national government can come in including us, the Senate, and other entities can talk and give support to the local government and to the constituents of those local governments,” Gatchalian added.
He also said that while he is supportive of the various proposals pushing for the creation of a separate Department of Disaster Resilience, making disaster response mechanisms centralized can hamper LGUs efforts at responding quickly to emergency situations.
“In my view, it is important to capacitate the local government. I would rather give more capacity, more capability to the local governments because they are the first responders,” said Gatchalian, a former Valenzuela City mayor.
“And all of these research agencies like Philvolcs (volcanology institute) and PAGASA (weather bureau) can be strengthened also,” he said.
Nevertheless, the lawmaker said, the proposal creating a separate agency that would take the lead on all matters related to disasters and climate change warrants thorough study.
“We will study it carefully because we don’t want a system where it is too centralized, it’s too top-heavy, and it’s too centric in Metro Manila, because if calamity strikes outside of Metro Manila, it is very hard to move,” he pointed out. “I think what’s the most important mechanism here is really to empower the local governments to respond quickly because they are at the forefront. That’s where disaster response comes in and it’s very important for them to play this role.”