By Hannah Torregoza
Now that the alert level on Taal Volcano has been lowered from Level 4 to 3, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara urged on Sunday all local government units (LGUs) and other agencies to immediately conduct an assessment of the damage wrought by the eruption so that Congress can help expedite the recovery and rehabilitation efforts of the affected communities.
Angara noted that in the past two weeks, agencies on the ground have found it difficult to come up with an accurate assessment of the damages because of the lockdown imposed on the affected areas due to the strong possibility of another eruption.
But since the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has scaled down the alert level and authorities have allowed most of the residents of Cavite and Batangas to return to their homes, the senator said LGUs and agencies on the ground should move quickly to report Congress on the current situation.
“Now that the alert level on Taal has been scaled down by the Phivolcs, the agencies on the ground, together with the LGUs, should act swiftly to assess the situation and report back to Congress so that we can already get the ball rolling on the recovery of the affected communities,” said Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee.
“May available na pondo at dapat as soon ma-verify na nila yung pangangailangan ng mga komunidad, dapat ibigay nila agad ‘yan. ‘Yun ang dinadaing ng ating mga kababayan, dahil hindi nila agad nararamdaman yung ayuda (There are funds available and as soon as they are able to verify the needs of the community, those should be disbursed immediately. That is what our countrymen are complaining about, because they do not feel they are immediately getting assistance from the government),” Angara pointed out.
Angara said there is a P16 billion appropriation, a significant amount of funding, under the P4.1-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2020 that is available for the use of different government agencies for the repair and rehabilitation of the affected areas in Cavite, Batangas, and Laguna under the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Fund (NDRRMF), or the so-called calamity fund.
On top of this, Angara said there is also P6.8-billion in quick response funds (QRF) lodged in the budgets of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense (DND-OCD), and the National Electrification Administration (NEA).
In addition, there is also some P7 billion leftover from the P20 billion calamity fund in the 2019 national budget which the government can use this year.
“With the QRF, the agencies such as the DPWH and DSWD will be able to download the funds to the affected communities immediately because as the name implies, the utilization of the funds must be quick,” Angara said. “With the calamity fund, the specific programs and projects will have to undergo assessment on the ground and certification by the local government units before they are submitted to the President for his approval. So the process is a little longer than the QRF.”
Angara said he believes the P30-billion supplemental budget that President Duterte has been requesting from Congress would serve as a buffer fund for calamities that might occur later this year.
“So I think the President just wants to be prepared, and we in Congress are also ready to respond and heed the President’s call,” he said.
While waiting for the House of Representatives to act on their commitment to pass the proposed supplemental budget, he said the Senate could start determining just how much is needed to cover all the bases in the effort to bring the lives of the affected communities back to normal.
Angara earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 298 calling for an inquiry into the total damage caused by the Taal Volcano eruption for the purpose of assessing the total financial requirements for the aid, relief, resettlement, rehabilitation, and livelihood support to communities adversely affected by the catastrophe.