- Natural disasters in the PH are a fact of life with typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions bringing loss of lives, damage to properties and loss of livelihood.
- Super typhoon Yolanda sparked the initiative to establish a government body to prepare for natural disasters and coordinate rescue efforts.
- Disaster preparedness should be a full-time government function.
- A bill to establish the Department of Disaster Resilience was passed in the House on final reading last Sept. 22.
- Its mandate covers all natural hazards from earthquake, volcanic activity, landslides, forest fires, to pandemics and even a meteorite impact.
Natural disasters are a fact of life in the Philippines. An average of 20 typhoons blow their wrath across the islands every year causing death and destruction along its path.
Add to that an average of 20 earthquakes a day, most of them unnoticed, but the few which are felt cause much damage to properties. That’s because the country is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Early this year saw the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano that affected more than 130,000 families, closed cities and towns, stopped businesses and livelihood opportunities in Tagaytay and many towns around the volcano.
And then there was a 6.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Cataingan, Masbate on August 18, leaving two people dead, over 170 injured, and much damage to property.
Until today, no one – even the international community – can forget the Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) which heavily battered Eastern Visayas. Tagged as the deadliest among the weather disturbances in recent history, Yolanda killed more than 6,000 people, left thousands missing, and affected 2.6 million families.
PH’s location cannot be changed
"We cannot change the location of the country. We cannot change the fact that we are the first country to face regular storms coming in from the East. We cannot change our place in the Pacific Rim of Fire. What we can change is how we react to these disasters through better governmental coordination and more efficient management,” said Bagong Henerasyon partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera, one of the main proponents of the bill seeking to establish the Department of Disaster Resilience.
Department of Disaster Resilience Bill
It was the devastation caused by super typhoon Yolanda that gave birth to a measure creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) aimed to improve the government's capacity for disaster risk reduction and management.
"It was the impact of the devastating Super Typhoon Yolanda that pushed many lawmakers to work for the passage of this measure. It showed the weak points of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), one of them the integration of national and local response,” Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo, one of the main authors of the bill said.
Also behind this bill are House Majority Leader and Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez and Tingog Sinirangan partylist Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, both from Tacloban City which was ravished by Yolanda.
Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda, one of the main proponents of the bill, also observed that the country's disaster preparedness and response measures "are often disjointed, and are not always sustained.”
A need stated in 4 SONAs
The importance of establishing this department has been mentioned in the four State-of-the-Nation Addresses—in 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020, of President Duterte, where he asked Congress to pass the bill creating the DDR.
"In 2017, NEDA estimated that we lose some P207 billion of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) each year to disasters. That’s around 1.2 percent of the economy, if we value that today. Every bit that we chip away from the damage of course translates into better development and income levels for our people,” the former governor of Albay said.
Loss of lives
"Most importantly, the loss of life can be avoided. Between 2000 and 2016, the ADB estimated that some 23,000 people were killed by natural disasters. As we showed in Albay, every loss of life due to natural disasters is avoidable,” he added.
Salceda and Romualdez have been pushing for the passage of the bill since the 17th Congress. At that time, the bill was passed on third and final reading by the House of Representatives, but the Senate failed to act on it.
House approves bill on final reading
On Sept. 22, the House of Representatives, voting 241 against seven with one abstention, approved on third and final reading House Bill No. 5989 or the proposed Disaster Resilience Act, which is a consolidation of more than 30 measures.
Two days after, the DDR bill was transmitted to the Senate for its action.
Natural hazards and disasters
The proposed DDR will focus on natural hazards and disasters, taking charge of the three key areas: disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response, and recovery, rehabilitation and building forward better.
Agencies that are now tasked to respond to natural disasters will be integrated into the new department. The Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) will serve as the core organization of the DDR and the NDRRMC will be abolished, the Romualdez couple said.
Instead, the new department will create the National Disaster Operations Center (NDOC) which will be the nerve center for disaster response, alternative control and command centers in the major island groups, and a Disaster Resilience Research and Training Institute (DDRTI) to build capacities among local government units (LGUs) and other agencies of government.
Full time gov’t function
"What it will immediately do is establish disaster resilience as a full-time government function that goes beyond mere response. We will capacitate segments of society year-round, anticipate disaster risks and mitigate them, plan and build better consistently, and find new and viable ways to protect life and property,” Salceda pointed out.
Covering all natural disasters
Its mandate covers all natural hazards from earthquake, volcanic activity, landslides, forest fires, to everything related to those – and there is a long list of natural hazards that comes with the new department. A pandemic and a meteorite or asteroid impact are also included in the list of situations.
Disaster victims follow the bill
Victims of natural disaster have followed the journey of the bill, interested to know if a department will one day coordinate all efforts to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
Councilor Leo Bahin, chairman of Barangay 87 during the onslaught of Yolanda, recalled the unsystematic flow of help to the victims. He said aid from the national government came three days after Yolanda.
“If there’s department like that, the affected constituents will immediately be given aid,” he said in Pilipino.
He also expects that the creation of the DDR will give training to people handling disaster preparedness and management.
“Even before the typhoon arrives, the people will prepare, they will know what to do during and after the typhoon. Even the needed information by the affected residents will be properly disseminated to the people,” Bahin said in Pilipino.
He related his experience in preparing for the super storm was inadequate. He said they underestimated the wrath of the super typhoon, one of the strongest storms ever recorded, with wind speeds of more than 300kph and storm surges over four meters.
“A week before Yolanda landfall, our Mayor called us to a meeting almost every day. We really didn’t have the experience, we did not take it seriously. Although, we thought that the Mayor was just over acting, we did our part, we prepared),” the former barangay captain said.
Yolanda Villas, 70, a resident of Barangay Concepcion Uno, Marikina, laments that Filipinos, especially the government, are “reactive” when it comes to disasters.
"It is high time to create a DDR to allow the government to invest in enhancing the nation's resilience to disasters. Disasters will continue to occur, and the government will have to step up,” she said.
A victim of Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, and fire victim in 2010, she observed that government efforts to rescue and assist the victims were not synchronized. Time was also wasted when agencies responsible for disaster preparedness ended up blaming each other for their inefficiencies.
Families are not prepared
"I remember when we experienced "Ondoy" in 2009 and then a fire incident the following year in Marikina. That’s when I realized that communities and even my family, was not prepared for the worst-case scenario” she said.
Learning from her family’s disaster experience, she suggested that disaster risk reduction and management education should be taught in all schools and communities nationwide to spread the culture of preparedness and resilience.
Recognition of climate change
Oscar M. Lopez Center (OML) executive director Dr. Rodel D. Lasco described the Lower Chamber’s passage of the DDR measure as "a welcome development in the mission of building more resilient communities” and "an empathic recognition of climate change and its impacts on the country.”
He noted that the country’s archipelagic configuration, geographical location and socioeconomic features, as well as other external factors, make Filipinos particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, climate impacts, and other hazards.
"The whole-of-government, whole-of-nation and whole-of-society approach endorsed by the bill can only help bolster and facilitate initiatives and action towards building climate-resilient communities. As a science-based non-profit organization, we are keen to work with lawmakers and relevant collaborators in achieving this goal.”