With only a handful of session days left before the 18th Congress concludes, former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano called on his colleagues in the Senate to consider passing its version of the bill calling for the formation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).
“I hope we don’t have to wait for the next Senate kasi meron pa namang ilang session days bago matapos po ang Kongresong ito,” Cayetano said in a media interview.
“Pero kung hindi man, sana magkasundo po tayo na kailangan itong departamento na ‘to,” he added.
Cayetano made his remarks as parts of Visayas and Mindanao continue to reel from the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agaton, which left 212 people dead and 132 missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRMC).
The storm affected more than 2.2 million people across nine regions of the country, leaving an estimated P1.3 billion in agricultural damage and another P6.9 million in damages to infrastructure.
The NDRRMC also reported that it has released more than P82 million in relief goods and other forms of assistance to those affected by Tropical Storm Agaton as of April 24.
However, Cayetano noted that disaster response has to go beyond delivering relief goods after the fact but must include rehabilitation as well.
“Magaling na po tayo sa relief programs, pero sa rehabilitation at disaster management, mahina pa ho,” he said.
The former Speaker also pointed out that having a single government agency in charge of disaster response in the country will provide focus and ensure accountability.
“Yung Department of Disaster Resilience po ay napakaimportante kasi kailangan po pagdating sa pagmi-mitigate ng mga disasters at tsaka pagdating po sa rehabilitation, may isang natuturo, may isang pong accountable, at isa pong nakatutok talaga dyan,” he explained.
Cayetano indicated that allowing government departments to take on too many tasks would lead to a lack of executive focus, which was the primary reason for devolving the former Department of Education, Culture and Sports into separate agencies for basic education, higher education and technical education.
A former Foreign Affairs Secretary, he also said the need for executive focus was the reason for establishing the Department of Migrant Worker, which will concentrate solely on migrant workers affairs.
“Kasi, kita niyo po, may COVID na e, pero ang kalamidad po ba, ang sunog, ang bagyo, ang lindol, eto po ba ay tumitigil? Hindi. Pero ang mga departamento, hilong-hilo na rin sa kaka-multitasking,” Cayetano said, recalling how multiple government agencies involved in disaster response have had to take on additional tasks during the pandemic.
“So bilang former Cabinet member, I realize na hindi ganun kadali mag-multitasking kaya minsan, kailangan talaga ng separate department na tumutok sa mga problema ng ating bansa,” the lawmaker said.
Cayetano was one of the principal authors of House Bill No. 5989 and led its approval as Speaker in September 2020. The Senate version of the measure, however, remains pending up to now.
Under H.B. No. 5989, the DDR will be the primary government agency responsible for leading, organizing, and managing the national effort to reduce disaster risk, prepare for and respond to disasters, recover and rehabilitate, and build forward better after the occurrence of disasters.
It would also oversee and coordinate the preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of disaster and climate resilience plans, programs, projects, and activities, among others.
The establishment of a government agency in charge of disaster response is a long-running advocacy of the former Speaker, going back to his previous stint as senator when in November 2013 he filed a bill calling for an Emergency Response Department in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda.