House panels push creation of disaster preparedness agency

MANILA — Two committees of the House of Representatives have agreed to form a technical working group (TWG) that will consolidate at least 8 bills seeking to create an independent agency focused on the country’s disaster preparedness and emergency management.

The House committees on government reorganization and national defense and security jointly approved a motion creating a TWG headed by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda to harmonize House Bills 108, 344, 596, 2638, 3093, 4203, 4648, and 6075.

Apart from the creation of an independent disaster authority, the bills also propose other provisions such as the recovery and reconstruction plan; fisherfolk as auxiliary response team during disasters; administration of disaster aid; climate change adoption linkages; and the establishment of disaster and emergency centers, among others.

Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy, the author of HB 4203, said the Philippines ranked third most exposed and most vulnerable to natural disasters out of 171 countries in the 2015 World Risk Report Index. The country also ranked 13th in the Climate Change Vulnerability Index.

“Current government procedures require a revamp… We need a more systematized approach in a disaster management and have in place key mechanisms to ensure quick and efficient means of disaster preparedness and assistance to those affected,” Herrera-Dy said.

Leyte Rep. Yedda Romualdez, the author of HB 344, cited the need for a new department of disaster preparedness and emergency management to effectively improve the institutional capacity of the government for disaster risk reduction and management.

Romualdez further noted that the new department could help reduce the vulnerabilities surrounding the affected local population as well as build the resilience of local communities to both natural and man-made disasters and calamities.

“Nearly 74 percent of the population and 80 percent of the land area are identified as vulnerable to disasters with Manila, the capital, considered an extreme risk,” Romualdez said.

For his part, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said there should be a permanent national agency that will handle the country’s planning and preparation for disasters and emergencies.

Alejano proposed in his HB 108 the creation of an emergency management agency that will undertake disaster mitigation and preparedness measures as well as quick response mechanism “to reduce the risks of disasters and mitigate possible damage to life and property, initiate a rapid and effective response to disasters and effectively manage post-disaster recovery.”

Several agencies have expressed support for the bills, including the National Economic Development Authority, Office of Civil Defense, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Civil Service Commission, Center for Disaster Preparedness, Armed Forces of the Philippines and World Vision Philippines.