The Philippines, we all agree, is one of the countries most vulnerable to natural hazards and climate change. We are situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire makes us prone to a number of natural disasters, including typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, storm surges and drought. In fact, the World Risk Report 2017 cites our country as having the third highest exposure and third highest risk to natural hazards among 173 countries.
When typhoon “Yolanda” struck Eastern Visayas, it showed the country’s vulnerability and lack of disaster preparedness. There was an absence of leadership in the then Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). There was no centralized command in charge of disaster during that time. Hence, there was confusion on who would do what when “Yolanda” ravaged the region.
President Rodrigo Duterte envisions a Philippines where we won’t have to get back up on our feet when disaster strikes; rather he wants us to be able to withstand whatever disaster comes our way and remain standing through it all. “To help safeguard the present and the future generations, we have to earnestly undertake initiatives to reduce our vulnerabilities to natural hazards and bolster our resilience to the impact of natural disasters and climate change,” the President said during his third State of the Nation Address.
To this end, the President supports the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) that will institutionalize unity of command by identifying who precisely is in charge during a disaster and what powers these persons can wield. The proposed legislation is anchored on the government’s experience with previous disasters, among them supertyphoon “Yolanda” and guided by President Duterte’s leadership principles.
“We must learn from the experiences from supertyphoon “Yolanda” and other mega disasters and from global best practices. We need a truly empowered department characterized by a unity of command, science-based approach and full-time focus on natural hazards and disasters and the wherewithal to take charge of the disaster risk reduction; preparedness and response with better recovery and faster rehabilitation,” he said.
The DDR is envisioned to have a sole focus on natural hazards and disasters and shall be guided by a disaster resilience framework that shall deliver on three Key Result Areas: Disaster Risk Reduction, Disaster Preparedness and Response and Recovery and Building Forward Better. The administration’s version of the bill, which has been transmitted to both Houses of Congress, was based on a meticulous study of global best practices in disaster resilience and customizing each to the Philippine context.
Unlike the existing institutional arrangement that encompasses the very wide range of both natural and human-induced disasters, the DDR shall focus on natural hazards and climate change, which includes geological phenomena and related hazards, including earthquakes and volcanic activity; hydrological and meteorological phenomena, which include storms and floods and climatological variability, which covers El Niño, La Niña, extreme temperatures and solar radiation.
The bill also institutionalizes innovative, responsive and streamlined procurement rules and mechanisms, such as but not limited to stand-by contracts, pre-arranged systems of procurement with a pre-approved list of contractors, pre-negotiated contracts, advanced procurement contracts and framework contracts, with the requisite transparency and checks and balance. It includes the establishment and implementation of flexible rules on hiring by exempting from the personnel services cap the creation of local disaster resilience offices to ensure adequate human resources, including highly-skilled technical experts.
Moreover, it creates a National Disaster Operations Center and its corresponding Alternative Command and Control Centers, as may be necessary, to monitor, assess, manage and respond to disasters in all areas of the archipelago.
Once passed into law, the creation of the DDR will be a significant step toward attaining safe, adaptive and disaster-resilient communities by leading efforts to reduce the risk of natural hazards and the effects of climate change. Our primordial goal is to save lives and minimize damages to public and private property.