House Ways and Means Chair Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda sees a consensus in the creation of a disaster agency among colleagues in Congress, and vowed to support a proposal that places it under the Office of the President,“if the bill is pushed to the finish line.”
Salceda crafted the first version of the Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) bill in the 17th Congress. The agency will be a full blown government department. He has since then pushed the bill several times, which the lower house has twice approved, but failed to get off the Senate.
The creation of a DRR has once again became an urgent issue in the wake of the earthquake that ravished Abra province, with no less than President Marcos conceding that it should be legislated.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, in a recent statement, said senators pressing for the creation of the DRR are willing to support a version downgrading it to an agency under the Office of the President as long as it would address the ‘unresponsiveness of the current set-up.’
Salceda concurs with Zubiri’s proposal of a down scaled version of a disaster agency, saying he will endorse it as a compromise with his colleagues in the House, “as long as it moves forward towards PBBM’s desk.”
He had earlier challenged the Senate to take the bill up and said he was more optimistic about the bill’s chances under Zubiri’s Senate presidency. The DRR bill has been declared a priority legislation by the past administration.
Salceda said a downsized agency from his original proposal will do as long as it retains its key elements, foremost of which “is the institutionalization of resilience initiatives; it can’t be ad hoc in operationalization, the way the OCD-NDRRMC (or the Office of Civil Defense-National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council) relationship is.”
“Another key element is proximity to the President. If it is an office under the President, it will be good. I also suggest that the agency chair be a Presidential Adviser with cabinet rank so that he or she can work with the rest of the Cabinet.” he added.
Salceda said the critical aspect will be the abolition of the NDRRMC. “Instead of a council, the management of disasters must be institutional instead of colleagial. As long as it is not a council but an agency, I am okay. That is my position,” he stressed.
Another element, Salceda said, would be the ability to mobilize national resources at the most crucial moments. “So, control over the NDRRM Fund will be critical,” he pointed out.
“The ability to mobilize civil defense units such as the BFP, the Engineering Brigade of the AFP, and other units relevant for disaster response is also critical. We just need a call-out provision for that,” he explained.
“You also need the ability to work closely with PHIVOLCS, PAGASA, MGB, and other disaster research and detection agencies. At least now we are trying to manage the costs, but there is consensus on the principles,” he stressed.
Salceda said the “cabinet rank for the head is also crucial, because that will allow the head to determine the risk profile of all national priority projects.”
“The advantage of a new agency is that unlike the multiple mandates of the existing agencies, the new agency can focus on continuous capacity building, leading to culture building,” he noted.
“Actually, we just filed the 3rd reading copy because it allows us to bypass certain procedures in the House, but we are ready with the amendments which we can introduce on the floor, to reflect the President’s position,” he further explained.
Salceda has been known as an expert in disaster risk reduction during his term as Albay governor. Many of his strategies have been adapted by local government units. He was a constant awardee in national and international disaster events and was spokesman of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.