A veteran lawmaker allied with the administration at the House of Representatives has commended the Department of Interior and Local Government or DILG and its chief, Mar Roxas, for spearheading the preemptive evacuations in areas along the path of Typhoon Ruby.
Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian lauded Roxas and heads of local government unit or LGUs in Visayas for being on the ground to supervise evacuation efforts and other preparations in Eastern Samar where Typhoon Ruby made its first landfall.
“[DILG] Secretary Roxas deserves to be commended for his efforts in ensuring that LGUs have learned their lesson from Typhoon Yolanda,” said Gatchalian, who improved disaster preparedness of flood-prone Valenzuela City when he became mayor from 2004 to 2013.
”And this they did by launching a massive evacuation operation days ahead of the storm, emptying whole towns and villages in coastal and landslide-prone areas,” he added.
At the same time, Gatchalian expressed sympathy for DILG Secretary Roxas and the mayors of typhoon-hit towns and cities who need to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure or construction of new bridges, roads and other facilities destroyed by Typhoon Ruby over the weekend.
But the Philippine Red Cross governor underscored the fact that use of the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund or LDRRMF has many limitations as this does not yet allow the use of the fund to cover the construction of infrastructure crucial in mitigating the effects of disasters.
“There is an urgent need to broaden the options of the LGUs in the utilization of the LDRRMF. The after-effects of disasters will be lessened if LGUs are given flexibility in providing for a swift reconstruction, repair and rehabilitation of their infrastructure damaged by disasters,” Gatchalian pointed out.
This is the reason, Gatchalian explained, behind the filing of “House Bill (HB) No. 5097”, which seeks to amend Republic Act 10121 otherwise known as the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act”.
Under RA 10121, the calamity funds of LGUs has been converted into the LDRRMF, which may be used for projects on disaster preparedness and mitigation such as the purchase of rescue equipment, supplies, and medicine.
Under Gatchalian’s proposed amendment, the use of the LDRRMF will include payment of obligations by the LGUs for the reconstruction and repair of major infrastructure damaged by disasters, as well as payment of wages and benefits of appointed rescue and response personnel.
“The effects of disasters would be greatly mitigated and reduced if LGUs will have the necessary funds to provide local infrastructure projects designed to protect against natural disasters. LGUs, being on the forefront, need to be properly equipped to protect their constituents and prevent another disaster from happening,” Gatchalian explained.
HB 5097 also seeks to enable Local Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Office to hire adequate rescue personnel who will also implement the LGUs’ disaster management programs.
The salaries and benefits of the personnel will be funded by the LDRRMF. HB 5097 has been pending with the House committee on national defense and security since October.
“Unspent LDRRMF within the given year should also be reverted back to general fund within the next three years instead of the current five. It will be placed in a special trust fund supporting LDRRMC activities,” Gatchalian said.
“If it remains unconsumed after three years instead of five, it will again be returned to the general fund and be made available for social services by local Sanggunian,” he added in his bill.
Nearly 13,000 houses were crushed and more than 22,300 were partially damaged in Eastern Samar province, where Ruby first hit land as a category 3 typhoon on Saturday.
More than 2 million people so far have felt the impact of Typhoon Ruby, with nearly 1.7 million fleeing to relatives’ houses on safer ground or packing in to evacuation centers across the central Philippines and south of the main Luzon island.
The Philippine Red Cross has reported that 27 people died in Iloilo province and on Samar island, including 12 residents in Borongan town in Eastern Samar who were swept away by raging waters and flash floods.
The death toll monitored by the PRC is way above the official count of the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), which counted three dead so far. (R. Burgos)