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Disaster mitigation

 

By JOHNNY DAYANG

 

THE disastrous landslides in Itogon, Benguet and Naga City in Cebu triggered by heavy rains brought about by supertyphoon Ompong which claimed some 150 lives aside from over 60 more missing, may have indeed been miti­gated or avoided had there been an effective and efficient disaster management agency in place.

President Duterte in his 2017 and 2018 SONAs had urged Congress to create such agency. The House has recently passed House Bill 8165 which seeks to create a separate Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) to directly address the frequent natural and man-made disasters and calamities and help ensure the country’s inclusive economic growth.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, the bill’s principal author and chair of the House technical working group that harmonized other various proposals with his original 2017 bill to come up with the substitute HB 8165, said the Itogon and Naga disasters could have preempted or at least mitigated if the DRR is in place.

Citing the Naga tragedy, where subsequent investigations led to the suspension of at least three Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) officials, Salceda said the case suggests that disaster risk reduction has obviously not been given enough weight and priority. Under his proposal, the MGB of the DENR, particularly its GeoHazard Unit, will be placed under the DDR “which should insulate it from mining interests and focus on the disaster aspects of its mandate.”

Together with the MGB, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) now under DOST, and the Bureau of Fire Protection of DILG, will similarly become part of DDR.

As Salceda explains, the DDR, once actualized, will integrate warning agencies with risk reduction and response structures and functions to facilitate decisive contingency planning and warning communications, and provide a shift in strategy from “deterministic to probabilistic approach to risk assessment” while retaining the ‘Whole-of-Government and Whole-of-Nation’ approach.” It will be the “lead agency mandated to carry out a consistent and fortified calamity defense program to ensure the country’s sustainable development and inclusive growth through strategic and systematic approaches to disaster prevention and mitigation.”

The House passed HB 8165 three days after Ompong’s onslaught that triggered the Itogon landslide where 78 lives perished. Five days thereafter, heavy rains similarly triggered the Naga landslide that buried some 70 people underground.

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