Proposed amendment of disaster management law to abet corruption — group

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 March) —  Faced by the horrific scenes in Japan after a magnitude 9 earthquake and 10-meter tsunami  on March 11,  Filipinos are haunted by questions on its readiness to absorb catastrophes of that magnitude.

But even as the law which provides the framework for disaster risk reduction and management gets to see the light of day, some lawmakers in Congress want to zap the essence of RA 10121 or the Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) Act of 2010.

Iloilo City Rep. Jerry P. Trenas and Negros Oriental (2nd district) Rep.  George P. Arnaiz, have filed in the 15th Congress House Bill 3813 which intends to repeal Section21 of Republic Act No. 10121 otherwise known as the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.”

Section 21 provides that the mandatory Local Calamity Fund, renamed Local Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (LDRRMF) of not less than five per cent (5%) of the estimated revenue from regular sources, be set aside to support disaster risk management activities such as, but not limited to, pre-disaster preparedness programs including training, purchasing of life-saving rescue equipment, supplies and medicines, for post-disaster activities, and for the payment of premiums on calamity insurance.

The same section provides that 30% of the LDRRMF be allocated as “Quick Response Fund (QRF) or stand-by fund for relief and recovery programs in order that situation and living conditions of people in communities or areas sticken by disasters, calamities, epidemics, or complex emergencies may be normalized as quickly as possible.”

The section also provides that unused calamity funds “shall accrue to a special trust fund solely for the purpose of supporting disaster risk reduction and management activities of the LDRRMCs within the next five years.  Any such amount still not fully utilized after five years shall revert back to the general fund and will be available for other local services to be identified by the local Sanggunian.”

Civil society organizations advocating DRRM do not want this section repealed and want to present their position during the regional consultations on the measure starting this month. The Northern Mindanao consultation is slated on March 23 in Cagayan de Oro and March 24 for Caraga in Butuan City.

Director Carmelito Lupo of the Office of Civil Defense encouraged DRRM stakeholders to participate in the consultations which shall also get inputs for the National DRRM Framework Plan.

The DRRMnet, a coalition of DRRM advocates said HB 3813 is driven by self-interest and abets corruption.

In the pre DRRM Act period, the unexpended calamity fund can be reverted to the general fund and can be used as gifts to LGU employees.

The DRRMnet said this practice is dangerous in that Sec. 21 of the DRRM Act is intended to stop this practice. It noted that in some instances, local government units refuse to declare calamities even if direly needed so that the fund will be unexpended and then given as huge financial perks to LGU employees, usually at the end of the year.

Some LGUs give as much as P100,000 in gifts and bonuses to employees and funds used are from savings from the calamity fund.

“There is a need for LGUs to be educated on this very significant provision  that it’s an investment and cost-efficient to prevent a disaster. Again, there is corruption in disasters and the old 5% calamity fund prior to RA 10121 is subjected to a lot of corruption,” said Mark Fernandez, DRRM specialist of the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction.

“We need to ensure that funding from the LGU has to be allocated for both DRR and Climate Change Adaptation initiatives which include all the processes from risk assessment and analysis, action planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation,” he added.

Proponents of HB 3813 “would rather use this unspent money for bonuses of government employees than prepare for the eventuality of a disaster. And when disaster strikes, they would beg for mercy from the national government, relief organizations and donor agencies,” said Andres Tionko of the Panay Rural Dev’t. Center, Inc.Cervantez said there is a need to integrate development in disaster risk reduction simply because the more developed we are, the more resilient the people and communities become to disasters. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)