LEGAZPI CITY – The violent onslaught by Super Typhoon Rolly that killed at least 16 people in Bicol and devastated the region and several other areas last week was another wakeup call on the urgent need to pass the Department of Disaster Resiliency (DDR) bill, according to House Ways and Means Committee chair, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda.
Packing winds of between 295 to 310 kilometers per hour, Typhoon battered Bicol hitting hard Catanduanes, Albay and Camarines Sur provinces on All Saints Day. It left behind at least 16 people dead and several others missing, aside from a trail of destruction that would take about a decade to rebuild. Catanduanes was totally cut off from the Bicol mainland with all its communication lines toppled down.
Albay, which prided itself for its “Zero Casualty” record through its “Preemptive Evacuation” strategy during Salceda’s term as governor for nine years, and was a UN’s model in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, this time recorded the highest number of deaths.
“Bangon tulos, magtarabangan kita (Let’s get up now and help each other),” Salceda posted in his social media account after the disaster, and immediately organized a response team he calls ‘Rescue Recon 1 Philippines,’ composed of NAVY reservists, doctors, nurses, and EMT to assist in rescue and recovery operations.
Authorities feared there could be more victims as about 300 houses were reported buried in lahar and mudflows in areas near rivers at the foot of Mayon Volcano. Another typhoon, Quinta, passed the same route a week ago, which could have already loosen up lahar deposits on the volcano’s slopes.
President Rodrigo Duterte, along with Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go and some cabinet members and disaster officials made a surprise visit at these areas on Monday to assess the devastation.
“How much human sufferings do we have to endure before we pass the vital DDR Act?,” asked Salceda, principal author of HB 5989 or the DDR Act proposal. According to reports, Rolly’s damages to infrastructure, agriculture and other industries could run up to billions of pesos.
Last week, House Speaker Lord Alan Velasco issued a call for the Senate to pass the DDR bill. “We earnestly urge our counterparts in the Senate to pass their own version so we can subsequently work on the enrolled bill…” that would allow us “to be constantly prepared and well-equipped when natural disasters occur…. enable other departments to put all their focus and efforts in helping the country recover from Covid-19,” he emphasized.
The House passed the DDR Act on third and final reading last September 21 with an overwhelming 241 votes. Deemed as the country’s coherent blueprint for survival against natural calamities and even pandemics, it has been certified urgent by President Duterte many times. The measure now awaits deliberations in the Senate.
Salceda said Velasco’s call reflects the universal sentiment of the entire House and echoes the people’s long unanswered need for a well prepared and well-coordinated response to disasters that should mitigate the dangers they pose and minimize human sufferings.
The DDR will be the primary agency “responsible, accountable, and liable for leading, managing, and organizing national efforts to prevent and reduce disaster risks; prepare for and respond to disasters; and recover, rehabilitate and build forward better after the destruction,” said Salceda.
He said the proposed DDR aims to effectively lessen the “human and socio-economic costs” of disasters in the country once signed into law. It was first approved in 2017 by the Lower House but was stalled and overtaken by the 2018 elections in the Senate.
Salceda has earlier expressed confidence the DDR bill will be finally enacted this time since its Senate version is authored by Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go, who himself introduced several innovations in the measure.
Salceda, along with the bill’s co-authors, has many times issued an appeal to the Senate “to expedite the passage of this measure [DDR] that would institutionalize the cohesive, and comprehensive framework for disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation, and response in our country.”
The DDR will help the country deal with disasters and emergencies “not as unfortunate incidents whose impacts are beyond our control, but as risks that can be mitigated. We can no longer deny the fact that climate change is real, that we are a volcanically and tectonically active country, and that we face several typhoons each year. Disasters are a fact of Philippine life,” he stressed.
“We can, however mitigate the human and socioeconomic costs of these disasters. DDR will help ensure that we have a full-time agency in charge of keeping us strong and ready for disasters,” he added.
“Fortune favors the prepared. “We cannot avoid typhoons and other calamities that come with our geography, but we can keep the risks low and the damage controlled. That is resilience: being able to achieve meaningful progress despite natural and external adversities,” Salceda said.