Published 25 July 2018, The Daily Tribune

The torrential downpour last week reminds us that the rainy season is here. And with it comes the seasonal sights of flash floods, snarling traffic, and interruptions to classes and work.

An average of about 20 storms and typhoons enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility every year. In addition, the country also sits within the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire”, hence is exposed to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  All of these make the Philippines one of the riskiest countries in the world in terms of disaster vulnerability and natural calamities exposure.

In May 2010, President Gloria Arroyo signed into law Republic Act No. 101211 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010”. While the law created a national policy body called the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (“NDRRMC“) the overriding operational strategy of R.A. No. 101211 is decentralization – decentralization of disaster preparedness, risk reduction, response, and recovery. Hence, the law emphasizes the need to strengthen the capacities of the local government units in terms of “mitigating and preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the impact of disasters.” The law makes the local government units (“LGU”) primarily responsible as the first disaster responders in their locality with the national government merely acting in support of the LGU.

However, if we are to further strengthen the capacities of the LGUs to enable disaster resilient communities we have to similarly enhance their financial capacities to shore up the necessary infrastructure and train capable staff and volunteer. Here is where I think the complications lay. The law mandates LGUs to set aside no less than 5% of all its revenues from regular sources to create its local disaster fund or calamity fund. Another requirement is for LGUs to spend 70% of this fund for pre-disaster, prevention and mitigation activities while the remaining 30% of the fund is allocated for Quick Response Fund, mainly used for immediate relief to disaster victims.

I think a funding mechanism where disaster funds of LGUs are dependent on their revenues and not based on a formula that factors disaster risks each LGUs are mostly susceptible to, does not fully enable communities within their jurisdictions to become disaster resilient. Let’s illustrate this point. Based on the revenues in 2016 as stated in the 2106 COA Annual Financial Report on LGUs, the richest city in the country, posted revenue of P18 billion in 2016 whereas two other cities in Metro Manila earned P1 billion and P1.2 billion, respectively. It’s not true all lawyers are bad with numbers because I can confidently say that 5% of P18 billion is P900 million while that of P1 billion is P50 million and P1.2 billion is P60 million.  Now, can we confidently say these cities face similar flooding risk all year round? Sure the richest city has its share of flood-prone areas but it isn’t home to a Venice-like community as in some places where flood waters may take a longer time to subside and affected residents have no choice but to make do with boats and other floating devices as a mode of transportation.  Obviously, a gross mismatch in funding and level of disaster risks will only result in poor infrastructure and deficient capacity building.

Maybe it is high time for Congress to review the LGUs disaster funding mechanism. Cities with considerable financial resources may perhaps be given lesser funding as against financially challenged  LGUs, especially those in the coastal areas that do not enjoy the same earning privilege as that of the premier cities.

To develop a nationwide disaster resilient community, geo-hazard map and other environmental mapping conducted by various private institutions, which identify LGUs prone to whatever kind of disaster risks, should be fully utilized, so that the needed infrastructure may be supplied. Instead of just relying on the local calamity fund,  an equalizer fund for cash-strapped but disaster-prone LGUs may be considered. The unique situation of LGUs with fewer resources perhaps entitles them to more right to calamity fund compared to their richer counterpart.

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