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DISASTER LAW. Are Philippine laws well equipped to protect us in times of disaster? Illustration by Aki Lacanlalay

DRRM Act: The law in times of disasters

Typhoon Yolanda, known internationally as Haiyan, was one of the strongest typhoons to hit the Philippines on that fateful day of 8 November 2013. It was also considered the world’s strongest typhoon in the past year, having affected massive numbers of persons, causing death, injury, and damage to property. According to an update by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), as of 23 November 2013, about 5,235 individuals have been reported dead, 23,501 injured, and 1,613 still missing. There are around 2,157,529 families or about 10 million persons affected in 44 provinces. Airports, seaports, infrastructure, telecommunications facilities, and agriculture were severely damaged. The total cost of damage is estimated at about PhP22 billion.

Amid the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda, some questions arise. Is it possible to have zero casualty as aspired for by President Benigno S. Aquino III during his national address days before the coming of the deadly storm? Are there even ways to at least minimize the damage caused by typhoons of such nature? Experts are saying that with climate change manifesting itself even more patently, there is a great possibility that another typhoon of the same magnitude will hit the Philippines and other countries anytime soon. Is the Philippines ready for another disaster?

It can be argued that the number of casualties and the extent of the damage brought about by such disaster could have been eliminated or, at the very least, minimized had proactive steps been taken. Preparation is very important especially for the Philippines, a calamity-stricken archipelago.   One of the instances of the embodiment of such preparation in Philippine law is in Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10121, or An Act Strengthening the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management System, Providing for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework and Institutionalizing the National Disaster Risk and Management Plan, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes. The law, also known as the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (DRRM Act), was enacted on July 27, 2009 and signed into law on May 27, 2010 during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The DRRM Act repealed Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1566, also known as the Strengthening the Philippine Disaster Control, Capability and Establishing the National Program on Community Disaster Preparedness.

Salient features of the Philippine ‘disaster’ laws

Presidential Decree No. 1566 focused on disaster control, while the DRMM Act focuses on disaster risk reduction and management. The former law comes into play after the happening of a disaster, while the latter law provides mechanisms prior to the happening of a disaster. As such, Section 3(n) of the DRRM Act defines disaster risk reduction as the “concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyze and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposures to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events.” This is in line with the State’s policy, as provided in Section 2(a) of the same law, which is to “uphold the people’s constitutional rights to life and property by addressing the root causes of vulnerabilities to disasters, strengthening the country’s institutional capacity for disaster risk reduction and management and building the resilience of local communities to disasters including climate change impacts.”

The law is supposed to provide for the development of policies and plans, and implementation of actions and measures involving all aspects of reducing and managing disaster risks. Section 5 of DRRM Act enumerates the people who shall compose the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), including the Secretaries of the Department of National Defense (DND), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). Clearly, what is contemplated by the law is the joining of forces of the heads of these agencies in times of trouble, when they are especially needed. The law also provides that the powers and functions of NDRRMC are not limited to answering the calls for rescue and relief by the victims, but also extend to policy-making, coordination, integration, supervision, monitoring, and evaluation functions. NDRRMC Chairperson is even authorized to call upon or mobilize other government instrumentalities or entities, as well as non-government and civic organizations for assistance for the protection and preservation of life and property. However, the law assigns responsibility not only on the national level but also on the regional and local DRRM Councils.

While Section 14 of the DRRM Act is another salient feature which provides not only for the integration of disaster risk reduction into school curricula and the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) program, but also the mandatory training for the public sector employees, such is yet to be seen, considering that the election for SK officers had been postponed in 2013.

The DRRM Act also provides for the declaration of a state of calamity by the President. This is a clear example of the application of Article VI, Section 23(2) of the Constitution, which states that “Iin times of war or other national emergency, the Congress may, by law, authorize the President… to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy.” Under R.A. 10121, as a consequence of the declaration, remedial measures may be employed. These measures include price control of prime commodities, medicines and petroleum products; programming or re-programming of funds for the repair and safety upgrading of public infrastructures and facilities; and grant of no-interest loans by government financing or lending institutions to the sectors most affected by the disaster.

One important feature of DRMM Act which sets it apart from P.D. No. 1566, is that the declaration of a state of calamity is no longer needed in order for the allocated DRMM fund to be accessed and used. In addition, 30 percent of the fund shall be allocated as Quick Response Fund or stand-by fund for relief and recovery programs in order for the situation and living conditions of people in disaster-stricken areas to normalize immediately.

Section 18 provides for the mechanism for International Humanitarian Assistance, wherein importations and donations shall be considered as importation by and/or donation to the NDRRMC, subject to the approval of the Office of the President.

As of November 13, 2013, in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has reported that majority of aid from the international community for the victims of the typhoon will not pass through the government agencies, but rather directly to the victims or through different channels, such as non-governmental organizations and private charitable institutions and foundations. The DFA is supposed to be the first to be notified by the international community of incoming aid and the NDRRMC is informed thereafter. Considering that among the prohibited acts under Section 19 of the law is “preventing the entry and distribution of relief goods in disaster stricken area,” there is a question of whether slowing down may be construed as “preventing,” when the very bureaucratic process creates bottlenecks in the distribution of aid to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda?

Another prohibited act is “misrepresenting the source of relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities” (this includes repacking the goods, equipment or other aid commodities into containers with different markings to make it appear that the goods came from another agency or persons or was released upon the instance of a particular agency or persons). Reports in the days following the Yolanda catastrophe have shown that several politicians and their supporters were caught red-handedly distributing aid re-packed with their campaign logos and names. Section 20 of RA 10121 provides that the penalty for these acts includes imprisonment up to 12 years or a maximum fine of PhP 500,000, or both.

Given these salient features of the law, a lingering question would be: had the Philippine DRRM Act of 2010 been properly executed, or had a new disaster agency been created, would the Visayas region experience such same fate? According to environmental policy expert, Dean Tony La Viña, a new independent disaster agency that will respond to the failure in the current system, especially in terms of communication and training, is needed. This would, in the long run, be more cost efficient in addressing the future calamities the Philippines is bound to experience in light of its geographical location. In any case, the Philippines must really learn from such devastating calamities. Ultimately, the government should double its efforts to execute the existing DRRM Act, at least at its most “ideal,” in order to save more lives and property in the future. P

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