Press Release
September 28, 2010

Privilege Speech by
Sen. Juan Miguel F. Zubiri

Mr. President, last Sunday, 26 of September, was the first year since Metro Manila and many parts of Luzon were devastated by the Typhoon Ondoy, which has been called many names: the great flood, epic flood, mega flood, etc. Yesterday, Senator Loren Legarda, our disaster risk management and climate change champion, delivered her privilege speech also on Ondoy and raised valid issues that are also on our mind. Mr. President, before I proceed, let us remember the 464 souls who perished in Ondoy by offering a minute of silence.

Mr. President, immediately after the devastation of Ondoy on September 26-27 last year, I stood on the floor to describe the havoc brought by Ondoy, in Metro Manila and in many parts of Luzon. At that time, we can only provide estimates of the devastation in terms of lives lost, damage to properties and the economic cost of the typhoon. Latest data available shows that 464 lives perished in Ondoy, hundreds were injured and more than 30 people are still missing, billions of pesos in infrastructure damages and setbacks to the economy.

Infrastructure: P4.391 Billion;
Agriculture: P6.669 Billion;
Schools, instructional materials & school equipment: P750 Million;
Houses (partially destroyed): 130,736 houses;
Houses (totally destroyed): 27,809 houses;
Agricultural land: 203,477 hectares; and,
Agricultural crops: 328,230 tons.

The extent of the damage can also be seen in the Philippine Insurance and Reinsurers Association report as of July 2010 that they had already paid P15 Billion in non-life insurance claims.

Mr. President, immediately after Ondoy and Pepeng -- that twice crossed the Philippines in October 1-3 & Oct. 7-9, Congress had seen the urgency of the situation and the need to provide immediate assistance to our people, and in clockwork fashion, passed Joint Resolution No. 5 entitled: Joint Resolution Authorizing The Use Of The Unprogrammed Fund In An Amount Not To Exceed Twelve Billion Pesos P12,000,000,000.00) For The Relief Operations, Rehabilitation And Reconstruction To Areas Affected By Natural Calamities. It was a record of sorts, through the smooth cooperation of Congress and the Executive, we passed one of the fastest laws that churned out from the legislative mill.

In a record two days since the transmittal of the House Joint Resolution No. 48 to the Senate and the subsequent filing of Committee Report No. 706 on October 13, 2009, we passed a law authorizing a supplemental budget to the Executive on October 14, 2009 to the tune of P12 Billion for relief operations, rehabilitation and reconstruction works of public infrastructures and assistance to the families affected by the typhoons.

Mr. President, as the said supplemental budget is in the category of Unprogrammed Fund, and as we know, Unprogrammed Fund can only be expended if there are additional revenues or sources of funding such as borrowings. We also know that we were on deficit spending last year and this year. However, we would like to find out how much was really used or expended from the allocation of P12 billion?

In passing the said law, and, in appreciating the urgency of the situation, we did not even see or check the list of the Executive branch of items included in the list for repair, rehabilitation or reconstruction works. We completely trusted the Executive officials to identify these projects. We were not even consulted nor were we asked to recommend which items will be funded or prioritized.

However, Mr. President, in giving them the leeway, we did not mean to give them blanket authority on their part. We should demand accountability. We should ask a reporting from the Executive. Where did the funds go? How many school buildings were repaired or reconstructed? How many bridges were rehabilitated or kilometers of roads reconstructed? Did they comply with the monthly reporting of these projects to Congress as required by the law?

Another vital concern is the reconstruction, rehabilitation and expansion of agricultural infrastructure in consideration of food security for the whole country and the livelihood of people in affected communities. Many areas hit by Ondoy and Pepeng were productive croplands: by Ondoy, eleven regions and by Pepeng, six regions. Both on top of the National Capital Region.

As we are now deliberating on the budget for the year 2011, we would like to find out what else are needed to be funded for rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. We would like to know if there is a need to reconfigure the 2011 budget to accommodate these type of projects.

Another issue that I want to bring up Mr. President is what have we learned from Ondoy and Pepeng and the other calamities before them? Do we now have a local early warning system or mechanism for our people? Do the most vulnerable areas to this kind of disaster have a disaster risk management plan in place?

Two weekends ago, there were news reports that certain localities have prepared their disaster risk management plans. These areas are the provinces of Bohol, Leyte, Laguna, Pampanga, Surigao del Norte, Surigao Del Sur and Zambales; the cities of Tandag and Calamba; the towns of Loboc, Abuyog, Bay, Jagna, Dagami, Sta. Cruz, Inabanga, Tanauan, Lubao, Alegria, Botolan, Guagua, Tubod, Hinatuan, San Felipe, Candaba, Mainit, San Miguel and San Marcelino. However, I could not see the many areas which are most vulnerable to disasters in the said list. Not one from Metro Manila, I hope that the list is incomplete or not accurate.

Over the weekend, newspapers were replete with articles and news about Ondoy and the preparedness of the national and local governments in another type of disaster. There were many contradicting opinions on our readiness. We would like to know the real score, Mr. President, and ask the concerned government agencies, both in the national and local levels.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR claims that they have accomplished 97 per cent of multi-hazard maps for the whole country. Is that true? And, are these maps already part of the DRRM or Disaster Reduction & Risk Management template of the LGUs? Especially, areas affected by Ondoy and Pepeng.

Mr. President, we are asking these questions not to satisfy our curiosity merely for personal satisfaction. It is typhoon season once again, and, if we are going to believe PAGASA, although based on their recent erroneous weather forecasts, I am not inclined to believe them -- there will be a La Niña towards the end of the year.

We are asking these questions so that the public may know what our authorities, at the local and national levels, have been doing or planning at all? Or are they preparing for such disaster in case another one happens? A plan, no matter how good in paper and in rhetoric, is not a good plan if not properly executed. The best plan will be for nothing if not communicated well to the people for whom it is purposely created or brought to all levels of governance and the public.

An accounting of the expenditures covered by the P12 Billion supplemental budget is timely. And, overdue. Ondoy struck September 26 & 27; Pepeng hit us October 1 to 3; Ramil rammed us October 20 and it was internationally called Lupit, which it was; and, Santi on October 30 and 31. We knew it is a Herculean task to recover and prop up the victims. That initial distress right after the chain of disasters is understandable - in the personal and government levels. We rose, though, and decided to make those damages temporary setbacks. However, it seems there is a likelihood that the damages would become permanent due to the lackluster pace of rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts.

However, after 12 months, this Representation believes all the agencies tasked with the P12 Billion fund had had more than enough time to report a factual accounting to the Filipino people. Among them, the Aetas in Botolan, Zambales still living in a tent city of makeshift shelters and substandard sanitation facilities.

Mr. President, I sincerely hope that we shall be satisfied with the accounting forthcoming to us and help us explain to our affected countrymen that they would -- soon rather than later -- benefit from the P12 Billion fund.

We are also making this call and remembering Ondoy and Pepeng, as Katrina is to the Americans, so that we will learn the lessons of history, so that we can prepare for the next disaster of this magnitude and prevent deaths and minimize damage from such disaster.

Thank you.

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