Press Release
January 20, 2020

Disaster Resilience - Privilege Speech
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri

20 January 2019

The New Year started with a bang! Unfortunately, this is not the bang that we all wanted. I am referring to the tantrums of the once sleepy Taal Volcano, which, on January 12, 2020 went into phreatic eruption or a steam-driven explosion that occurs when hot volcanic materials come in contact with water. The eruption spew plumes of ash into the atmosphere as high as 15 kilometers and reaching Metro Manila and as far as the provinces of Central Luzon. It caused the evacuation of more than 200,000 people from several towns in Batangas, the home province of our President Pro Tempore, Senator Ralph Recto and even in Cavite, the home province of 3 of our colleagues, Sen. Francis Tolentino, Sen. Ping Lacson and Sen. Bong Revilla. Hours after the Taal eruption, we could see the devastation it brought to the towns surrounding Taal that prompted authorities to declare a 14 kilometer radius permanent danger zone and ordered the lockdown of several towns in Batangas. Social media is replete with photos and videos of the devastation as well as the spirit of bayanihan and heroism among our fellow Filipinos. Fortunately, there was no direct human casualty from the Taal eruption. I will not delve too much on the Taal eruption as some of my colleagues will tackle this issue on their privilege speeches today. I will discuss the other natural disasters that hit the country at a time when people should be on merriment or celebrating the holidays.

The turn of the decade should have been a time of joy and celebration for Filipinos all over the nation. We should all have been safe in the comfort of our homes, enjoying our time with our families. Unfortunately, this was not the case for thousands of Filipino families, who spent the last months of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 in a state of turmoil, reeling from the back-to-back devastation of earthquakes, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions.

In October and December, a series of high-magnitude earthquakes hit Mindanao, particularly North Cotabato and Davao del Sur. It began with a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that had its epicentre inTulunan, North Cotabato, on October 16, 2019.Not long after, on October 29, Tulunan once again suffered a quake, this time at 6.6 magnitude. And then it happened again, on October 31, when Tulunan was once more shaken by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake.

Apart from Tulunan, the Municipality of Makilala in North Cotabato, the City of Kidapawan, the Municipalities of Sta. Cruz, Matanao, Magsaysay, and Bansalan, and the City of Digos in Davao del Sur were on high alert, experiencing Intensity VII shaking on the PHIVOLCS Earthquake Intensity Scale (PEIS).Intensity VII, as you might know, is marked "Destructive" on the scale, and indeed, the combined earthquakes have left terrible damages. According to reports from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the North Cotabato earthquakes damaged 56,779 structures, of which 47 are schools, 39 are health facilities, and 27,183 are houses. Worse still are the statistics on human casualties--there are at least 30 dead, 11 missing, and 220 more injured.

And as communities affected by the North Cotabato earthquakes were slowly trying torecover from the disaster, Mindanao was once again hit by a massive one--this time, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in Matanao, Davao del Sur. The earthquake, which happened on December 15, 2019, affected 218 barangays in Regions XI and XII.Itleft 13deaths in its wake, with 210 more injured. There were 45,860 structures damaged, of which 98 are health facilities, 397 are schools, and 45,085 are houses.

December was particularly disaster-struck, because that same month, the nation was hit by its final two typhoons of the year. In all, we experienced 21 typhoons in 2019--Amang hit us in January; Betty in February; Chedeng in March; Dodong in May; Egay in June; Falcon and Goring in July; Hanna, Ineng, and Jenny in August; Kabayan, Liwayway, Marilyn, Nimfa, and Onyok all in September; Perla in October; Queil, Ramon, Sarah, and Tisoy in November; and finally, Ursula in December.

Some of these typhoons have been more destructive than others. Typhoon Amang hit CARAGA hard. Ineng left considerable damages in North Luzon. Tisoy and Ursula countamong them as some of the more destructive typhoons to enter the nation last year.

Typhoon Tisoy stormed through CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, CARAGA, and Regions III, V, VI, and VIII in early December, resulting inat least 4 deaths and 561,445 structures damaged. Of that overwhelming number, a total of 63,466 houses and 2 health facilities were left completely and irreparably wrecked.

Not long afterTisoy,as if outof some twisted holidaynightmare, Ursula came, wreaking havoc on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself. Ursula ravaged many of the same places as Tisoy, hitting MIMAROPA, CARAGA, and Regions VI,VII, and VIII.Ursula left at least 57 people dead in its wake, with 369 injured.It also resulted in 531,304 damaged structures, with 530,696 of those being houses, 467 schools, and 32 health facilities.

And now, in what should be the bright start of the decade, provinces in South Luzon are clouded over by ash-darkened skies, with Taal Volcano on Alert Level 4and fear of a more violent eruption has sent people panic-buying for supplies, even beyond immediately affected areas.

The nation is gripped by unrest. Even with disaster preparedness strategies in place, the sheer intensity of these calamities has rendered many Filipinos completely devastated. The Mindanao earthquakes, Typhoon Ursula, and TyphoonTisoy left a combined 157,168 houses totally damaged,apart from the many more that are in dire need of repair. About 87,000 thousand Filipino families have been left effectively homeless.

During our break, I was able to survey some of these calamity-ravaged areas and conducted relief operations in Kidapawan and Cotabato in November, and in Davao del Sur and Capiz in early January. In those efforts, I gained some learnings which I would like to share with this August Chamber for possible legislative solutions.

I saw the dire situation of evacuees, many of whom have hadto live out of tents in the wake of the disasters that hit them. Hirapnahirapna po ang mgakababayannatin. Marami po sakanila ang hindimakabaliksamgalugarniladahilhindi pa na-assess ng mgaopisyal kung ligtasnaba ang kanilangmgakabahayan. And the people told me the reason why, it is because the local disaster risk reduction management councils have not yet been convened to assess the damaged on residential buildings, whether a residential building is partially or totally-damaged, to which government financial assistance to the affected families will depend on. As a result, many find themselves stuck in limbo, not even knowing if they have homes to go back to. As a typical response of government agencies in situations like this, nagtuturuan po kung sino ang primarily responsible sapag-assess ng damage samgakabahayan ng atingmganasalantangkababayan.

(post destroyed houses here in Kidapawan or Davao del Sur.)

Another, concern is the engineering design of our school buildings. The DPWH designed our classrooms and school buildings to be typhoon resistant or at least can withstand strong typhoons. Typically, these classrooms and school buildings will have concrete flooring and walls, and galvanized roofing, and if the school building is two-storey or multi-storey, even the flooring for the upper floors are concrete. This is appropriate for the typhoon-belt or typhoon-hit provinces in the country. These are the provinces from the Visayas and Luzon and even the eastern part of Mindanao or the CARAGA region. However, there are provinces in Mindanao which are not typhoon-prone. These are the Southern, Central and Western Mindanao provinces. These provinces are more prone to earthquakes and other natural calamities. So, when we use engineering design for classroom or school-building suitable to withstand typhoons in an earthquake prone area, the result is when powerful earthquake struck the area, the classrooms easily collapse on their own weight. As you can see from these photos in Davao del Sur. (post photos here of Davao del Sur school-buildings.)

The local authorities and DPWH district engineers, aware of this development as a result of the series of strong earthquakes that hit Mindanao in recent months, could not just redesign or revised the design of classrooms or school-buildings appropriate in their areas, meaning, that can with stand strong earthquakes, such as using engineered wood --plywood, cement board or High Density Fibreboard (HDF), as walling for these classrooms, or other durable but lighter materials. It is because the design for our classrooms and school-buildings have to be approved by the DPWH and deviations or revisions from the DPWH-approved designs would warrant a negative COA findings or even an Ombudsman cases. Thus, there is a need for the DPWH to consider the topography or the geo-hazards particular in the area in designing our classrooms and school-buildings.

I learned, for instance, that in the US, structures near the San Andreas Faultwere regulated to be made mostly oflighter materials such as dry walls, while refraining from stone andless flexible structures, keeping earthquake damage in mind. As we have learned in the recent earthquakes in Mindanao, it cannot be "one design fits all" for our classrooms and school-buildings.

In these trying times, we rely upon the timely release of our calamity funds to help our people get on track to recovery.If the funding situation for Tisoy and Ursula is anything to go by, then it seems we need speedier mobilization systems for the release of funds. As of the most recent NDRRMC reports, the cost of assistance provided by the government after Tisoy is at Php95.7 million. That is against the devastating Php5.9 billion cost of damages wrought by the typhoon. The situation for Ursula is much the same--we have provided affected communities Php94.4 million in assistance against a Php3.4 billion cost in infrastructural and agricultural damages. These do not include the social cost resulting from trauma and displacement of our kababayans from their residence and place or work or livelihood.

Apart from the national budget's apportioned Calamity Fund, which is held and released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) with approval from the President, we call on our agencies to utilize their Quick Response Funds (QRF) with utmost urgency. The longer assistance is delayed, the longer our people will be forced to endure day-to-day living in untenable conditions.

The Calamity Fund, which is at 16 billion pesos this year, is helpful only in conjunction with QRFs, which do not need to be approved by the DBM for release. The Department of Public Works and Highways, the Office of Civil Defence, the Department of Education, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Agriculture all have built-in QRFs that will serve to address relevant emergency and rehabilitation operations under their agency's purview. If the P16 billion allocated for Calamity Fund for the year 2020 will not be sufficient to alleviate the sufferings of our kababayans as a result of these natural disasters and help them get back on their feet, these government agencies can tap on their respective offices' savings from 2019 and even from the Calamity Fund. If that will not even suffice, I am prepared to file, and I believe many of our colleagues, are willing to support the passage of a supplemental budget.

But even with the timely release of funds, we still need a more coordinated disaster response body in place to tightly manage disaster-related operations, from preparedness to rehabilitation. Our agencies do have disaster response plans in place, but without an agency to lead their efforts, disaster response becomes haphazard and ineffective. The NDRRMC is not set up to fulfil the all-encompassing function of overseeing all agencies in times of disaster.Example is Capiz on damaged houses. What we need is a Department of Disaster Resilience, which will ensure a more efficient, coordinated, and complete system of disaster management--from risk assessment to emergency response right down to reintegration assistance and rehabilitation.

The United States has a similar office called the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, which was organized after the disastrous Hurricane Katrina that hit Southern US in 2005.

The Department of Disaster Resilience will take on the functions of the Office of Civil Defense, the Climate Change Office of the Climate Change Commission, the Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health, the Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Program Management Office for Earthquake Resiliency of the Greater Metro Manila Area. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) will also be attached to the agency. By having this Department of Disaster Resilience, our people will easily know where to go to in times of calamities and which agency is responsible in providing assistance and guidance to them.

Given how many natural disasters hit the nation every year, it is absolutely necessary for us to bring disaster resilience up to the level of the cabinet. That is why we need the Department of Disaster Resilience now, more than ever. And with this department, we will be able to finally formulate a National Disaster Resilience Framework, a National Disaster Resilience Plan, and a National Continuity Policy.

The creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience will also emphasize the need to pre-empt disasters, and not just respond to them.If we want to face these disasters head-on, it may beequally important torevisitjust how indeedour buildingsand structuresare designed and built;are the existing structures designed for different types of disasters; how ourcities and communitiesare planned and developed.

With a Department of Disaster Resilience, we can begin to really develop the same design and development studies here as in the area in San Andreas Fault in the US, which will be essential in updating our 43-year-old national building code as well as the geo-hazard mapping of the country.

It costs to be reactive in our approach to natural disasters. We lose money; worse yet, we lose lives. As such, I really believe that it is time to strengthen our disaster management system and establish a Department of Disaster Resilience. I enjoin my colleagues to see to the passage of a Department of Disaster Resilience bill.

Thank you Mr. President.

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