Senators urge heightened preparedness vs natural disasters

WITH the country experiencing a slew of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, senators urged the national and local government units to improve the disaster preparedness of their communities.

They also asked to review the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act to ensure that the law can meet the challenges of protecting the people from fatal effects of natural disasters and other calamities, amid several powerful earthquakes that have struck several parts of the country, the most recent of which was the series of tremor in Ormoc, Leyte, which flattened houses and displaced families.

Senator Sherwin Win Gatchalian said the Filipino people should face the challenges as he directed proper agencies to act immediately and to utilize all resources available to assist in the response and recovery of victims.

"Yung mga volunteers na pwede gamitin ng local ang national can tap the necessary government agencies for proper coordination. Kailangan natin magtulungan sa ngayon," Gatchalian said.

Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on environment, said the involvement of citizens is needed in strengthening the country's defenses against natural hazards and climate change.

Local government officials, Legarda said, are in the best position to lead and engage those in their respective cities, municipalities, and provinces to establish and strengthen disaster preparedness measures saying most natural hazards turn into disasters because of the lack of preparedness.

"Preparation is the name of the game," she said.

Legarda said that citizens can contribute to making our communities disaster-resilient and urge them to actually take part in such activities.

"Disaster prevention starts long before a typhoon makes landfall, before an earthquake happens or before a volcano erupts. Early warning and early action should be at the very heart of our efforts. Everyone should understand the risks we face and equip ourselves with preventive measures to lessen the impact of natural hazards," she said.

Legarda said community preparations for disasters include regular pruning of trees, dredging of canals and esteros, and the practice of segregating garbage, among many others. She also called on communities to heed disaster warning to prevent disasters.

For early warning systems, Legarda said that barangay can use whistles and come up with a code or system so that people would know what to do depending on the length and frequency of each whistle blow.

When hazards such as typhoons are expected, barangay officials and volunteers can do mobile patrolling and use sirens to immediately alert people either to stay indoors or get ready to move to safer places. The regular conduct of earthquake and drills are also important especially in schools and hospitals, Legarda said.

Local government units (LGUs) should also involve citizens in restoring coastal mangrove forests and continuous tree-growing activities, which are simple yet effective defenses against several types of hazards.

Disaster risk reduction and preparedness should be a way of life, Legarda said.

For her part, Senator Grace Poe said it is high time for the government to create a separate, full-time, permanent Cabinet-level disaster resilience and emergency management agency that will serve as the focal agency of integrated disaster resilience, climate change adaptation.

The law mandates the congressional oversight committee to conduct a sunset review within five years after its effectivity, or as the need arises. The PDRRMA, which created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, took effect in 2010.

Poe has filed Senate Resolution 100 in August last year seeking the law's review.

In her resolution, Poe said that the NDRRMC remains an ad hoc council and operates mainly under the structure of its predecessor, the National Disaster Coordinating Council. As a consequence, active operations occur in disaster and post-disaster operations but are lacking during the pre-disaster phase, which is vital as it includes capacity-building of personnel and completion of adaptability mechanisms for the next disaster.

As an ad-hoc council, it is also hounded by difficulties of getting full-time, professional local and national disaster risk reduction and management personnel with the necessary technical expertise to address pre- and post-disaster needs.

When established as a separate and permanent agency, it will have the ability to coordinate and implement disaster risk reduction and management programs and projects; exercise centralized management over its database, adequate and competent manpower and sufficient financial resources.

“The independence of the proposed agency is a necessity to enable us to resolve problems that have accumulated throughout the country’s recent catastrophes, most notably the new normal brought about by Typhoon Yolanda, which all point to the need for a strong and independent regulator and monitoring body that will ensure the accountability of duty bearers in the performance of disaster risk reduction and management duties,” Poe said. (SunStar Philippines)
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