Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Wednesday that the public should not quickly blame and ask the national government for help during calamities, saying local governments should have been prepared to respond to such crises.

sotto 2 - Mayors and governors are first responders to calls for help during calamities –Sotto
Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

“I just cannot help but put in my sense for the matter. It happens every year, as you said. The cities, municipalities, the provinces know that it happens every year. What are they doing? Bakit pagka nagkaroon ng baha, national government agad ang may kasalanan (Why is it that everytime there is flooding the national government is always at fault)? Why has not the local governments done something about their area?” Sotto said as he joined in the interpellation of Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

During their plenary debates, Zubiri brought up the series of typhoons that hit the country in recent weeks, particularly the destruction in the provinces of Bicol region, in Cagayan and Isabela due to Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses.

He asked about the protocols that the DOST-attached agencies Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) to minimize the damage of the calamities to communities.

“I’m suprised that I see media interviews of areas that are lacking in relief goods or things like that, they always call for the President. Why not ask their mayor, or their governor?” Sotto continued.

“Siguro kung ‘yong mayor o governor ang hihingi ng tulong sa national government, then tama ‘yon (Maybe if the mayor or governor would ask for help from the national government, then that’s fine). Pero sa tao, sa mga kababayan natin, dapat ‘yong mayor, eh, at ‘yong governor ang hinihingan mo muna (But for people, they should first seek their mayor or their governor). Hindi nakapag-prepare yung mga local government officials niyo (Your local government officials failed to prepare).”

Sotto said some local government units have been “performing well and are not complaining because they are prepared” naming for instance the cities of Malabon, Valenzuela, Navotas, and Manila.

“The LGUs are prepared and therefore these other areas, alam mong padating eh (you know typhoons are coming). Alam mong meron, may problema ka every year (You know you will have a problem every year). Why not try to solve even before the typhoon comes? Even during the summer months, bakit kaya hindi natin pag-aralan ‘yon (why don’t we study that)?” he said.

Zubiri, whose father, Jose Maria Zubiri Jr., is Bukidnon governor, said LGUs may not be able to afford anymore any preparations for oncoming calamities this year.

“This has been a very trying time for many LGUs because of the pandemic. Ubos na po ‘yong kanilang (They have spent all their) social amelioration funds, ubos na rin po ‘yong kanilang (and they spent their) calamity funds because of the COVID-19. And there are LGUs that are 4th, 5th, 6th class municipalities — let’s say Cagayan and Isabela — they do not have the capacity to do flood control,” he said.

“Malalaki dapat ito, national agencies na talaga yong nakatutok d’yan (These are huge infrastructure projects, national agencies should be the ones working on these),” he said.

Senator Joel Villanueva agreed with Zubiri, but also noted that some LGUs, including several in his home province Bulacan, failed to do “simple stockpiling” of commodities.

“So there are some LGUs, as mentioned earlier by our Senate President, who are doing their part, but I also agree with the Majority Leader that after exhausting all means, then the national government could also step up,” Villanueva said.

Zubiri then pitched the need for the single department that would handle all preparations and planning for typhoons and other disasters to stop the practice of finger-pointing among government officials and agencies.

“Don’t you think it’s about time that we have one agency that supposed to take charge and supposed to do all the planning and the preparations and also doing the rehabilitation, as well as the climate change mitigation efforts? Ngayon wala, eh (For now, we have none). Nothing,” he said.

In a separate statement, Sen. Grace Poe also reiterated her appeal for a department for disaster management.

“A separate and focused disaster risk reduction and management department is imperative after too many typhoons and calamities have ravaged the country…There would have been better warnings to communities when releasing flood waters from the dam if we had this department in place,” Poe said.

“Concerns about right-sizing of the bureacracy could be well addressed by looking into the possibility of absorbing some sections of specific government agencies into the new Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Department, which is a much-needed one,” she added.

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