‘Form ready-to-deploy rescue brigades, build hospital ships’
The next administration should cut the red tape slowing down calamity aid and preposition Quick Response Funds (QRF) to the regions in order to bring relief to disaster areas fast, Senator Ralph Recto said today.
Recto said calamity funds and resources must end being “Manila-centric”, and one way of doing this is to deploy part of the QRF to calamity-prone regions.
The senator also batted for the setting up of regional hubs where “food, medicine, construction materials” are warehoused. “This will spare us from transporting relief goods all the way from Manila.
Recto said Malacañang’s next occupant should also prioritize the formation of “ready-to-deploy disaster response brigades”, with one each stationed in Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Drawn from military and police units, each brigade shall consist of a medical company, a construction battalion, hygiene and sanitation specialists, among others.
Recto said government should also tap Cebu shipbuilders in building a fleet of hospital ships. “We are an archipelago and many areas can only be reached by sea. A hospital ship can also be a floating HQ of all disaster response units.”
All of these, Recto said, can be funded out of Calamity Funds, but to do this, “kinks and chokepoints” in releasing them, must be ironed out.
Recto earlier said “complicated rules and cumbersome requirements” governing the request, release and use of national calamity funds are equally liable for the trickle down of aid to El Niño-hit areas.
“Red tape and rules are the main culprits why aid is moving in a very slow pace,” he said.
“If we want to turbocharge the release, then we must first change the rules,” Recto said in calling for the review of the procedures on how disaster-hit areas can access the Calamity Fund, or what is officially called National Disaster and Risk Reduction and Management Fund.
“Kung i-diagram mo yung proseso, parang wiring ng kuryente. From request to release to procurement to delivery of reconstruction materials, easily one hundred steps. Kawawa talaga ang mga local governments,” Recto lamented.
For this year, P39 billion has been allocated as National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund in the 2016 national budget.
A lump sum fund, the Calamity Fund covers aid, relief, and rehabilitation services to areas hit by man-made and natural calamities. It also funds pre-disaster projects and operations.
The release involves ”the interplay and layers of approval” of many agencies including the National Disaster and Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the Office of the President, and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Recto said.
He said a local government unit (LGU) flattened by a typhoon will have to submit documentary requirements “through a gauntlet of agencies.”
Citing an official workflow, Recto said the documents an LGU must submit include the following:
- Complete description and justification of the project;
- Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (DRRMC) damage report and calamity Impact Assessment report and Work and Financial Plan, including pictures;
- Sanggunian Resolution declaring the area under a State of Calamity or Imminent Danger and appropriating local counterpart for the project;
- Certification by the Local Chief Executive (LCE) through a Sanggunian Resolution assuring that whatever amount will be provided by the Office of the President, the project will be completed;
- Endorsement of the RDRRMC Chairperson (Office of Civil Defense Regional Director);
- Certification and justification by the LCE concerned that funding requests chargeable against the Calamity Fund are emergency in character;
- Certification by the Local Accountant that their Local Calamity Fund is already depleted or exhausted;
- Certification of non-availability of funding source other than the Calamity Fund;
- Certification that the infrastructure being requested for funding support are not covered by insurance;
- Pertinent documents may be required on a case to case basis
“Kung naanod na computer mo, nawawala ang encoder, at wala kang kuryente, magagawa mo pa ba ito?” Recto said.
The request is then checked by the Office of Civil Defense, which is the operating arm and secretariat of the NDRRMC.
After verification, it is sent to the Office of the President for approval.
Once approved, the request is forwarded directly to the DBM, for another round of vetting.
The DBM then issues the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) directly to the LGU.
LGUs, however, receive only 50% of the cash requirement with the balance to be released based on progress and reports to be submitted.
“At ito ay sa pagrelease pa lang ng pondo. Hindi pa pumapasok sa bidding, where another set of rules await under the Government Procurement Reform Act,” Recto said.
Recto said the procurement law “must be revisited insofar as the relaxation of rules for emergency relief purchases are concerned.”
“Kung parating na ang bagyo, may leeway ka dapat ibigay sa mga nandoroon sa frontlines, sa pagbili nang mga pagkain, halimbawa. Yung iba tuloy ayaw bumili kasi takot sa COA (Commission on Audit),” Recto said.
The Calamity Fund, however, is separate from the P6.7 billion QRF which has been distributed among 12 agencies, with P1.32 billion given to DWSD, and P500 million each to DA and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).