Lower disaster budget shows lack of govt priority

Research group IBON said that despite the country being disaster-prone, the administration has instead decreased calamity funds in the 2020 national budget.

IBON noted that in the recently passed 2020 national budget, the Duterte administration only allocated Php16 billion for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Fund or Calamity Fund. This is a Php4-billion decline from the Php20 billion in 2019. Quick reaction funds were only slightly increased to Php6.8 billion from Php6.3 billion.

The administration has previously
slashed much-needed calamity funds, said the group. The NDRRMC budget was cut
by more than half (Php23 billion) to just Php15.8 billion in 2017 from Php38.9
billion in 2016 under the Aquino administration.

IBON said that the country is
now confronted with the displacement and damages caused by the eruption of Taal
volcano. The latest NDRRMC report said that this is affecting 40,752 persons in
Batangas and Cavite and has so far resulted in almost Php75 million worth of
agriculture damage. There are 38,203 people in 198 evacuation centers or about
120 per center. Around 300,000 people are expected to be displaced by a possible
bigger hazardous eruption of the volcano.

The group said that
government’s preparation and response to disasters remained poor. Government
units and affected communities appeared unprepared for the Taal volcano
eruption. There has been a lack of transportation to quickly evacuate
residents, and a lack of adequate and permanent evacuation centers. Centers are
mainly public schools, although a cockpit arena was opened up to house
evacuees. Another indication of government unpreparedness was the Department of
the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Sec. Año’s recent appeal for donations
which has drawn a lot of flak on social media and highlighted the inadequacy of
calamity funds.

While the government is
decreasing the calamity fund, it is increasing the 2020 budget for oppressive
and self-serving expenses, said the group. For instance, around Php9.3 billion
went to confidential and intelligence funds, which are widely suspected to be
used in attacks against the poor and the administration’s perceived critics and
opponents. These are funds better spent on the public interest.

The administration’s budget
priorities disregard the country’s longstanding vulnerability to disasters,
said IBON. The Philippines is ranked ninth among all countries with the highest
disaster risk in the World Risk Report 2019. It is located within the Pacific
Ring of Fire where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. An average of
twenty tropical cyclones also enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility per
year, with 8 or 9 making landfall. Meanwhile, the Global Facility for Disaster
Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) reports that 74% of the country’s population is
vulnerable to natural disasters.

In 2019 alone, the country
experienced prolonged drought due to El Niño, six strong earthquakes (ranging
from 6.1 to 6.9 magnitude) and 21 tropical cyclones. The 6.9-magnitude
earthquake in Matanao, Davao del Sur affected over 394,000 persons in 218
barangays and resulted in 13 dead and 210 injured. Typhoons Tisoy and Ursula were
the most destructive typhoons in 2019 resulting in 4 dead, 318 injured and Php5.9
billion-worth of damages; and 57 dead, 369 injured and Php3.5 billion-worth of
damages, respectively.

IBON said that the government
should release more funds not just for disaster response but for recovery and
rehabilitation. These can come from lump-sum funds. In the long-term, government
can invest in building genuinely sustainable communities, said the group.
IBON’s People Economics proposals for instance cite enabling the people to
collectively withstand extreme hazards through steady jobs and income, sturdy
homes and disaster-ready community infrastructure, and sufficient public and
social services that are designed and established to endure calamities. ###

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