Disaster department? Senators want careful study

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) – November 3, 2020 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are not keen on proposals to create new departments in government, citing the already bloated and inefficient bureaucracy and lack of money to fund more agencies.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said pending bills seeking to create new departments may have to wait until the chamber passes the Rightsizing Bill, which seeks to create a more efficient government to improve delivery of services and response during emergencies.

“We have to study carefully the creation of new departments, especially that we have a bloated bureaucracy,” Sotto said.

He said a huge chunk of the government’s annual national budget – expected to reach P4.5 trillion in 2021 – goes to personnel services.

Among the proposed departments to be created are for disaster resilience, water, overseas Filipino workers, and culture.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said lessons must be learned from the government’s move to create the Departments of Human Settlements and Urban Development as well as Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which both could not operate properly due to lack of funds.

He said for two years in a row, the DICT has been asking for additional funding to establish and develop the country’s national broadband program and free WiFi services for all government agencies.

However, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has provided “just a paltry sum” for the national broadband program. Of the agency’s request of P18 billion, it was only given P900 million.

“It is relatively easy to pass a law creating new departments. But would it be feasible, and will there be proper funding for it? The DBM says at least P1.5 billion is needed to set up the department. That does not yet include added salaries, capital outlay like office facilities, furniture, vehicles, MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) and CIF (confidential and intelligence funds),” Lacson said.

In the case of the proposed department of disaster, he said no less than the stakeholders who served as resource persons cited concerns about creating the new agency.

He said based on pending bills on the creation of the department of disaster management, the implementation of relief, recovery and rehabilitation would not be carried out by the new agency but existing ones like the Departments of Public Works and Highways, Social Welfare and Development, and Health.

What could be done, he said, is putting up a dedicated office under the Office of the President with a Cabinet rank and full authority to mobilize the concerned government agencies before, during and after calamities both natural and manmade – from policymaking and planning all the way to implementation.

Such an office would do the job with much less funding and minimum number of staff and personnel, Lacson said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the Philippine Red Cross, told reporters via video conference that he was ambivalent about the creation of a disaster agency, saying such need must be totally justified.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is also opposed to a proposal to create a new department that will focus solely on disaster management, calling it a “knee-jerk reaction” that will further bloat the already bloated bureaucracy.

Sen. Bong Go, who filed a bill creating such a department, said he respects the opinions of his colleagues but asked that the measure be deliberated on and let the “legislative process take its course.”

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