Recto: Calamity fund enough, challenge is to release aid fast

DISASTER RESPONSE. President Rodrigo Duterte distributes aid to families affected by Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima) at the Tuguegarao City People's Gymnasium in Cagayan on October 23, 2016. Photo by Richard Madelo/Presidential Photo

DISASTER RESPONSE. President Rodrigo Duterte distributes aid to families affected by Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima) at the Tuguegarao City People's Gymnasium in Cagayan on October 23, 2016.

Photo by Richard Madelo/Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines – The country still has P37 billion in its calamity fund as of August 31 – ready for any major disaster – and what the government needs to do now is to release the money quickly and efficiently, a senator said Monday, October 24.

As of August 31, only P6.9 billion of the nearly P44-billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) for 2016 has been spent, according to Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto.

This is because there have been fewer disasters this year, in addition to the unspent money from 2015 that was added to this year's fund, Recto said in a press release.

As of December 31, 2015, P5.09 billion was left unspent from the P14.06-billion allotment for 2015, and this was added to the P38.9-billion appropriation for 2016.

The most recent disaster was Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima) in the 3rd week of October.

"No major calamities had visited us this year. There are fewer typhoons, the number is way below the usual and we are already nearing the last two months of the year," Recto was quoted as saying.

The senator, however, noted that there was "little help" extended to people affected by El Niño, which contributed to the slow spending of the calamity fund.

The senator's statement echoes the one made by Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, who explained Sunday, October 23, that the country isn't seeking foreign donations for Lawin-hit areas due to sufficiency of funds. (READ: DSWD: PH has enough relief funds, foreign aid not needed now)

Speed up fund release instead

The senator said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte must now simplify and speed up the process of releasing funds for disaster-hit areas.

"Kung i-diagram mo 'yung proseso, parang wiring ng kuryente. From request to release to procurement to delivery of reconstruction materials, easily 100 steps. Kawawa talaga ang mga local governments," Recto was quoted as saying.

(If you diagram the process, it looks like electrical wiring. From request to release to procurement to delivery of reconstruction materials, easily 100 steps. Local governments bear the brunt of the process.)

He said the national government must "change the rules" and review how disaster-hit areas can access funds.

Right now, Recto said, there are "layers of approval," up to the Office of the President.

Once a request for funding is approved, local governments face another set of rules, this time for procurement of needed supplies. Recto also said the procurement law "must be revisited insofar as the relaxation of rules for emergency relief purchases are concerned."

He suggested opening credit lines with commercial establishments which can provide the needed supplies, as well as prepositioning relief goods and supplies in regional depots. – Rappler.com