Lower disaster budget shows lack of govt priority

January 15, 2020

by IBON Foundation

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. ###