In the plenary session devoted to the 2021 budget deliberations on Wednesday, the Senate took on the budget for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its attached agencies.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri took to the floor to raise concerns regarding the government’s disaster management-adjacent agencies, in the wake of destructive typhoons Rolly and Quinta.
He had traveled to the provinces of Catanduanes, Albay, Sorsogon, and Camarines Sur over the weekend to extend assistance to typhoon-struck communities and to hear out concerns raised by provincial and local government officials.
Zubiri brought up that the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is claiming that it needs a go signal from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) to release dam water ahead of time, which would have prevented the severe floods that inundated parts of Luzon after Typhoon Ulysses.
PAG-ASA officials, communicating through DOST budget sponsor Senator Joel Villanueva, refuted this, explaining that NIA remains in full control over dam discharge operations.
They said they did follow protocol by releasing a flood warning signal on November 8 but that they have no authority to order the release of dam water.
Zubiri also relayed questions from the government of Albay, particularly regarding the municipality of Guinobatan, which was ravaged by lahar flow.
The local government is claiming that it did not receive a warning from the proper agencies, and was unable to prepare for the disaster.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), meanwhile, is claiming to have followed protocol and to have issued bulletins to the proper offices ahead of time. It falls on the local government, it explained, to cascade this information down.
“Nagtuturuan po tayo (They’re pointing fingers). We have no clue who is in-charge,” Zubiri said. “Don’t you think it’s about time that we have one agency that is supposed to take charge? Do all the planning, the preparation, the rehabilitation, and climate change mitigation efforts?”
“I was always being asked the same thing, in Albay, in Catanduanes: Who’s in charge? Sabi ko (I said) OCD, pero ang sagot nila, ‘Sir, hindi po namin nakikita ’yung head ng OCD kasi head rin ng NDRRMC iyan.’ At yung OCD, undersecretary ang head, awkward namang pag-utusan niya ang mga secretaries (but their answer, ‘Sir we did not consult with the head of the OCD because he is also the head of the NDRRMC’. And the OCD, undersecretary is the head. It is awkward to order around the secretaries),” he said.
Zubiri promised that a hearing addressing the recent disasters, and disaster management problems, will be held in the Senate next week.