Who Is In Charge of Local Disaster Management?

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By Ike Señeres

PRESIDENT Noynoy Aquino set the right tone when he said that we need not wait for a disaster in order to help each other, because there are many poor people who need our help every day. How I wish that his message will be heard not only by the people in the government, but also by all Filipinos here and abroad. As I see it, he actually issued a call for action, in a way declaring a war against poverty on a daily basis.

I find it amusing that our entire nation was scandalized by the ten billion pesos more or less that was stolen by the pork barrel scam, when in fact the amount was less than 2% of the national budget. Perhaps our national outrage was triggered by the high level of noise that the issue caused in the mass media, but how come no one seems to pay attention to how the rest of the 98% is being spent? Will this not need the same level of noise that the mass media gave to the pork barrel issue?

Our National Government Agencies (NGAs) are the institutions that are supposed to work on a daily basis, and these are the same institutions that are funded on a yearly basis by the General Appropriations Act (GAA). This is what line item budgeting basically means, to appropriate annual budgets to line agencies, instead of appropriating the funds by way of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

By way of comparison, line item budgets are for objective purposes, intended to fund projects that are programmed for implementation by the NGAs. The PDAF on the other hand is, or was intended for subjective purposes, referring to local development projects that could not be “seen” by the Congress from where they sit. The legal fiction here is that only the local people could “see” the need for these projects, supposedly with the guiding “eyes” of their congressman.

As the head of the executive branch of the government, the President is in effect the head of all the NGAs, the same agencies that are supposed to work on a daily basis. In theory, the President does not have to order the actual heads of these agencies to do anything, because they are supposed to think and act on their own, without waiting for the President to tell them what to do. This is what institutions are supposed to do, and that is the reason why they are funded by the Congress to do what they are supposed to do.

What did CNN news anchor Mr. Anderson Cooper mean when he said that there was “no government” in Tacloban? What did he mean when he said that “there was no one in charge”? Was he referring to the local government, or the national government? As a matter of fact, the local Mayor was still around, even if he was practically paralyzed to do anything at all. Was he referring to the national government? Did he not notice that the NGAs were there on the ground from day one?

Considering the fact that the local government was practically paralyzed in Tacloban, there is no debate that the national government was there, and so it is not correct to say that there was “no government”. That said, the only remaining question is whether or not there was someone “in charge”, as asked by Mr. Cooper. As I see it, there was someone “in charge”, even if Cooper did not recognize him. I am sure that there were many local officials of the national government who were there when Cooper was there, but perhaps he was looking for someone higher.

There is no question about the fact that the President is “in charge” of national affairs, whether there is a disaster or not. Same is true about the fact that the Mayor is always “in charge” of local affairs no matter what, period. The case of Tacloban is an obvious exception to the rule, because the Mayor there was a victim himself, aside from the fact that he was left with no means to function. Since Tacloban is a chartered city, is it the reason why the provincial Governor did not see a reason to be the one “in charge”?

President Aquino was correct when he said that in our system, it is the local government that is the first line of defense. The problem is, the general public, as they are fired up by the mass media, would always want the President to be on the scene right away, as if he has nothing else to do. As the news would usually come out, it is even implied that if the President is not on the scene right away, he is probably not doing anything.

I think that it is a dangerous trend to always expect the President to practically behave like a Mayor. It seems that President Aquino is not the type who is not inclined to always hug the headlines, but imagine what will happen if we will have a President in the future who will hug the headlines all the time, in order to satisfy the demand of the general public? What will happen to all the other urgent national concerns that the President is supposed to attend to?

In this time and age of high tech communications, it is more practical to assume that the President would have the means to give instructions to his subordinates wherever they are, and at any time. In reality, the Command Post is where the President is, and from that point, he could order everyone in the bureaucracy and the military to do what they have to do, as they are supposed to do. If the President is not seen on the scene, it does not necessarily mean that he is not doing anything.
For feedback, email iseneres@yahoo.com or text +639083159262


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