PALO, LEYTE – Disaster and emergency responders from the different provincial, city and municipal disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) offices in Eastern Visayas renewed their call on the national government to institutionalize DRRM offices in different local government units and regularize frontline disaster responders.

Over 200 local DRRM officers from the different parts of the region and other line agencies gathered for a Resiliency Forum organized by the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) in Eastern Visayas to discuss, among others, the various concerns of the local DRRM offices last November 8, 2022.

Assistant Secretary Hernando Caraig, Civil Defense Deputy Administrator for Administration and Operations of the NDRRMC, attended the forum to listen to the different concerns of the disaster responders on the ground.

“We are pushing for a comprehensive disaster risk governance where disaster preparedness is at the core of LGU work,” says Josiah Rei Echano, PDRRMO of Northern Samar. He said every LGU should have a department that is solely focused on risk reduction and resilience building at the community level.

Echano said that at present almost all LGUs have only one full time worker, the DRRM Officer, while all the rest are job order and contractual workers whose services are at the discretion of the local chief executive.

He said measly funds for DRR get wasted in training DRRM staff only to be replaced whenever there is a change in administration of a locality.

Echano added that disaster responders are also asking for an upgrade on welfare and benefits comparable to that of other government workers in hazardous workplaces due to the risks involved in their line duty. He said the death of five disaster responders in Bulacan during supertyphoon Karding is an eye opener for the government on the risks that responders have to go through during emergencies.

OCD regional director Lord Byron Torrecareon said his agency supports the call of the local DRRM offices for more benefits to the responders. He said that is lacking, though, is an enabling law that will back it up.

“Without a law, it will always be subject to the availability of funds. There are many variables. What we need is to fortify this. I think the administration right now is very supportive of this move,” he said.

Torrecareon said there have been similar moves in the past but there were reservations from smaller LGUs of their capacity to open more plantilla positions for disaster responders. He said some local governments are having problems utilizing their local DRRM funds due to confusions on the interpretation of what is allowed under the law.

He said that is the reason why in Eastern Visayas, despite the many disasters that passed, utilization of LDRRM fund is below 50 percent.

Torrecareon said there are procurements in one LGU that are not allowed in an adjacent LGU due to differences in opinion of the local auditors.

“We want to harmonize that. We want to have a common understanding in the region on when we can use the LDRRM funds. It is not about the budget but on how to utilize it,” he said. The forum included representatives from the Commission on Audit (COA) and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to guide the local DRRM offices on the fund utilization. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail November 7-13, 2022 issue)