Local lawmaker calls for re-assessment amid Paeng aftermath

Photo from Board Member Jason R. Gonzales Facebook

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

A member of Iloilo province’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan on Tuesday called for a ‘re-assessment’ of the province’s preparedness for major disasters after the impact of Severe Tropical Storm Paeng (International name: ‘Nalgae’) heading into the earlier parts of this month.

Board Member Matt Palabrica (3rd district) used his privilege speech to shed light on the damage caused by Paeng to the province.

Palabrica cited the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office’s (PDRRMO) Nov. 2 data, which indicated that 100,488 families and 389,201 persons were affected, 5 people died, and 1 was injured.

This is less than the tally of the Regional DRRM Council-VI as of Nov 5, 2022 which indicated 121,819 families and 468,420 persons affected (including in Iloilo City), and 8 dead.

Palabrica also cited the P125 million in damages to infrastructure in the province alone, as well as P1.5 billion in damages to regional agriculture and 612 classrooms across the region that were damaged.

The Department of Agriculture-Region 6’s final report on Nov. 9 indicated that Iloilo province suffered P375 million in damages. The storm resulted in 7,854.74 metric tons in production losses and affected 14,563 farmers and fisherfolks in 35 towns, the component city of Passi, and the highly urbanized city of Iloilo.

Palabrica pointed out that this would have been mitigated with the use and increased access of national DRRM tools, including the Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) and the Hazard Hunter PH.

The Rodrigo Duterte administration defunded Project NOAH in 2017, with the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City taking over its operations from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) by March of that year.

Hazard Hunter PH, which collates hazard data from the DOST’s attached agencies, the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), is still running as of this writing.

Paeng’s fury and effects, according to Palabrica, bared the failure of the provincial and local governments to minimize hazards, which should have been picked up since 2008’s Typhoon Frank.

Palabrica specified four main points where authorities may have failed in preparing for disasters similar to Frank and Paeng, including:

–          Inaccurately identifying many critical areas including geologic faults, landslide-prone areas, and low-lying and flood-prone areas in the province;

–          Lack of attention to old, aging, and even some newly-built infrastructure;

–          Massive denudation of mountains due to conversion for agricultural and residential use of land areas; and

–          Lack of full appreciation for the role of planning for land and settlements development.

“It should not be this way, it should never be this way. All our failures in terms of avoiding or at the very least minimizing the extent of damage does not expose our lack of preparedness. Rather, it has exposed our failure to plan deeply and comprehensively. In short, we failed in anticipating future disasters. And, Typhoon Frank should have been the lesson for us Ilonggos,” Palabrica said in his speech.

He added that the provincial government should increase its scrutiny over municipal comprehensive land use plans (CLUP), particularly in the context of averting hazards, and that municipal governments should have contingency plans that are “practical, quick, and efficient”.

“We approve the Land Use Plans once submitted to us, right? But we have to realize that ours is simply ministerial and we rely on the technical expertise of the Provincial Planning and Development Office to fully scrutinize these plans and recommend their approval,” Palabrica said.

“This recent calamity should serve as a wakeup call for us to be strict on our ministerial duty, meaning, that prior to our ministerial approval we should make it clear to the officials evaluating the municipal CLUP in the various aspects, more importantly on their hazard potentials,” he added.

The CLUP refers to a 10-year plan crafted by local government units (LGU) which details available land resources and the local government’s plan in utilizing these during the period and is approved by the local legislature via a zoning ordinance.

Under Republic Act No. 7160 (Local Government Code of 1991, as amended), the provincial government has the power to review ordinances by municipal and component city LGUs under their jurisdiction.

He outlined four practical solutions which he pointed out must be done immediately, noting the uncertain nature of disasters, including:

–          The MGB’s review, re-evaluation, and update of hazard maps for the municipal governments’ use in disaster resiliency plans;

–          Municipal LGUs’ revisiting and updating of CLUPs, considering population growth, zoning, and land use, with consideration of transferring residents to safer areas;

–          Extensive information and education at the barangay level, particularly on land use, zoning, and disaster preparedness;

–          Provincial plan on water resources conservation, development, enhancement, and management programs; and

–          Barangay-level reforestation and conservation efforts to minimize soil erosion.

He also moved for the speech to be referred to the MGB, DOST, DENR, and other agencies including the Office of Civil Defense, Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (now the Housing Settlements Adjudication Commission under the Department of Housing and Urban Settlements Development).

In an interview with Super Radyo Iloilo, Palabrica explained that the speech was borne out of some incidences which were not present with previous typhoons including Frank, which now warrant a review of how CLUPs should be drafted.

“Regarding the CLUP [issue], we now had subdivisions [and residential areas] that were previously safe and were now flooded [by Paeng], and fields which now suffered from mudslides and landslides,” he said in a radio interview.

“We are really focusing on the review of the CLUPs because the Sangguniang Panlalawigan has review powers for [their] approval in each town, which include preemptive evacuation and evacuation during typhoons because those have already been planned beforehand. Those are included in [the CLUP], but the situation remains the same,” he added.

He also said that the speech was ultimately referred to the Sanggunian’s committees on DRRM and Zoning and Land Use, with a committee hearing inviting relevant government agencies expected to be held sometime soon.