[OPINION] Stormy Passages for the Department of Disaster Resilience

Photo Source: Discover Magazine

It has been 19 days since Typhoon Rolly (international name Goni) entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility. In the ten days between the typhoon’s entry and exit, it caused P13.84 billion worth of direct damage to infrastructure and agriculture. Indirect costs, such as lost productivity, and foregone revenue from damaged crops, livestock, and fisheries have not yet been estimated.  

Understandably, the devastation caused by Typhoon Rolly has revived calls for the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience and Emergency Assistance and Management (“DREAM”). As one may recall, President Rodrigo Duterte called on Congress to pass a bill creating such a Department in his 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA). Consequently, the House of Representatives passed its version- House Bill No. 5859- on third and final reading last 24 September. But in the Senate, the bill has stalled at the Committee level since November 2019. 

One way to analyze why some items on the policy agenda fall off is by using the “multiple streams approach” developed by John W. Kingdon, a political scientist. Kingdon argues that the success or failure of a policy relies on the merging of three “streams”- the problem stream, the policy stream, and the political stream. 

The problem stream is comprised of the issues which are deemed important by the general public. Obviously, more important issues are more likely to be prioritized as part of the policy agenda. The policy stream is comprised of potential solutions and their networks and communities of experts and advocates. Finally, the political stream is comprised of the factors which affect the political establishment such as public opinion surveys and elections. When these three streams “merge”, a policy window opens. 

How does this apply in the case of the DREAM? Well, the bill has at least two streams in its pocket. Around 20 typhoons enter the Philippines every year, thus ensuring the continuing presence of disasters in the problem stream. And the political stream is solidly in the Duterte administration’s favor. The problem lies in the policy stream. According to Kingdon, policies live and die based on their political, technical, and financial feasibility. 

Perusal of the transcript of the hearings on the Senate Committee on Defense reaffirms this assessment. First, the creation of a new department may not be financially feasible, especially since two other newly-created agencies- the DICT and DHSUD- are already struggling for funding levels which are appropriate for their mandates. Second, the experts themselves are skeptical of whether a Department is needed. Third- and most notably- there are at least seven (7) bills which seek to create the new department each with its own different provisions- in other words, there is no version of the bill which is acceptable to all. As a result, Senator Panfilo Lacson- Chair of the Committee on Defense- has instead proposed a dedicated office under the Office of the President with a Cabinet rank as a more feasible compromise. 

00Well, it depends on whether sufficient public pressure will mount, as well as whether the Executive branch will insist on its creation- which may not be a priority due to the more pressing need to recover from the pandemic. Consequently, the Senate could still bulldoze a new Department, but it might not be technically feasible. The DREAM is certainly not yet dead. But certainly, there will be stormy passages ahead. 

Words by: Melchor Alejandro
Edited by: Maria Christina Palomo

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