By Azer Parrocha
MANILA — The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is seeking additional funding from the Congress and Office of the President to augment the nearly “depleted” calamity funds at the local level, an official said on Monday.
Despite Malacañang’s pronouncement that there are still enough calamity funds, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said local government units (LGUs) are running short of budget to address the effect of the Taal Volcano eruption.
“We have received information on the ground that many of the local government units have now a depleted risk reduction and management fund,” Densing said in a Laging Handa press briefing in Malacañang.
Densing said LGUs are having trouble collecting revenues from taxes as businesses were also in the process of getting back on their feet.
“Wala pa ngang koleksyon masyado dahil ito nga yung buwan na kumukulekta sila ng business taxes (We don’t have many revenues yet because this is the month where they’re supposed to collect business taxes),” he said.
The DILG, he said, is set to meet with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to discuss the possible allocation of additional funding for LGUs which have nearly depleted their calamity funds.
“Speaker Alan [Peter] Cayetano has already called upon us at the DILG to meet with him at the soonest possible time so that we can talk about the assistance that Congress can give to the situation right now,” Densing said.
“Hopefully we can get additional funding through Congress or sa pondo ng (from funds of the) Office of the President,” he added.
Based on experience, Densing said assistance coming from the Office of the President was “really fast”.
“They can process it within 24 hours especially in times where there is a calamity,” Densing said.
“Our experience is we immediately give assistance through the various agencies, OCD or DSWD if there are disasters happening on the ground. It’s quite possible that it can be used immediately. I think 72 hours is already long,” he added.
Since additional allocation from Congress and Office of the President has yet to be released, Densing encouraged local officials to go to the provincial government for funding.
Earlier, House Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said the PHP16-billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) or calamity fund that is part of the PHP 4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 might not be enough for rehabilitation efforts for the Taal Volcano eruption and other disasters.
Cayetano said the PHP3.3 billion from the NDRRMF could be used for rehabilitation services and another PHP4.2 billion for repair and reconstruction of permanent structures.
Meanwhile, Densing said he would give “more than a passing grade” for the safe and orderly manner of evacuation carried out by the government and lauded local officials for being in their areas of responsibility to attend to their constituents immediately after the volcano’s eruption.
He said DILG Secretary Eduardo Año has deployed 2,820 search and rescue police personnel on the ground while incoming Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa has ordered a standby or more or less 10,240 cops to assist residents in the event that another eruption from Taal Volcano takes place.
Densing also discouraged residents from returning to their homes within Taal Volcano’s 14 km danger zone.
Currently, 53,716 families or 215,773 individuals who have been affected by the volcano’s eruption; 29,242 families or 112,757 individuals are taking temporary shelter in 416 evacuation shelters; and 17,505 families of 69,304 individuals temporarily staying with family and friends, data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) showed.
As of January 20, the DSWD has spent a total of PHP7.8 million worth of assistance in the form of food and non-food items for evacuees.
Alert Level 4, which means that “a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”, is still in effect, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology Seismology.
Batangas, Cavite and Tagaytay City are now under a state of calamity due to the eruption of Taal Volcano on January 12. (PNA)