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VILLAFUERTE: AUGMENT BICOL CALAMITY FUNDS

Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has called on the Congress to  consider setting aside a far bigger amount of calamity funds in the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), with a significant part earmarked for relief and rehabilitation work in Bicol and other areas devastated by the weekend onslaught of what is now considered to be the world’s most potent tropical cyclone this year.

Villafuerte said, “The Senate and the House of Representatives could look into realigning non-priority outlays in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) with an eye to augmenting calamity funds for the hardest hit areas of super typhoon Rolly, which is regarded as the strongest land-falling tropical depression ever to hit the Philippines.”

“Camarines Sur needs all the aid and other resources it can get from both the government and the private sector as it is reeling from the triple whammy of super typhoons Rolly and Quinta.”

“I am appealing to my fellow lawmakers to look into possibly realigning  for calamity funds  a portion of proposed GAB allocations for  programs and projects other than those intended for COVID-19 response,” said Villafuerte, “given the great damage wrought by super typhoon Rolly on infrastructure, agriculture, and business in Camarines Sur and other provinces in Bicol and Southern Luzon.”

The former governor said that local government units (LGUs) badly hit by the super typhoon are most likely in need of calamity funds this early as their allocations for such purpose have probably been depleted already because of the Covid-19-related initiatives in their respective localities. 

Villafuerte said that Camarines Sur, for instance, “needs all the aid and other resources it can get from both the government and the private sector as it is reeling from the triple whammy of super typhoons Rolly and Quinta, which struck the province in the previous weekend, and the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

“The executive and legislative branches need to work together in getting the cyclone-battered provinces back on their feet at the soonest time possible,” he said, “as the absence of such a recovery plan would be a drag on the national government’s efforts for the domestic economy to bounce back from the fallout of the coronavirus-induced global health and economic crises.” 

Both chambers of the 18th Congress are due to reopen on Nov. 16, but the Senate has committed to start its session a week ahead on Nov. 9 so senators could start working on the House-transmitted 2021 GAB for 2021.

Villafuerte welcomed reports that the Senate finance committee chaired by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara is considering increasing the calamity funds for 2021, and expressed the hope that other senators would agree to Angara’s proposal.

“We are currently studying the possibility of supplementing the calamity funds for 2021,” Angara was quoted as saying in a media report this week. “We are looking for fund sources for realignment at the moment.”

Villafuerte said that Camarines Sur’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan has passed Resolution No. 235 declaring a state calamity so the provincial LGU could use available public funds for relief and other forms of assistance to typhoon-struck families.

Although Catanduanes and Albay have been reported as the worst hit provinces, Villafuerte said Camarines Sur actually bore the brunt of the super typhoon as it battered the province last weekend for 13 hours straight, with winds reaching 225 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness up to 310 kph at its height.

Preliminary damage report released by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) secretariat bared that super typhoon Rolly affected 251,000 families, 24,458 farmers and 34,350 fisherfolk in the province’s 1,036 barangays; destroyed P752 million-worth of crops; and damaged P1.9 billion-worth of infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams, irrigation systems, school buildings, and government facilities.

“A considerable amount of time and effort is needed from the national government to get the devastated provinces back on their feet soon enough following the magnitude of destruction wrought by two of the most powerful storms to hit the country.”

Villafuerte earlier proposed to President Duterte the creation of a special task force to take charge of rehabilitating Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Albay, and other areas following the ravages of  the one-week-apart onslaught of super typhoons Quinta and Rolly.

Villafuerte at the same time filed a House resolution strongly urging the President to “come up with a comprehensive Bicol rehabilitation program, in response to the heavy devastation by super typhoon Rolly,” to include the provision of “immediate relief, recovery and reconstruction for rebuilding a better Bicol.”

In the House resolution, Villafuerte said the tropical storm made its weekend landfall in Bicol, toppling the transmission lines of 10 electric cooperatives resulting in province-wide power outages; displacing 390,000 of some 1 million evacuees, and damaging billions of pesos worth of standing crops and infrastructure in hundreds of thousands of farmlands across the region.

‘A considerable amount of time and effort is needed from the national government to get the devastated provinces back on their feet soon enough following the magnitude of destruction wrought by two of the most powerful storms to hit the country,” Villafuerte said. “Hence, the need for the national government to set up a special task force to oversee the major rehabilitation work.”

He said this special body could be akin to Task Force Bangon Marawi, which Malacañang created three years ago to work on the rehabilitation of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, in the wake of its five-month siege by an alliance of Islamic State (IS)-aligned terrorists. 

The congressman and his son, Gov. Migz Villafuerte, had appealed for immediate relief and assistance from President Duterte for at least 80,000 families in the province’s 35 municipalities and one city (Iriga)  hit the hardest by super typhoon Rolly.

“We are appealing for immediate assistance from the President on the heels of the devastation wrought by super typhoon Rolly, particularly for the most severely affected 80,000 families all over the province’s 1,036 barangays, many of whom have lost their homes totally or partially to this extremely potent ‘Category 5’  cyclone that hit Bicol  a week after the onslaught of super typhoon Quinta,” Rep. Villafuerte said.

“We need aid right away from the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and the NHA (National Housing Authority) for Camarines Sur folk who are now reeling from the triple whammy of super typhoons Rolly and Quinta and the lingering coronavirus pandemic,” Villafuerte said.

In a letter to President Duterte, Gov. Villafuerte asked for assistance in the form of funding from the DSWD and other available fund resources for their proposed cash aid of P3,000 to P5,000 for each of the 80,000 severely affected families.

“We likewise seek the assistance of the NHA through its Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) for many of our people whose homes have been totally or partially destroyed,” said the governor in his letter to the President.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has reported that super typhoon Rolly has destroyed at least P1.9 billion-worth of rice and other agricultural crops, while the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said the cyclone has damaged P5.89 billion-worth of public infrastructure.

Villafuerte appealed to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to set aside funds for flood control projects for disaster-prone areas in Bicol, as had been committed by President Duterte himself in the past.

Villafuerte recalled for the DBM that during a situation briefing in the capital town of Pili following the year-ago super typhoon Usman, President Duterte bared his plan to abolish the graft-ridden Road Board and put its multibillion-peso funds to better use, particularly for flood-control projects in Bicol.

The President announced this plan after Villafuerte suggested at the briefing that a viable solution to chronic flooding is the dredging and desilting of the Bicol River.

Villafuerte’s province is the region’s lowest-lying area, making it a catch basin for floodwaters from other Bicol provinces whenever a typhoon strikes the region. 

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