By Daniel Llanto

The creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) and Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) at one go drew flak from Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson who find the twin measures earlier certified as urgent by President Duterte costly and irrational.

Drilon and Lacson said there is just no money to set up the two new full-Cabinet departments even as the move runs counter to the administration’s avowed bureaucratic “rightsizing” to cut costs. This as pressure builds up in the House of Representatives for the passage of two separate measures.

Sen. Richard Gordon joined Drilon and Lacson in issuing statements saying that the proposed DDR would replicate much of the coordinating work of the existing National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), as well as those of agencies that routinely respond to disasters like public works and social welfare and development.

For these reasons, Drilon said he expected the DDR bill to face rough sailing in plenary deliberations even if it hurdles committee-level scrutiny.

Raising serious doubts over its feasibility, Lacson also said: “It is relatively easy to pass a law creating new departments. But would it be feasible and will there be proper funding for it?”

Lacson cited estimates by the Department of Budget and Management  (DBM) that at least PHP1.5 billion is needed just to set up a new department, noting “that this does not yet include added salaries, capital outlay like office facilities, furniture, vehicles, MOOE, and CIF,” referring to maintenance and other operating expenditures and cost of insurance and freight.

For his part Drilon pitched “better planning and coordination” among existing agencies involved in disaster management instead of spending PHP1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to further “bloat the bureaucracy.”

The opposition senator rejected the move to create an additional full-blown department focused solely on disaster management, deploring it as a “knee-jerk reaction.”

He believes “an overall plan on the number of departments should be in place, instead of a ‘knee-jerk’ push for a creation of certain departments.” Drilon added, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

The DDR bill was passed by the House of Representatives in September while its counterpart bill is still under consideration in the Senate Committee on National Defense.

Drilon suggested strengthening the coordination and planning between and among agencies involved in government’s disaster response, including a timely access to disaster funds by local government units which are at the forefront of disaster management.

At the same time, the Minority Leader reminded everyone that “there is already an established system with the NDRRMC and the OCD (Office of Civil Defense) at the forefront. We do not see an urgent need to change it through the creation of a new department and by appointing new secretary, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries.”

Drilon stressed that as it is, “the Personnel Services budget today already constitutes at least one-third of the national budget.”

For 2021, the proposed budget for personnel service is set at PHP1.316 trillion, up by a hefty 11.1 percent from PHP1.184 trillion this year. The total 2021 budget is PHP4.5 trillion.

“I believe that numerous national agencies and GOCCs now have duplicating functions and should be rationalized before we start creating new offices or departments,” he  added.

Drilon recalled that when the Duterte administration came to power, then Budget Secretary and now Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Benjamin Diokno pushed for a rationalization of the bureaucracy.

As for the DOFW, Drilon questioned the planned creation of a new department to address overseas Filipino workers’ concerns. And yet, the Department of Agrarian Reform, whose mandate has been achieved and whose functions “can be performed now by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has not been abolished and continues to be funded by an annual budget of hundreds of millions.”

Drilon worries that the creation of a new department for OFWs would expose the PHP19-billion OFW trust fund to the “sticky hands of politicians.”