By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte announced over state-run People’s television on November 14 the creation of a task force to streamline rehabilitation efforts following the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco) across massive swathes of Luzon, including Metro Manila and Cagayan Valley.

Typhoon Ulysses displaced 428,657 families or over 1.7 million individuals and left at least 67 dead, 21 injured and 13 missing so far.

In a phone interview with The Philippine Star, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque assured the task force will not overlap with the functions of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) as it is simply created to “emphasize the effects of the previous typhoons.”

 On November 16, Malacañang named Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea as the head of the new task force named Build Back Better, which will likely include the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the National Irrigation Administration, the National Housing Authority, and the Department of Budget and Management.

In a report by Rappler, Roque said an executive is now being churned out to create the task force envisioned to be a “more permanent body focusing on post-disaster rehabilitation and recovery of typhoon-hit areas while a proposed Department of Disaster Resilience is not yet in place.”

Roque said the task force will also have a “clear chain of command and direct mandate to respond to all concerns and issues in rehabilitation and recovery after a typhoon” and it will be different as it will be headed by the Executive Secretary “no less than the closest alter ego of the President.”

“Obviously,  (NDRRMC) is not enough… I guess the task force is really to stress that someone needs to be in charge and the person in charge is the Executive Secretary, with the full assistance of the Cabinet,” Roque said, noting the task force will enable Medialdea to make decisions to save lives without the council meeting.

The task force, according to Roque, will also allow Medialdea to “directly ask the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) about funding” and be able to say, “national treasury, please release the funds.”

According to the Rappler report and DBM, “the Office of the President already has the power to approve the release and replenishment of the quick response funds of national government agencies and local governments.”

Currently, Medialdea’s role as Executive Secretary allows him to “frequently issue memorandum orders or administrative orders by authority of the President to get agencies and departments to act.”

Added bureaucracy and red tape

In another report by GMA News, Vice-president Leni Robredo expressed  concern the new task force and the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) will duplicate the functions of the NDRRMC.

The DDR, under a pending measure in the Congress, will be the primary government agency responsible for “leading, organizing, and managing the national effort to reduce disaster risk, prepare for and respond to disasters, recover and rehabilitate, and build forward better after the occurrence of disasters.”

“Meron nang NDRRMC under the Office of Civil Defense. It (proposed DDR) is worth studying, pero kailangan i-assessmuna ano ba ang kulang sa ginagawa ng NDRRMC kasi baka nagke-create lang tayo ng another level of bureaucracy,” Robredo said in her interview with ANC.

“Itong existing (NDRRMC), ano ba ang kakulangan nito? Kung may kulang, baka kaya namang i-address ng legislation or other means, or i-dissolve na ito at gumawa  na bago,” Robredo added.

Robredo said creating another agency “will not necessarily improve the situation if policies are not harmonized.”

“Ang dami-dami ng agencies na working in silos when they should be interacting with each other,” she said.

In a statement released by the Senate, on the other hand, detained Sen. Leila de Lima in a handwritten dispatch, lamented the lack of an integrated, meaningful, and long-range solution for the country’s calamity-related problems.

“Seems to me, Duterte’s concept of crisis response is the creation of a task force that will create another task force from existing task forces,” De Lima said, noting the announcement of a new task force “will put up additional layers of red tape and buck-passing bureaucracy which will just result in aggravated inefficiency and worsened unaccountability in government. This administration’s penchant for creating a task force for every crisis is a desperate attempt at damage control for its ineptitude.”