LGUs under investing in DRRM despite abundant resources—think tank

Most of the local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines are investing too little in disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) despite the fiscal resources available to them, undermining communities’ attempts to enhance resilience to disasters and emergencies, according to a think tank.

A study from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) has attributed the under-investment in DRRM measures partly to the unclear directives from oversight agencies and the spending preferences of local administrators.

The research—presented by senior research fellow Sonny Domingo and research specialist Arvie Joy Manejar in a recent PIDS webinar—looks at how the Philippines addresses the threat of national hazards through the implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010.

The DRRM Law provides a “comprehensive, all-hazards, multisectoral, inter-agency and community-based approach” to DRMM. The policy recognizes the critical role of local governments as frontliners and first responders to disasters and as the main leads in disaster preparedness and response. To enable LGUs to perform their DRRM functions, the law stipulates that they should set aside 5% of their budget as a local calamity fund.

The DRRM legislation also facilitates opportunities and invitations for participatory bottom-up approaches and community-based disaster risk management, whereby at-risk communities are encouraged to identify disaster risks, reduce their vulnerabilities and enhance their capacities.

In essence the law puts people, especially those in the most vulnerable groups, at the heart of decision-making and implementation of DRRM, said Manejar in her lecture.

However, the PIDS study found that stakeholder participation in DRRM planning and implementation is actually limited. This, together with inadequate investment in DRRM initiatives, compromises the landmark law’s potential for developing the resilience of local communities to disasters and emergencies, she added.

“It was found out that there were sub-optimal allocations despite the abundance of fiscal resource in both national and subnational governments regardless of location and income levels,” said the discussion paper. “The low utilization rates were largely attributed to unclear issuances from oversight agencies or spending preferences of local administrations.”

Manejar said the possible sources for climate change and DRR investments in the country include the National DRRM Fund, a lump sum appropriation under the General Appropriations Act intended for relief and rehabilitation services. Another is the Local DRRM Fund, which aims to encourage LGU investment in DRRM and which should not be less than 5% of estimated revenue from regular sources. Of the 5%, 70% is for use as mitigation funds and the 30% is reserved for quick response funds.

The People’s Survival Fund, meanwhile, is an annual fund under the Climate Change Act (CCA) intended to be used to implement CCA projects in vulnerable communities. Also provided under RA 8182 or the ODA Act is the Official Development Assistance (ODA), a loan or grant aimed at promoting sustainable socioeconomic development and welfare.

However, the study found that “devolved institutional structures are not making efficient use of fiscal resources despite the hefty allocations.” It identified three factors that contribute to the underutilization of DRRM resources: faulty financial reporting by most LGUs which leads to under estimation; non-clarity of fiscal guidelines from the Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of the Interior and Local Government and the threat of disallowances; and DRRM not being a priority for public investment.

Domingo said the challenges to the adoption of a bottom-up DRRM strategy include the non-institutionalization of the Local DRRM Office and absence of capacitated staff, delays in planning and budgeting to guide and support interventions, and misuse and mischarge of funds in which supplies and equipment are charged against improper sources.

Other hindrances include failure to transfer unexpended funds to the special trust fund, which could be used for DRRM activities for the next five years; arbitrary and weak reporting and lack of structured auditing and accounting processes; and limited representation of the community, which is not granted decision-making powers as the final say still comes from the higher LGU officials, Domingo said.

With DRRM implementation predominantly still top-down, “communities have much to lose due to their weak visibility in participatory governance and nearly invisible decision-making powers in the formulation of plans and approval of programs,” the report noted.

To bolster community resilience, the research authors recommend strengthening institutional structures for community representation and stakeholder participation, including MSME and private sector representation; implementing more participatory projects, programs and activities; including barangay DRRM plans in municipality/city development plans; instituting stronger monitory and evaluation systems for plans, programs and expenditures; and fortifying reporting and transparency platforms.

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