The Philippines Needs Legal Defenses to Survive Climate Change

The rainy season has come once again and for many communities in the Philippines, this means getting ready for strong typhoons. This also means evacuation, damaged crops, and floods. June to September has always been the months where typhoons visit the country most but with changing weather patterns, typhoon season has extended to November and December. Haiyan happened in November, Hagupit in December. 

 The question is, after all the typhoons we’ve gone through, after all the lives we have lost, have we learned our lesson? Are we ready to face the onslaught of the next 20 typhoons that will come our way this year? Or will we just continue with the phrase, “The Filipino spirit is waterproof” for every disaster that will hit us? 

The Filipino spirit is not waterproof. How can we say so after we’ve seen what Haiyan did to us? We cannot just sit and wait for another typhoon to hit us and say we can survive it, especially if we have not prepared enough. The Filipino spirit is strong, but it also gets tired. We cannot have a cycle of building and rebuilding lives after every typhoon. We need to put up strong defenses and we need to put them now.
Typhoon Maring aftermath photo by Inquirer.net
 
We have two laws that should help us with disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (DRR-CCA), the RA10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Law, which is due for a sunset review, and the RA10174 or the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) Law , which of late has been controversial.
 
The DRRM Law mandates the strengthening of disaster management in the Philippines. It established DRR offices in local government units and allocated Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Funds (LDRRMF) aiming to strengthen each community against disasters. However, many reports such as that of the Commission on Audit and observations have pointed out many gaps in implementation of the law such as lack of capacity and expertise of many of the DRRM officers, incomplete roster of members of the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (LDRRMC) and even as basic as the awareness of the existence of the law and DRRM.
 
Now that the law is due for its sunset review, a series of consultations among different stakeholders, including civil society organizations, were held. One key recommendation was for the law to be more inclusive. People’s organizations pointed out that they should be part of the LDRRMC as they are the ones feeling the brunt of disasters. This is a valid point. The DRRM Law will only be effective when vulnerable communities are included in planning and implementation. Because who else knows what climate change impacts are if not for those who experience it most?
 
The PSF Law, on the other hand, is a law passed in 2012 that created a 1 Billion peso fund to help local governments adapt to climate change impacts. The funds, however, remain unused. In addition, the president has not signed the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the PSF Law nor has he signed the manual of operations needed by the PSF Board, the body that will issue final approval of projects for the use of the fund.
 
This untapped resource should have been helping communities adapt to climate change impacts. The IRR was passed to the president 8 months after the PSF was passed into law. Why has it not been signed? What has it been doing sitting on the desk of the president?
 
Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation should go hand in hand as our defenses against climate change and its impacts. The DRRM and PSF laws should have been able to answer these. However, because of non-implementation and wide gaps, many communities remain to be highly vulnerable.
 
We should have learned our lesson years ago, but it seems we are stuck with only hoping the next typhoon will not do damage as much as the last one. We are stuck with response instead of actively creating solutions to address climate change impacts. We have been saying we are one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change but what have we been doing about it?
 
The government needs to act fast if it wants to protect the country’s growth and development and if it is truly sincere in ensuring inclusive development, as it has always said. It needs to effectively implement the DRRM and PSF laws. The DRRM law should be made to be inclusive and to ensure DRR is mainstreamed in every LGU. The IRR and Manual of Operations of the PSF law should be signed to finally allow LGU's access to funds for climate adaptation.
 
Climate change is here and it is affecting all of us in different ways, some more than others. Climate change impacts will not wait for anyone to be ready before they strike. We need to build strong defenses if we are to survive it.
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Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the Advocacy Director of Dakila. This article was originally published at GMA News Online.

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