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Senators prescribe measures for more disaster-resilient PHL

While the Philippines has earned a reputation as one of the better performers in the region, it needs more legislation to help it nurture a truly resilient economy that would withstand man-made and natural disasters that pummeled parts of the country in 2013.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in an interview that the P140-billion rehabilitation and reconstruction fund in the 2014 General Appropriations Act (GAA), a Senate amendment in the budget, was “precisely” created to sustain the country’s economic resilience, after the disasters that hit parts of the country this year.

“That’s 1 percent of GDP [gross domestic product]. The faster they’re able to spend that then they have a chance for the economy to grow at sustainable levels,” said Recto, former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

To make the country more resilient to disasters, Recto proposed a 25-percent minimum increase in the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local government units (LGUs) to give them “greater autonomy.”

“The absorptive capacity of the national government is very weak. Why not download resources to the local government units so that they can spend all this money faster?” he said.

Recto said even if the national government has P140 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction in 2014, the challenge would be its absorptive capacity to spend all of it, so it would need some help from LGUs.

“Even if you give the national government P140 billion, it may not have the absorptive capacity to spend that. So download some of it to the local governments,” he said.

Recto said only 5 percent of the income of local governments go to their calamity fund, which he believes is “not enough,” especially as “only 30 percent of the 5 percent can be used for disaster risk reduction.”

“All of that has to be changed….The last time we amended the Local Government Code was in 1992. So I think all of that is needed. If you want the economy to grow at a much faster rate, tap the local governments,” he said.

The senator said to make the economy more resilient, the country requires a liberalized economic environment that would enable the economy to grow at a faster rate than 7 percent, which would require amendments on constitutional provisions on land ownership and business ownership.

Recto also cited pending bills on the rationalization of fiscal incentives and amendments to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Charter and the proposed Customs Modernization Act.

“Clearly we need to be investing more on specifics, we need to be investing more on infrastructure. PPPs [public-private partnerships] roll-out should be faster so that the excess liquidity in the system can be used to finance all these PPP projects,” he said.

In the short term, the senator said the government should reconsider its plan to hike fares of the Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit, since it would add to the financial burden of ordinary Filipinos; and to attract more investments in the power sector.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship, said the key to the country’s economic resilience amid disasters is inclusive growth, which is at the heart of his proposed measures.

“At the end of the day, if you’re talking about resilience, we need to have each family better prepared for these disasters, by having more income,” Aquino said in an interview before Congress went on Christmas break.

Aquino authored Senate Bill (SB) 1028, or the “Go Negosyo” bill, which he believed to be one of the “foundational bills” needed for inclusive growth in the country.

Explaining the importance of such growth, the senator said, “If our economy is doing really well but a lot of our countrymen are still poor, it’s an [empty] victory. It is not the totality of what we want to achieve. So it goes back to inclusive growth; what do we get each family to earn better, to have more stable income so they can be more resilient on their own?”

In his sponsorship speech of the Go Negosyo bill, Aquino said the measure provides the framework for delivering services to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), especially for micro enterprises that comprise 92 percent of all businesses and 66 percent of all jobs in the country.

“The numbers show that boosting the MSME sector will help us create more decent, sustainable jobs that can lift many Filipinos out of poverty,” he said, adding that MSMEs should be regarded as a “pipeline for development.”

The bill also seeks stronger coordination with schools and organizations on the development of a youth entrepreneurship training program, in a bid to ease youth unemployment.

Aquino has also filed SB 1843 seeking to give Local Development Councils (LDCs) a more active role in disaster and calamity preparedness by mandating at least four meetings a year.

“LDCs should be strengthened and made more active because they are one of the keys in the disaster preparedness of a community. Community needs will be better diagnosed and addressed if different sectors converge and discuss more regularly,” he said.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate Committees on Climate Change and on Environment and Natural Resources, is calling for a “resilient recovery” in calamity-devastated areas in the country.

“As we rebuild the lives and communities affected by Yolanda, our path should be to move forward, as one community, towards resilient recovery. We must be cautious not to restore the risk and vulnerabilities that existed before,” Legarda said.

She said a disaster-resilient Philippines would “free us from the exhausting and costly cycle of rebuilding our communities every time a typhoon, storm surge, or earthquake hits our communities.”

Legarda said that as part of resilient recovery efforts, the national and local governments should faithfully implement the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Solid Waste Management Act, Climate Change Act and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, among others.

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