New emergency powers aim to cut casualties

News and Press Release
Originally published

MANILA, 13 January 2012 (IRIN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino has signed an executive order overhauling the country's rules on closing government offices and schools during natural disasters.

Signed on 11 January, Executive Order No. 66, a copy of which was obtained by IRIN, gives local authorities the power to decide to immediately cancel classes and work if they feel danger is imminent, even if the state weather forecaster has not yet raised storm alert warnings.

However, in cases where the president himself decides to declare a "state of calamity", classes in both public and private schools, as well as work in government offices, can be suspended in areas affected by disasters other than storms, such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis or massive fires.

"This executive order is an assertion of the state's declared policy to institutionalize measures that will ensure that the general public, including students and state workers, will be safe from hazards and their lives and limbs will be safeguarded," Aquino's chief aide, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, said.

It was also a recognition "of the local risk patterns across the country aimed at boosting disaster risk reduction and management through decentralized powers, responsibilities and resources at the regional and local levels", he said. Approximately 20 typhoons hit the archipelago nation annually, triggering floods and deadly landslides.

On 16 to 18 December, tropical storm Washi [ ] brought heavy rains across parts of the southern island of Mindanao, causing flash floods in two coastal cities that had not seen such a disaster in recent history.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the floods killed more than 1,200 people, and affected more than a million, making Washi the most destructive disaster to strike the Philippines in 2011 [ ].

Almost a month later, some 24,000 people remain displaced in shelters, mostly schools, down from more than 69,000 in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) [ ] reported on 12 January.

"There had been cases in the past when school children were caught in the middle of disasters because the order to cancel classes and work came in too late," NDRRMC head Benito Ramos said. "By giving local officials, such as town and city mayors, direct powers to now make their own determinations in calling off work and school, it will hopefully lessen casualties and reduce the risk of many casualties."