Bichara: Buy local products for evacuees

By Juan Escandor, Jr. LEGAZPI CITY --- Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara is appealing to donors and groups intending to help the evacuees from the eruption of Mayon Volcano to buy their food assistance provisions at the local market here. In an interview Monday, Bichara said that aside from providing healthier food for the evacuees, the donors would also help the local economy. “Instead of buying bottled water, for instance, we have already given the provision of potable water supply to refilling stations here. Our condition for them is to put water dispensers and we will buy the water,” he said. Bichara clarified that he is not complaining that the Department of Social Services and Development (DSWD) is giving out canned goods and instant noodles. “Don’t you know that our patients who are undergoing dialysis are growing? Because these instant noodles have too much sodium, MSG, and so with the canned goods,” he said. Bichara said it is better to buy locally produced vegetables, swine, and fish to provide livelihood to the local producers. “The people who are now housed in the evacuation centers do not go to the market now. So that sales dipped in the local market,” he said. Bichara said the local economy should also be considered, since with every disaster there is an opportunity. He said the rains have alleviated the situation of the agriculture sector with the cleansing effect on the crops covered with ashfall. Bichara said the problems following Mayon’s eruption is expected to continue because “the behavior is quite different from the previous one.” As a result, he said, the evacuees ballooned because of fear and safety concerns since there are rumblings and continuous lava fountaining and eruption. Bichara said the danger continues to hang over the communities near the volcano because of the new deposit of volcanic debris, sands and pyroclastic materials that can reach about 80 million cubic meters, citing data from the Philippine Institute of Vocanology and Seismology (Phivolcs). He said the Phivolcs estimated as of Sunday, only about 30 percent of the expected materials have been belched out from the volcano. Bichara said when the typhoon season comes November to October he expected another round of evacuation, with different sets of evacuees who are vulnerable to the volcanic deposits that might wash down from the slopes. “After this episode of Mayon unrest, Phivolcs will reassess where the accumulation of volcanic deposits is and what are the villages to be hit when heavy rains or typhoons come just like what happened when Typhoon Reming slammed the province in 2006,” he said. Bichara said that for the meantime he is glad there are so many donors but there will come a time the donors’ fatigue will be experienced if the eruption drags on and the problem of sustainability sets in. “At the beginning of the eruption, all local funds were mobilized when the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) share has not come yet,” he said. Bichara said the IRA is released on a monthly basis, of which 5 percent is allocated for the calamity fund, and it only came after 10 days of eruption. He said that on a monthly basis, the IRA of Albay is P7M, and on a yearly basis, it reaches P98M. Quick Response Funds Bichara said all government agencies have their own quick-response funds which used to be centralized in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) under the Department of National Defense (DND). He said when he followed up the quick-response fund he was told that they were already downloaded to the DND and NDRRMC. “But they (departments) have also to adopt the regular procedures of the release based on the Procurement Act. This is where it takes time to release the fund,” Bichara said. Bichara said in the case of local governments, they declare a state of calamity which allows them to set aside the Procurement Act that makes the release of funds fast. He said when the calamity fund dries up they will have to wait for the funds from the departments which he considers not an ideal situation when calamity strikes. “For me, it must be studied very well, I think it must be better for the national government to release contingency funds for the local governments to make the response to calamity faster,” Bichara said.