CURRENT SOCIETAL CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
3 April 2016
The effects of drought are currently exacting its heavy toll not only among people but also nature itself in Mindanao, what with drought-stricken farmers asking for rice but were instead dispersed by police in Kidapawan City, Mt. Apo forest fires still raging after several days already, and there’s a recent Facebook post about forest fires also starting in Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon – indeed, what is the government doing to give some relief to the people and nature affected by the drought?
The Bureau of Fire Protection will have to do what it has to do to prevent the forest fires from decimating the biodiversity of the mountains of Mindanao but what about the local government units and government agencies like DSWD or DILG or the local disaster risk reduction and management (DRR) offices at various levels from the province to the barangay?
A farmer in Sitio Clod, Bgy Lunen in T’boli municipality in South Cotabato province currently affected by drought documented by the Passionist Center-Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (PC-JPIC) and the Catholic Mission on the Indigenous Peoples (CMIP) also complained of government inaction in addressing their plight because their barangay officials say they cannot help because helping them this time is considered as electioneering.
The people in his community also believe that because their town mayor is a “kontra-partido” of the Governor of South Cotabato, there is nothing in the form of disaster relief or assistance that is coming their way at all.
This is contrary to the World Water Day Forum held in South Cotabato last March 22, 2016 where it was mentioned by the local officials there that a state of calamity was already declared by the municipalities in South Cotabato in the areas affected by drought in South Cotabato Province.
The COMELEC, in Resolution No. 9981, promulgated August 18, 2015, listed the various prohibited acts in connection with the election period in connection with the May 9, 2016 elections.
The election period is from January 10, 2016 to June 8, 2016, which is the totality of all activities subject to regulation by the COMELEC, though there are more specific and shorter periods, that takes into account the actual campaign period, and in that period, there are also some specified prohibited activities, which are considered as election offenses if committed just the same.
One specific prohibited act listed by the COMELEC is the release, disbursement or expenditure of public funds, from March 25, 2016 to May 8, 2016, which is based on sec. 261(v) of the Omnibus Election Code, or the Batas Pambansa Blg 881, as amended.
This is apparently the provision that government officials take care not to be accused of and this seems to include disbursing funds to procure relief goods to affected communities in case of a calamity.
Looking closely at that provision, there is actually an exception to it, which reads:
(d) Emergency work necessitated by the occurrence of a public calamity, but such work shall be limited to the restoration of the damaged facility. (sec. 261 [v][d], Omnibus Election Code)
It’s not sure if “restoration of the damaged facility” would also mean restoration of the well-being of the affected communities and households, but given that most public officials usually play it safe so they can not be accused of electioneering, then their best course of action is just to do nothing.
What about the DSWD and similarly-situated agencies?
The Omnibus Election Code lets them do relief work but this is coursed through the Philippine National Red Cross, as can be seen from this provision :
(2) The Ministry of Social Services and Development and any other office in other ministries of the government performing functions similar to said ministry, except for salaries of personnel, and for such other routine and normal expenses, and for such other expenses as the Commission may authorize after due notice and hearing. Should a calamity or disaster occur, all releases normally or usually coursed through the said ministries and offices of other ministries shall be turned over to, and administered and disbursed by, the Philippine National Red Cross, subject to the supervision of the Commission on Audit or its representatives, and no candidate or his or her spouse or member of his family within the second civil degree of affinity or consanguinity shall participate, directly or indirectly, in the distribution of any relief or other goods to the victims of the calamity or disaster. (art. 261 [v], Omnibus Election Code)
What this means is that the agencies can perform their functions but it is up to the COMELEC to authorize such activities, after due notice and hearing, and once the funds are to be released, given the usual slow government funds processing and release procedures, the funds will have to be turned over to and administered and disbursed by the Philippine National Red Cross, subject to supervision by the Commission on Audit.
No wonder the Kidapawan farmers took over the national highway along Kidapawan City for several days, just to force the government to act.
Politicians who are campaigning, especially those who aspire for the national positions, should badger the COMELEC to issue an emergency resolution to let government agencies address this drought during an election period.