Audit Report Revealed Cagayan Gov’t Didn’t Meet Disaster Preparedness Requirement for LGUs in 2019 Despite 57M Budget Leftover
Cagayan Province’s government spent PHP 0 of its disaster preparedness budget for risk management research, disaster response and rescue equipment, PPEs, and evacuation center supplies in 2019.
The 2019 annual audit report from the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that the local government unit (LGU) of Cagayan Province did not utilize millions of funds for disaster preparedness and risk reduction and management, and failed to meet minimum standards for disaster preparedness for LGUs.
Received on May 4 this year by the office of Governor Manuel Mamba, who coincidentally heads the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Office, the report stated that the government of Cagayan did not use over PHP 57,000,000.00 of its funds originally intended for the local DRRM of the province in 2019.
“A significant portion of the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund of the Province for CY 2019 alloted for disaster preparedness amounting to PHP 57,151,770.82 remained unutilized as of December 31, 2019,” the report said.
Cagayan Province’s government earmarked PHP 61,634,181 in its 2019 budget to be used for information campaigns; development of early warning systems through partnership with telecommunication providers, LGUs, and national government;DRRM research; and stockpiling of necessary emergency supplies, among others.
However, only a small portion was used. “Only PHP 4,482,410.18 of the budget for disaster preparedness had been utilized during this period,” the audit report said. More than half of which, or PHP 2,586,346.00, of the spending went to capability building.
The provincial government spent PHP 0 of the PHP 61 million budget for research, review of contingency plans, stockpiling of supplies, procurement of disaster response and rescue equipment, PPEs, and equipment and medical supplies for evacuation centers. Moreover, the expense report revealed that only PHP 759,000 of the over PHP 12,000,000 budget for development of early warning systems and information sharing among LGUs, TelCos, communities, and the national government was spent. This left more than an PHP 11,000,000 balance for this initiative alone in 2019.
COA also noted that the absence of necessary equipment prevented the Provincial Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PCCDRRMO) from efficiently executing its mandates. In turn, this put the people of Cagayan at risk of the dangers of disasters and calamities.
PCCDRRMO reasoned that the budget was untouched because of the delay in passage of the province’s annual budget, which was only approved in September 2019. PCCDRRMO added that their office prioritizes “disaster response and relief operations,” which is notably different from its mandate that concerns risk reduction and management.
COA recommended that the management fast-track the implementation of the programs and projects funded under the PHP 61 million budget, so constituents can “enjoy the benefits that they could derive from it.”
In the same report, COMMONER found out that Cagayan Province was not able to meet the minimum standards for local disaster preparedness, as they did not purchase or operate the equipment indicated in its own local DRRM plan, including transport vehicles, alternative power sources, water purifying machines, and first aid kits, among others.
Worth noting is that COA already gave the same comment in their 2018 audit report, but this was still left unfulfilled by the Cagayan Province government. In the document “Status of Implementation of Prior Years’ Unimplemented Audit Recommendations,” which is also enclosed in the audit report, COA stated that, in the 2018 Audit Report, they “recommended that the Provincial DRRM Council consider including the procurement of the aforementioned equipment in the Local DRRM Plan of the Province for the succeeding year in compliance to the minimum standards for disaster preparedness for the Provincial level and to better equip PCCDRRMO to prepare for and respond to hazard and threats.”
However, this recommendation was only partially implemented and, thus, reiterated as a recommendation in the 2019 report. In its 2019 Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan, the provincial government only planned to procure flashlights with batteries, an extrication kit, a searchlight, personal protective equipment (goggles, work, gloves, boots at a minimum, and a water rescue kit.
Add to the fact that these supplies do not meet the minimum requirements for disaster preparedness, it does not match the almost PHP 35 million allotment for supplies, equipment, instruments, and rescue and evacuation vehicles in its disaster preparedness budget.
As a consequence of the deprioritization of disaster preparedness by the Cagayan Province government, in the recent onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses and the subsequent release of water from Magat Dam, thousands of Cagayanos were blindsided by severe flooding and were left stranded for hours, awaiting rescue operations. At least nine, including one rescuer, died.
Mamba said that the severe flooding was due to the exploitation of forests in the region. While there’s truth to his claim as deforestation weakens the capacity of soil to absorb water, risks of flooding could have been better studied by experts through simulations had the budget for risk management research in its disaster preparedness fund been utilized. This is especially crucial for Cagayan — a valley that becomes a catch basin of rainwater from nearby provinces.
Without a wide-reaching regional television news network in Cagayan after the closure of ABS-CBN Cagayan Valley, early warning and public announcement systems, which is included in its unutilized budget, could have also been used to warn people of the urgent need to evacuate.
Provincial Administrator Darwin Sacramed, in an interview aired in the province’s information office Facebook page, also lamented that the provincial government has been working nonstop to rescue stranded individuals, but is finding it difficult due to the lack of manpower and equipment. Had the government followed COA’s recommendation, both in 2018 and 2019, equipment could have been purchased and made readily available so rescue operations could be executed more swiftly.
The unfortunate deaths of residents and rescuers could have also been averted if the Cagayan Province government only purchased the right tools, protective equipment, and vehicles that they stipulated in their own budget. Furthermore, flooding scenarios could have been studied and anticipated had the budget allocated for risk management research been used.
Now, the province of Cagayan is still in a state of calamity as the floods have not completely subsided yet. At least 37,000 people are in evacuation centers, at risk of contracting COVID-19 and without food, water, and homes. All in all, more than 170,000 have been severely affected by the flooding. Millions’ worth of agricultural goods have also been destroyed.
This article has been sent to the office of Gov. Manuel Mamba for comment. We will include an update once we receive a response.