Agriculture Secretary wants President to have emergency powers for post-disaster assistance

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 29) — Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol wants the President to have emergency powers for agricultural assistance after typhoons.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday, Piñol lamented that the release of funds to help farmers recover was often delayed by red tape and took months — or even years — to be available.

"We will have a Cabinet meeting after Undas," he said. "I will make this recommendation to the President, that he should be given emergency powers to respond to problems like this."

At present, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council must evaluate and approve funds released for damages caused by disasters like typhoons.

Piñol said since Typhoon Ompong — internationally known as Mangkhut — struck in September, about 80 percent of a ₱7.6 billion budget has yet to be released. The secretary believes the agriculture sector can only wait for 15 to 30 days at the most for this assistance.

"Give the President the leeway," Piñol suggested. "Magsubmit lang kami ng report sa kanya, bahala na siya mag-list. Huwag na natin padaanin sa mahabang proseso."

(Translation: We'll just give him a report, and we'll leave the list to him. Let's not make it go through a long process.)

The remarks also come as Northern Luzon braces for Typhoon Rosita, internationally known as Yutu, just a month after Ompong.

"Ang idadamage niya, ang nagrerecover ngayon na magsasaka (It will damage the recovering farmers)," said Piñol. "That would be a double whammy... We're looking at 2018 as not a very good year for agriculture, because of this."

When asked about how he would ensure this power is not abused by local officials who set the budget, Piñol argued that there should be an assumption of regularity.

"The problem with us in government is sometimes we tend to withhold our interventions simply because we're afraid na baka ma-quota tayo (we'll hit a quota)," he said. "If they do something wrong, let's sue them... Let our actions not be withheld by the assumption that we will do something wrong."

The idea of emergency powers for the President has been floated before, particularly with regard to traffic in Metro Manila and revamping the Bureau of Customs amid a multi-billion drug smuggling scandal and reports of corruption.