No lean team
The “lean team” from the House of Representatives that supposedly would attend the session of the chamber to be held in Batangas turned out to be about a third of the House membership.
That meant – on top of about 200 congressmen who were present at the session – a horde of drivers, security escorts, gofers and a host of other kibitzers with the right connections descending on the capital of the city hardest hit by Taal Volcano’s continuing arrest.
This meant additional maintenance and operating expenses for taxpayers, although perhaps the visitors spent enough of their own money in buying items to help stimulate the economy of Batangas. And let’s hope the visitors received enough information to craft legislation to address the glaring weaknesses in the country’s evacuation capability and response to a prolonged volcanic activity.
The House session was ostensibly a step needed in deliberations for a supplemental budget for the Taal relief effort. This was after Congress slashed the Calamity Fund appropriation for this year by P4 billion, and specifically allotted P5 billion of the fund to the Davao and Soccsksargen regions in Mindanao. That P4 billion could have gone a long way in easing the plight of the hundreds of thousands of evacuees now cramped in emergency shelters all over Batangas.
One concern over the House session is whether a precedent is being set. If a typhoon devastates Aklan or Palawan, for example, will another “lean team” from the House hold a plenary session in scenic Boracay or Coron?
Each province has several congressmen representing different districts; each one is supposed to know best the needs of his or her constituency. As to the extent of the damage and suffering of the Taal evacuees, all that lawmakers need to do is switch on their TV sets or go over the voluminous, detailed media reports. The history of Taal Volcano’s activity is readily available online.
The venue of the House session, the Batangas Convention Center, sits near one of the most crowded evacuation centers in the province. This reinforced critics’ perceptions that for every disaster, House members see an epal moment and photo opportunity. Taxpayers can only hope this isn’t going to turn into a habit.