by Dean Tony La Viña, for Manila Standard Today

In the Philippines, as in most countries of the world, passing a law is not proof that government and society are serious about addressing a problem or challenge. The real test is whether funds are set aside and provided to be sure that such law is in fact implemented properly and effective. That is the case of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. There is definitely a consensus that this must be a priority for government but unless we put our money where our mouth is, we are only fooling the people that we have addressed the problem.

A case in point is the People’s Survival Fund, a funding mechanism designed for local government and communities to have access to a P1-billion replenishable fund that would support climate change adaptation activities.

As Senator Loren Legarda, who heads the special committee on climate change of the Senate, pointed out when the PSF law (Republic Act No. 10174) was passed last year, the purpose of the fund is “to ensure the consideration of climate change impacts such as stronger typhoons, heavier rains, prolonged drought and other effects in the formulation of government plans and programs.”

Programs and projects that could be supported include adaptation of land and water resources management, agriculture and fisheries, health, infrastructure development, conservation of natural ecosystems, establishment of forecasting and early warning systems; and strengthening institutional development, for local governments. More than a year after its passage, unfortunately, funds have not been appropriated so that the fund can be accessed.

The passage of the PSF law was supported by many stakeholders who believed it was essential as it will enable local government units and grassroots communities to pursue climate change adaptation in light of climate change and other disaster-related hazards. Local governments and communities are in the frontlines of climate change. They know local circumstances best and they have to be trusted to find the best, most effective ways of adapting to it while making sure that there is accountability.

The People’s Survival Fund is managed by the People’s Survival Fund Board, which is is chaired by the Department of Finance. This is because the authors believe, correctly, that climate change requires nothing less than the leadership of the country’s economic managers. The Board shall provide overall strategic guidance in the management and use of the fund and would have the authority to approve project proposals submitted by local government units and community-based institutions for funding. Apart from the Secretary of the Department of Finance as the Board chair, the following are also members of the board : the Vice-chairperson of the Commission on Climate Change, the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management, the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, the head of the Philippine Commission on Women, and one representative each from the academic and scientific community, the business sector, and civil society – to ensure greater transparency and effectiveness in the management of the fund.

Under the law, a billion pesos will be allocated to the PSF from the General Appropriations Act (GAA), an amount that will be maintained as the opening balance of the fund every year. The law sets a floor, an amount that must be replenished every year, but it does not establish a ceiling—the PSF can receive contributions from foreign sources and Congress can likewise top-up the fund if demand is found to be greater than the initial amount set. Allocations from the GAA shows that the government recognizes the additional burden imposed by climate change and that thus, it is providing additional funding available to LGUs. This would be a great improvement to the Climate Change Act of 2009, which had previously referred solely to internal revenue allotments as the source of climate change funding for local government climate change adaptation activities.

The passage of the PSF law was hailed widely by many international climate practitioners, including numerous country governments. Yet without an initial appropriation from the GAA, I am afraid that the PSF will never get off the ground. It is in this context that I appeal to the leaders of Congress, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, and especially to the Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Chiz Escudero and House Appropriations Committee Chair Isidro Ungab (both of them come from provinces and regions which are severely affected by climate change) and the members of both committees, to allocate the necessary programmed funds, ideally the amount laid down by law of one billion pesos to establish the PSF so that it becomes immediately operational next year.

I reiterate that such allocation must come from programmed funds so that there is certainty that thePSF will come alive and unlock long-term, predictable, and sustainable financing for adaptation efforts of our most vulnerable communities. We cannot just be reactionary to climate impacts. We need to be strategic and act with foresight. This is why funding the PSF is an important step.

More than a year ago, when the PSF was being deliberated in the Senate, I wrote a personal letter to many senators asking them to vote for its passage. I ended that letter with an appeal, which I repeat now and address to the Bicameral Conference on the Budget: “Never has there been a challenge that demanded urgency from humankind as that of climate change. Our survival, especially those at the poorest corners of the country, from the harsh impacts of climate change will largely depend on what we do as a nation at this crucial hour. The PSF Act gives us the hope that we can cling on to and more importantly the means to grow as a nation resilient to climate change.”

Please fund our people’s survival!

Editor’s Note: This article was reposted from Manila Standard Today‘s article last December 7, 2013 “Funding our People’s Survival”. Photo by Sonny Villafranca.