AFTERMATH. A house in Abra tilts to its side after a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the province on Wednesday (July 27, 2022). House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could augment the calamity funds by tapping the PHP7 billion contingent fund for 2022. (Photo courtesy of Abra Rep. Ching Bernos)

MANILA – House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said Wednesday President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could augment the calamity funds by tapping the PHP7 billion contingent fund for 2022, which is the national emergency fund under his disposal.

Recto made the remark after a magnitude 7 earthquake jolted Abra and other parts of Luzon on Wednesday morning.

He said the available National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) fund, or calamity fund, may be "insufficient" for rehabilitation work, noting that the disbursable amount left is PHP12.8 billion out of the PHP20 billion allocation in the 2022 budget.

"But we are just in the opening weeks of the calamity season. And instead of a typhoon, a powerful earthquake was the opening act. If the PHP12.8 billion will be used to fund the relief and repair work in earthquake-hit areas, it will leave the NDRRMF depleted, unable to respond to the typhoons that will surely hit us," Recto said.

He said if the funds would not be enough, Congress could pass an appropriations bill that would finance reconstruction.

In a privilege speech during the plenary session, Abra Rep. Ching Bernos said the strong earthquake caused damage to many households and establishments in her province.

"Windows of homes were shattered, while walls of establishments showed cracks. Many school buildings that will be used when face-to-face classes open next month and health facilities like rural health units, responsible for first-level response in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, were also damaged," she said.

Bernos noted that it was the "strongest earthquake to have impacted the province in recent memory and even the region since the 1990 earthquake in Baguio."

She urged the President to extend all available assistance to Abra to "help us rise from the ashes of this devastating disaster."

"We are optimistic that the father of our nation will look after us and help us get back on our feet, as we resilient Abreños have always done since time immemorial. I assure you, Abra will rise again," Bernos said.

Benguet Rep. Eric Yap reported that the quake was strongly felt in many parts of his province, as evidenced in the reports of damage to personal properties and public infrastructure.

"In Buguias, the Northern Benguet District Hospital evacuated at least 19 patients during the quake. Currently, the hospital is being checked for damages in the hospital infrastructure and equipment," Yap said.

He said several national and local roads in the province were declared not passable to ensure the safety of the motorists.

"For locals and tourists stuck in areas where there were nearby landslides and eroded roads, report it to us so we can send immediate assistance. At least two weeks is needed to clear these areas which makes accessibility to some communities more difficult," he said.

Yap assured that he is closely coordinating with agencies and authorities to secure these areas and deem them safe and passable without further delay.

Ang Probinsyano Party-list Rep. Alfred delos Santos said the group is mobilizing its volunteers all over Luzon to respond to the aftermath of the magnitude 7 earthquake.

Delos Santos said he is also working with the House leadership to expedite the passage of the Department of Disaster Resilience bill, the proposed Laging Handa Act, and the Animal Calamity Rescue bill.

"This strong earthquake that struck us should be the last reminder to Congress on the urgent necessity of creating the Department of Disaster Resilience," he said. "Pinakikilos na namin ngayon ang mga volunteers ng Ang Probinsyano Party-list sa buong Luzon para tugunan ang anumang pangangailangan ng ating mga kapwa Probinsyano (We are mobilizing the volunteers of the Ang Probinsyano Party-list in Luzon to address the needs of our fellow countrymen)."

He said their volunteers shall “proceed with caution” because of the continuing aftershocks since the first powerful quake at 8:43 a.m.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has reported a total of 227 aftershocks.

Phivolcs said five of these aftershocks were felt, while 12 were plotted or located. (PNA)