, February 21, 2006, (STAR) President Arroyo ordered yesterday the release of P80 million to finish this year the governmentís geo-hazard mapping project that will identify disaster-prone areas in the country.

The President is also considering the sale of the seven-hectare property of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) at Fort Bonifacio in Makati City to fund the project already underway.

The President issued the directive to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) as she saw off a team of rescuers provided by the Spanish government at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City to Saint Bernard town in Southern Leyte where mudslides buried more than a thousand people living in a farming village.

"What (Environment) Secretary (Angelo) Reyes talked about this morning was to make it not a multi-year project but to outsource it to maybe another country, maybe to Singapore, who can do it much faster, something more state of the art," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said at least 1,500 towns or villages have been identified by former environment secretary Elisea Gozun as under threat from landslides, floods and other natural disasters.

These were already published in the past "but people donít pay attention or itís in the inside pages, except at a time like this," the President said.

She said the list would be published again as she appealed to the media to "give it prime-time and front-page treatment" so that everybody, including local government units, would take action if their areas were on the list.

To speed up the printing and distribution of these maps to local government units within one year, Mrs. Arroyo said she was open to "privatizing" the offices of the NAMRIA.

"Even if we would have to sell the NAMRIA property. The plan is to privatize the NAMRIA property which is right here in (Fort) Bonifacio," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo also ordered NAMRIA Administrator Diony Ventura to brief the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) on their report about the 1,500 tragedy-prone areas. These areas include Eastern Visayas, Region 8, Bicol and CARAGA regions.

Officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) earlier disclosed that funding constraints were hampering the completion of the countryís geological hazard map that aims to identify, assess, and characterize the various areas that are vulnerable to disaster.

The Geological Hazard Mapping, a major project of the DENRís Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), needs P90 million for completion but is currently proceeding with only 10 percent of that.

A highly placed DENR source told The STAR that P9 million was allotted by the MGB from its regular budget as the money from the DBM, which would purportedly fund the mapping program, has yet to be released.

Although the completion of the geo-hazard mapping is still considered "within the timetable," the DENR source said delays in releasing the fund could also bog down the project.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said, when completed, the mapping project would be swiftly complied with in view of the Presidentís clear declaration to set up "a precise and more detailed geo-hazard map."

"So the President said, the area of NAMRIA is here, itís a prime property, and its best that we sell it first. Thatís about seven hectares," Defensor told reporters. "The President already made a clear directive: Sell that, use the money, get the maps."

Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said the entire eastern seaboard of the Philippines, an archipelago of volcanic islands sitting on the rim of the unstable undersea Philippine Trench, faces the same risk as Leyte.

"We have already pinpointed the eastern seaboard, from Cagayan all the way to Davao Oriental," Yumul said on ABS-CBN television. ó Paolo Romero, AFP, Rainier Allan Ronda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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