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Akira Momochi

【#368】It’s Time for Emergency Legislation Including Constitutional Amendment

Akira Momochi / 2016.04.21 (Thu)

April 18, 2016

     When a major earthquake hit Kumamoto Prefecture in western Japan in mid-April, the Abe cabinet made a quick response. In five minutes after the first quake, it set up an emergency center at the prime minister’s office. Five minutes later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed government officials to make all-out efforts to grasp damage conditions and implement emergency measures. The government has decided to send 20,000 Self-Defense Forces troops to Kumamoto.

Japan should consider a FEMA
     The government has launched a headquarters for major disaster measures at the prime minister’s office. The headquarters is created when the government has to promote emergency disaster measures in response to a major disaster under Clause 1 of Article 24 of the Disaster Countermeasure Basic Act. It is headed by the state minister in charge of disaster prevention.
     In contrast, the government established a headquarters for emergency disaster control, headed by the prime minister, in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. The headquarters is launched for the entire nation to promote emergency disaster measures in response to a remarkably abnormal, serious and extraordinary disaster that is greater than the latest Kumamoto earthquake under Article 28-2 of the Disaster Countermeasure Basic Act.
     The latest major earthquake is a case that the government can control under existing law. Nevertheless, the establishment of an organization similar to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, is worthy of consideration.

Preparation for great disasters is needed
     The problem is a case where Japan faces a national emergency like the predicted Tokyo earthquake that could threaten the survival of the nation by killing as many as 13,000 people and destroying 850,000 buildings and houses, as noted in a report by the Central Disaster Prevention Council.
     In answering a question by a reporter at a press conference on April 15, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the establishment of an emergency clause to tackle great disasters in the constitution would be a very grave agenda. In response, some people urged the government not to take advantage of disasters for discussions on constitutional amendments or noted that such emergency clause would not be necessary as existing laws can respond to any great disaster.
     Among them, a lawyer claimed that there was not any case where emergency vehicles were unavailable due to gasoline shortages just after the Great East Japan Earthquake. A reporter doubted if there were local governments that failed to smoothly dispose rubble on concern that rubble disposal without approval by rubble owners could infringe these owners’ property rights.
     In a case where gasoline shortages affected emergency vehicle operations, however, the Aomori Prefecture website says oil fuel shortages greatly affected prefectural livelihood by interrupting emergency treatment at hospitals and the transportation of relief supplies just after the Great East Japan Earthquake. On rubble disposal, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a press conference, “As there are owners of household goods and automobiles washed away by tsunami, their unauthorized disposal could infringe these owners’ property rights” (Asahi Shimbun Digital, March 23, 2011).
     If there are any people who really believe that Japan may cope with a great Tokyo earthquake and other serious disasters with existing laws, I doubt their intelligence and imagination. They may ideologically give priority to blocking constitutional amendments, failing to take into account the protection of citizens. Without being shaken by their false assertions, Japan now should enact emergency legislation including the creation of emergency clause in the constitution.

Akira Momochi is Director, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Nihon University.