POSTSCRIPT / June 20, 2013 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Upland and barangay views on trash, floods

BRACE FOR MORE: Listening to the excuses of officials after the Great Flood and Traffic Standstill of last Monday, the message we get is that there is no relief in sight, not during the Aquino dispensation anyway, and that we should brace for more of the same.

The short-term and long-term solutions they are now telling us are too little too late. It seems the 15 million residents of Greater Manila, left to their own devices, can expect more of recurring floods and solid-state traffic.

But, if we may digress a bit, as the finger-pointing went around in a loop, we noticed that at least this time President Noynoy Aquino is not blaming former President Gloria Arroyo.

The transformation is remarkable. We also noticed that change in his Independence Day speech last June 12, when the President did not blame Ms Arroyo for the country’s troubles as he was wont to do whenever something went wrong.

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25-YEAR WAIT: But even grizzled contractors were overwhelmed – more like pleasantly surprised — by the killer solution unwrapped by the Aquino administration involving a staggering P352-billion flood control master plan.

The only problem is that (if succeeding presidents do not scrap the 11 major infrastructure projects under the plan in the same way that President Aquino throws out anything prepared by his predecessor) the plan could be completed only by 2035!

That is 25 years from 2010, or one generation hence. By the time those Aquino projects are in place, Manila’s bay area and similar coastal communities may have been swallowed back by the sea or residents who could not wait may have migrated.

Of the P352-billion, the Department of Public Works and Highways has set aside only P84 billion for its flood control projects until the end of the term of President Aquino.

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RUNOFF FROM THE TOP: You may not see them anytime soon, but you must have heard of the administration projects, including the Marikina dam and embankments of the Pasig and Marikina rivers, and the Laguna de Bay lakeshore land-raising projects.

Also under the master plan is drainage upgrading at the Manggahan floodway and the riverine areas in Cainta, Taytay, Malabon-Tullahan, Meycauayan, Valenzuela and Obando.

But while the grand plan focuses on drainage downstream, it does not seem to have enough provisions for reducing the runoff from the elevated and mountain areas east of Metro Manila, from where much of the floodwaters come.

Water seeks its lowest level. If not much is done to capture or rechannel rainfall in the uplands, the runoff will rush downhill to lower-lying areas, to join the rivers running through Metro Manila and out to the bay.

When the rivers and the bay are full, especially when there is high tide, the billions spent for Mr. Aquino’s master drainage plan will be for naught.

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UPSTREAM VIEW: What this points out is that flooding in Metro Manila is not a phenomenon peculiar or limited to the cities clustered along the streams and rivers, principally Pasig, closer to the bay.

It pays to first look up and get an Upstream View.

A holistic, integrated approach must embrace reforestation and protection of the denuded mountain and elevated areas east of the national capital, the correction of land use ordinances that are continually revised depending on the political and commercial winds (read: corruption) blowing.

There should be a no-nonsense review of the laws governing land development or the putting up of housing subdivisions or villages whose layout and construction often obstruct the natural drainage of rainwater and household sewage.

Has the ambitious master plan unwrapped by the Aquino administration last August overlooked this crucial upstream aspect of recurring and worsening floods in Metro Manila?

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NOW LOOK DOWN: Having looked Up, let us also look Down to complete an Up-and-Down approach.

The worsening problem of flooding cannot be solved from the bureaucratic top where contractors and commissioners hold sway.

Simultaneously approach the problem literally from the ground. Start from the barangay – the basic operational political unit of this nation teeming with 95 million.

Nothing happens in every nook and cranny of this country without the barangay noticing and being able to do something about it even before it happens.

Case in point: The problem of city squatters whose unlawful, hazardous and unsanitary presence in precarious places has been pinpointed as one of the major causes of filth and flooding in the nation’s display window to the world.

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BARANGAY SEES ALL: No shanty, sari-sari store, or even just a flower pot on the sidewalk, could appear in a community without the barangay knowing about it immediately.

In theory, no squatter (“informal settler” to scheming politicians, hypocrites and bleeding hearts) can assemble a dwelling without the barangay officers and the ronda knowing about it.

Any attempt to squat on empty lots or engage in an unlawful act blatantly within public view could then be nipped in the bud.

That is, if we have barangay personnel who know their job, are trained for it, are wide awake and sufficiently motivated.

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SQUATTERS A CINCH: Barangay officers receive salaries and allowances, impose taxes and collect various fees. If they set their minds and hearts to it, they will be able to catch squatters sneaking into the neighborhood.

Some barangay teams have been responsible for cracking down on drugs syndicates operating secret laboratories in their jurisdiction. Squatters should be easier for them to handle.

On flood-prevention, the barangay can organize scheduled garbage collection, work out segregation of trash, help educate neighbors and work out assistance from City Hall related to garbage handling.

Barangay personnel are in the best position to prevent street thugs from clogging drains, or to clear the drains covered by plastic or wayward trash.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 20, 2013)

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