By Amelia H.C. Ylagan
“Don’t blame God. Blame Man.” It was a damning “I told you so” from an angry environmentalist righteously talking down to “stupid officials and greedy real estate developers for the flood damage caused by tropical storm Ondoy.” Yes, all of us, even the victims of the flood who lost their homes, cars, property, and more pitifully, those who lost loved ones, deserve to be berated for letting it happen.
At an ABS-CBN ANC interview last week, as a great portion of Metro Manila was still inundated with the floods from Ondoy’s lashing on Sept. 26, 2009, architect and foremost urban planner Jun Palafox was livid. He and other experts before him had already identified precisely the severely flooded areas as places that should never have been developed into residential and commercial estates. A 1977 World Bank-funded study had declared Marikina Valley, the western shores of Laguna de Bay, and the Manila Bay coastal area prone to disastrous flooding, earthquakes, and possible changes in topography. Controlled development should proceed only when certain protective measures will have been taken.
There is supposed to be the Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project, called the “Metroplan,” by Freeman Fox and Associates, a Hong Kong-based urban planning consultancy firm in the late 1970s. This was to have been the blueprint to be used by urban planners and government agencies for the restricted development of the critical areas in Metro Manila. But the Metroplan has been forgotten or maybe maliciously rejected in favor of greed of some people.
In October 1970, twin super typhoons, Sening and Titang, in four days caused hundreds of dead and missing, and much damage to the country. After this devastation, the Manggahan Floodway was proposed and built, to keep floodwaters from Metro Manila, particularly in Pasig and Marikina, by diverting the flow to Laguna de Bay. To complement the Manggahan Floodway, the Parañaque Spillway (southeast of Makati) was supposed to have been built to siphon runoff to Laguna de Bay and the South China Sea. No Parañaque Spillway yet.
Marikina City is one of the most susceptible to flooding because it is a valley, with its Marikina River collecting water from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges on the east and the Quezon City Capitol Hills on the west. Architect Palafox reminds of a Metroplan recommendation not to allow buildings within nine meters from the riverbank — a recommendation evidently disregarded by generations of city mayors.
If government planners and regulators were to listen to architect Palafox, “all subdivisions [in Marikina] should go medium-rise or high rise, and there should no longer be individual houses. Buildings should be mixed-use. You live upstairs, you work in the middle and you shop downstairs, just like in Paris.” When he helped design the shopping mall SM Marikina, the building was put up on “stilts” to preempt floods in its vulnerable location.
One week af ter Typhoon Ondoy, a stronger typhoon, Pepeng threatened Metro Manila but barely hit it on the way to the northern region, which was mercilessly devastated. Nevertheless, water on roads in Pasig and Marikina rose to waist-deep again, as more rain poured on the stagnant waters of Ondoy. Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando, three-term former mayor of Marikina (succeeded by wife Marides, now third-term mayor) blamed the constant flooding on waterways clogged by illegal structures, illegal settlers, and unconcerned developers. He said he would look into the possible failings of the construction of the Manggahan Floodway and implement corrective measures to prevent massive flooding in the future. Illegal settlers on public lands will be evicted and relocated.
What for is the finger-pointing among government agencies on why the major dams in the Pasig River area were released too late and too close to storm Ondoy without warnings to the affected residents? Why was the typhoon announcement for Ondoy too late, and pathetically inaccurate as to the typhoon’s strength, timing, and coverage?
The Pasig River is a tidal estuary that carries the excess of seawater in high tide from Manila Bay to Laguna de Bay. But silt carried by the runoff from the higher surroundings of Marikina Valley and Pasig City and the waste from some 300 factories and homes of more than 10,000 families cause overflow and floods. Since Laguna de Bay is a natural reservoir, toward the end of the dry season, the water level collected reaches at least 10.5 meters. But again, because of pollution in the Pasig River and its tributaries, it is unable to reverse-flow its excess water to Manila Bay. Thus the Great Flood from Ondoy, which came in high tide.
The government should fully support the efforts of NGOs who have been trying to resuscitate the Pasig River. The river, declared dead in 1970, was first seriously supported by Fidel Ramos, with a loan from the Asian Development Bank for the rehabilitation of the main river system. The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission set up in Joseph Estrada’s time now acts as the primary coordinator of the project with local government units and other stakeholders. The World Bank will be working with the PRRC for Phase 2 of the rehabilitation efforts.
More than half a million people directly affected by the Great Flood of storm Ondoy were roughly wakened to the reality of urgent environmental consciousness. So must we all now resolve to do something about our individual culpabilities in the deadly chances we have taken for climate change, and press for government to do its duties to prevent these damaging floods.
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