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09:19 PM August 26th, 2013

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August 26th, 2013 09:19 PM

The government was pleased that casualties from last week’s unusually heavy monsoon rains were kept to a minimum. The economic losses caused by the severe flooding in Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, however, have been huge.

The economy virtually came to a halt—financial markets were closed, transportation around the metropolis was in chaos, factories in affected areas were shut down, air travel was affected as roads going to the airport became impassable and crucial infrastructure, such as a portion of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway or SCTEx, was destroyed. The Department of Agriculture estimates that damage to crops could amount to P2.6 billion. According to the Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association, insurance companies are expected to process P3 billion worth of claims for homes and cars damaged by Tropical Storm “Maring” and the southwest monsoon or habagat.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council estimates that 1.7 million people were affected by last week’s calamity. It said floods covered 1,181 barangays in 112 municipalities, 31 cities and 16 provinces in Luzon and Metro Manila. The floods also closed 72 roads and two bridges. Placed under a state of calamity were Bataan, Pampanga, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal and several cities and municipalities even in Metro Manila.

Since the massive floods caused by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009, one main cause of this calamity has been identified—the tributaries bringing rainwater out of the metropolis have been occupied and blocked by illegal settlers. The massive floods were repeated in 2010, in August last year and again last week, when Maring enhanced the southwest monsoon to dump more rainfall on Luzon than Ondoy did.

The government estimates that some 60,000 families in Metro Manila live on waterways. Some business establishments are as guilty. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, for instance, has also identified at least two buildings illegally standing on tributaries in Mandaluyong. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson noted that many other buildings and structures were standing on waterways, blocking the flow of water out of the capital region.

There are permanent solutions that the government is looking into. Singson has cited the construction of the so-called Blumentritt interceptor in Manila, a three-kilometer pit to temporarily store water that will be ready by July next year, and a similar project in Mandaluyong circle.

These are part of the ambitious P352-billion flood control master plan of the DPWH that aims to rehabilitate 15 major pumping stations and drainage channels in Metro Manila and restore its surrounding natural waterways. It also plans to revive the dredging project and the construction of dikes in the Laguna Lake. The plan was approved last year and projects in the Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzuela or Camanava area, Marikina, Pasig and Manila began in December 2012 and January this year.

The government also plans to construct a “road-ring dike” around Laguna de Bay to slow the rise of floodwaters. Singson referred to the road dike as the C6 Extension to Laguna that will be placed under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) law soon.

In all these, the cost-effective solution that requires only a lot of political will is the removal of all illegal settlers and structures occupying the waterways. No less than the DPWH chief had noted that in reducing flooding in Metro Manila, the first order of business for the government was to clear waterways of garbage, reduce siltation and relocate illegal settlers. He said Metro Manila’s waterways now have a carrying capacity of only 30 percent due to heavy siltation. However, the silt could not be removed by simply dredging the waterways; it will require the removal of illegal settlers.

It is time for the executive branch to force local government units to remove all illegal structures on waterways in their areas of jurisdiction. Removing illegal settlers from these tributaries may prove difficult for some local politicians who rely on their votes during elections, but such an action will be for a greater good.

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