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09:28 PM September 12th, 2013

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By: Neal H. Cruz, September 12th, 2013 09:28 PM

Last Tuesday, Metro Manila again came to a standstill because of one heavy thunderstorm. Many streets were flooded and traffic even in the streets that were not flooded was reduced to a crawl. It took me more than three hours to get from Makati to Quezon City, a distance that takes only 20 minutes without the floods and the traffic.

I understand that the Department of Public Works and Highways has 76 flood control projects going on at the same time. Its men are digging all over the metropolis to put in bigger drainage pipes. Very well, but hurry it up. I’m afraid, however, that even when the bigger drainage pipes are in place there will still be floods.

Why? Because the waterways are heavily silted, so that they now hold less water. One instance of heavy rain and they overflow their banks. Where will the water from the drainage pipes go if the waterways are full?

The waterways have to be dredged—and soon. Pagasa executive Flaviana Hilario has warned that we are in for more extreme rainfall and this will escalate until 2050. Hilario, officer in charge for research and development, reported in her study that this is due to climate change and will surely inundate many areas in Luzon and the Visayas.

This also means that Metro Manila and other communities living close to rivers must be on high alert for the next few decades. Our flood woes are only beginning and can only worsen unless the government acts quickly. The P25-billion pork barrel fund is being removed from the 2014 budget. Put some of it in flood control, specifically the dredging of waterways.

Let us pray that efforts at solving flooding will not get caught in the political crossfire. This is the fear of residents of Camanava (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela), the lowest area in Metro Manila.

Every time there is heavy rain Camanava goes under water, and politicians and other public officials go on another finger-pointing binge. This is exhausting the patience of the residents, who know that the government has already earmarked the proceeds of a P3-billion loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency for a Camanava flood control project.

Local officials complain that they were never consulted on the project. We hope the political irritants are done away with soonest so the government can get its act together and ease the area’s flood woes.

There are two major tasks that need to be done for Camanava. One is building river walls. The area is mostly below sea level, so it is expected that the waters of Manila Bay and the Malabon-Navotas rivers will engulf it during heavy rains and high tides. Already, an old river wall in Malabon collapsed at the height of the monsoon rains last year.

The other task is the dredging of the river that runs through Camanava, especially at the mouth of the river that opens to Manila Bay. That part is where silt and garbage converge, thus preventing the quick outflow of water.

Under a supposed master plan against flooding, the DPWH has also set aside hundreds of millions of pesos for “river improvement” projects, not just for Camanava but also for other flood-prone areas like Marikina. We surmise that the allocation includes funds for dredging heavily silted waterways.

Many river-dredging projects funded by lawmakers’ pork barrel funds have fallen prey to scammers. The government must find ways to assure the public that such projects can be done with transparency and accountability.

The government must also entice the private sector to invest in river-dredging projects. The government can offer nonmonetary incentives to private investors for this endeavor.

But the bottom line is this: The country should not allow efforts to solve our flood problems to be caught in the many political crossfires happening today.

* * *

The group Volunteers against Crime and Corruption has asked the Special Board of Marine Inquiry to expedite the investigation of the collision between Sulpicio Express 7 and MV St. Thomas Aquinas on Aug. 16 near the seaport of Talisay City, Cebu. The tragedy has claimed the lives of 111 passengers as of Thursday morning; 26 are still missing, while 733 have been rescued.

Party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna has expressed dismay at the supposed kid-glove treatment of Sulpicio by Marina. Again, Marina has allowed Sulpicio vessels to sail after the Aug. 16 tragedy.

According to testimonies, Sulpicio 7 used the inbound lane while departing the Cebu port, a violation of marine laws. This was corroborated by the captain of Trans Asia Nine, Gallipher Ian Faller, who confirmed that Sulpicio 7 was indeed using the inbound lane.

Like Sulpicio 7, Trans Asia had also just left the Cebu pier, on its way to Cagayan de Oro. It had to overtake on its starboard side (right) to avoid colliding with Sulpicio 7.

Another passenger ship was also called to the investigation. The captain of Ocean Jet 8, Vet Dumaguit, said the outbound Sulpicio 7 was traversing the inbound lane, or the path intended for vessels entering the Mactan Channel.

He said he tried to contact Sulpicio 7 because it was obstructing his path but no one responded. So he decided to pass between Sulpicio 7 and Trans Asia.

Before the collision, Dumaguit said he heard someone from St. Thomas Aquinas trying to call Sulpicio 7. He said he did not hear Sulpicio trying to call St. Thomas Aquinas.

Trans Asia was included in the investigation for failing to respond to the distress call while it was still in the area. Its captain said it was still in shallow waters and risked running aground if it turned back. Besides, he said, the ship was already 56 nautical miles away from the disaster area, and would take a long time to go back.

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