Delayed critical projects
The Commission on Audit’s annual report on the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority has brought to light an explanation for the agency’s seeming failure to address in any effective way the recurring flood problem in the metropolis.
The MMDA was allotted a budget of P459 million in 2017 for 68 flood-control projects, but it managed to complete 21, or only about a third, of them. Eleven are ongoing, while 36, or more than half, have yet to start, including the riprapping work to prevent erosion in Estero de Maypajo in Tondo, Manila—an important waterway that helps water flow into Manila Bay.
Other projects that have not been started include the drainage improvement and declogging in Sta. Ana and Tondo, Manila, and in Pasong Tamo, Makati; the installation of a floodgate in Taguig-Pateros; and the deepening of the Malabon-Navotas River. These projects are obviously in areas that are prone to floods during the rainy season, which already started last month.
The MMDA explained to the COA that “in general, the delays were due to the midyear change in the top managerial positions and reconstitution of the [bids and awards committee]…” This meant that some of the scheduled public biddings for some of the projects had to be revised, leading to yet more missed opportunities down the line to better serve the public with timely public works. As the COA noted, “the delays in the completion of flood control projects deprived the Metro Manila residents of the socioeconomic benefits that could have been derived from the reduced flooding in flood-prone areas.”
The agency noted that, as early as 2010, the Department of Budget and Management had issued a directive for government agencies to expedite the implementation of procurement activities prior to the approval of the annual budget in Congress, as “this will allow the implementation of the projects as early as the first quarter of the year, in consideration of the country’s good weather condition.” But the rainy season is already here and will last until October, yet these projects remain unfinished.
The Philippines is prone to typhoons because of its geographical location, and they have become stronger and more devastating in recent years, as exemplified by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in 2013. With the typhoons come the floods that have likewise worsened due to rapid urbanization, deforestation and indiscriminate garbage disposal. When Tropical Storm “Ondoy” hit Metro Manila in 2009, it caused damage and losses equivalent to 2.7 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the World Bank. In the aftermath, the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced that it would start work on a flood management master plan for Metro Manila and surrounding areas.
“Ondoy was a turning point in government’s attention to flood management. It was so damaging and lasting that it renewed focus on improving flood management and making Metro Manila, the main engine of economic growth for the country, a safer place for its inhabitants…,” the World Bank said in an assessment report.
The master plan was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority Board in 2012, and a $500-million loan agreement was signed with the World Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in December last year. While the loan will be disbursed only later this year, the MMDA has been earmarked a substantial budget for its flood-control projects in 2017. It is inexcusable that such critical projects remain in limbo, while floods continue to inundate the country’s capital, often resulting in the loss of lives and livelihood, damage to property, public health risks (the rise in leptospirosis cases, for instance, is directly tied to the presence of dirty floodwater) and considerable injury to the economy.
Just this week, a typhoon barely missed the Philippines; it hit Japan instead, where it wreaked widespread flooding and destruction. Pagasa has spotted another low-pressure area east of Mindanao that could develop into a new storm or, at the very least, bring torrential monsoon rains to parts of the country, including Metro Manila, next week.
The COA’s rap on its laggard performance should remind the MMDA that an existing flood management master plan needs to be implemented without delay to ease Metro Manila’s regular bouts with drowning. What’s being done to light a fire under this office?
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