Alarms have been sounded about the high cost of planned infrastructure to control the worsening floods. The price tag is no joke: P352 billion. But the agency that will spend it has been coming across as a joke: the Department of Public Works and Highways. It boasts of a master plan for comprehensive flood-control management in Metro Manila that involves the construction of a ring-road dike on the rim of Laguna de Bay, embankments and catch basins in the Marikina River watershed, and an 8-kilometer dike and pumping station for the cities of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela. Basically, the plan is to build a colossus of concrete around Metro Manila in order to stem the floods caused mainly by too much concrete and shrinking open green areas as a result of untrammeled development due to the government’s incompetent—or is it corrupt?—implementation of zoning rules and urban safety measures.
The plan is vintage DPWH. The agency that has built just about every concrete eyesore will do more of the same, ostensibly to stem flooding in the choking metropolis. This is tantamount to rewarding itself for causing the mess in the first place. The DPWH and the government have all the bases covered, with expensive and ugly concrete.
In such a context, an inexpensive alternative suggested by activist lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr. takes on increasing significance. At the hearing of the joint congressional oversight committee on the Clean Water Act, the multiawarded Oposa, who pioneered the practice of environmental law in the Philippines, said a system of water collection ponds in flood-prone areas would be a vastly cheaper and quicker alternative to that bandied about by the DPWH. “Let’s do it the natural way … [the] cheaper and the more effective way… Let’s not build everything in concrete,” he said.
Think about it. The road dike around Laguna Lake will alone cost P200 billion! The nongovernment organization Kilusang Lawa Kalikasan (KLK) has in fact assailed President Aquino for canceling an P18.7-billion dredging project back in 2010 only to push for the dike, which would cost several hundred times over. Like KLK, Oposa is alarmed by the prohibitive price of the DPWH plan as well as its timetable: It’s supposed to be completed only in 2035! By that time Metro Manila would have gone under water many times over, plus the cost would have grown exponentially. “With a fast-track action plan,” said Oposa about the alternative he is offering, “we can minimize flooding by the rainy season of 2013, and eliminate it by 2015.”
Oposa said P100 million would be sufficient to expropriate pieces of property in Metro Manila for water catchment ponds and to build retaining walls around them. “The solution is not in the billions,” he said. “The solution is in common sense. Find a place for the water to go.” According to Oposa, the water catchment ponds will have porous bottoms lined with pebbles instead of being overlaid with concrete to allow rain water to seep through the ground, restore aquifers, and check or even reverse subsidence.
He said the ponds, with a depth of one meter to three meters, would be built in low-lying areas prone to flooding. The ponds can also be used to raise fish and irrigate vegetables, and the land around them can be planted with crops. To clean and provide oxygen to the water, water lilies will be planted. The ponds will not only be flood-control structures; they will also make up productive agriculture.
It turns out a law already exists for the catchments: Republic Act 6716, dated March 1989, mandates the construction of 100,000 rainwater collectors in every barangay all over the country within two years (i.e., until 1991). In 1991, this power was devolved to local governments (RA 7160, or the Local Government Code). More than 10 years later, the law remains unimplemented.
By its sins of omission or commission, the government, national and local, is mainly to blame for the worsening floods. The DPWH seeks to build extremely expensive public works that can only aggravate the problem. The DPWH itself is part of the problem. This is why Oposa’s suggestion and other more practical alternatives should be considered. Amid the flooding we have been experiencing, for once let’s have a flood of common sense.
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