City on water | Inquirer Opinion
METHOD TO MADNESS

City on water

Several important events have occurred in the last few days.

Eid Kabalu confirmed his resignation from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. A storm named Falcon demonstrated its respect for democracy, and ripped through the New Manila home of coconut king Danding Cojuangco. Manila shared its celebration with the rest of Metro Manila’s colleges with the midnight declaration of suspended classes. A man-eating crocodile is discovered in Palawan. The Rwandan former minister is jailed for genocide. President Aquino indulged in a fit of national whining, and counted the crosses he bears among the Cabinet members he chose. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo clucked her tongue. John Lloyd Cruz celebrated his birthday. Philippine chess landed another grandmaster. And the national leadership realized that a storm will behave like a storm, irrelevant of national priorities.

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That it took the distress of 69,000 families, damages pegged at P1.9 million and disappearances of 14 citizens to learn this lesson may seem odd to the Filipino who is aware that storms occur in June, but retired Gen. Benito Ramos, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council administrator and executive director, is seemingly unaware of this. He commends the Metro Manila Development Authority, the Philippine National Police and local government units “for their efforts to attend to the needs of the commuting public and neighborhoods affected by the strong rains yesterday.” He extols particularly the MMDA for working round-the-clock, even as government employees in the National Capital Region have been allowed to go home.

He adds, in his statement after Falcon drowned Manila, that the disaster “is a harsh reminder of the increasing challenges erratic weather patterns will bring in their wake because of global warming.”

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This is the same Benito Ramos who in 2010 informed the public at the 2010 NDRRMC conference, held days before the first anniversary of typhoon “Ondoy,” that his new council was “confident” they could handle another Ondoy. His new council, the NDRRMC, headed by the Department of Defense, promised to change a nation that reacted to every calamity to a nation that reduced and prevented disaster. The departments were ready, they said. Welfare. Technology. Works and Highways.

Ondoy killed nearly 500 people, displaced almost 500,000, and cost billions in damages. Falcon’s strength was far less in scale, and came almost two years after an indignant opposition denounced the failed preparations of the previous government. And yet as early as last year the

NDRRMC happily announced—while using the words “paradigm shift” with every other sentence—that come what may, the gentlemen of the military had everything under its benevolent control.

It did not matter that there were protests at the appointment of an army chief to a social and scientific development position, even if that position demanded a vision and training that went beyond rescue. Perhaps it was that that was responsible for Ramos’ other statement this week after Falcon, a statement that spoke of improving weather prediction skills, and said nothing about clearing a city choking on itself.

Perhaps the general should speak to the families living in Talayan Village along Araneta Avenue, or in Pinagbuhatan, or Tatalon, or Cainta, where fathers stand at the gates of the homes they cannot afford to leave in the cold hours before dawn, watching as the waters rose, while their wives readied toothbrushes and family photos and sleepy toddlers in pajamas. Perhaps the NDRRMC would have learned a better lesson from families living under the floodways, the same ones who have been ferried to relocation areas in Montalban and Batangas and Laguna, who have returned because homes do not matter when there are no jobs and schools. They know what happens in the rain.

That same odd surprise at Falcon’s effects seems to have affected Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista. In the aftermath of the storm, he claimed that for all his years in the city hall, he says, he’s still at a loss as to what should be done. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, the man whom the President now extols for his positiveness and ability to present solutions, also seemed to be unprepared, announcing a 24/7 hotline to assist the public on the same day the waters swallowed Araneta Avenue. MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino publicly admitted Metro Manila cannot handle a storm on the scale of Ondoy.

The solution, according to Bautista, is an emergency meeting.

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“The problem is that we do not know which officer is accountable for our requests of flood control measures. Nothing is clear.”

The emergency meeting is to be held Monday among all Metro Manila mayors, MMDA officials, and concerned Cabinet secretaries “to tackle the flooding problem in the metropolis once and for all.” That the emergency occurred two years ago, and is still occurring, was not pointed out.

Bautista then offered a stunning revelation. Without a real solution, he said, cities will continue to suffer flooding and reconstruction.

It is the drowning season in a city that has built over canals and drainage paths, where homes have been allowed to mushroom over creeks, and a total of 21 kilometers of river has been consumed by the urban sprawl. Every storm is a trigger for a public disaster. And still, an understaffed and undersupplied MMDA is left with the business of preparing the city, after Congress slashed its already small budget by more than 50 percent. The administration claims it spent its first few months dealing with corruption, and so was unable to deal with the dangers of flooding. Local governments howl about supplies, the Department of Social Welfare and Development howls about the local government, while a moratorium is placed on squatter relocations because the urban poor alliances are still discussing their position with the Aquino administration.

And so Bautista sits surprised, and Ramos talks of lessons learned, and Malacañang talks of first dealing with corruption, while my mother packs the family photos, and my father stands outside his gate alone, watching for the waters that always come.

* * *

“City on Water” is also the title of a documentary written by the author and directed by Kiri Dalena for ANC’s Truths series, warning of the city’s eventual flooding. At the time of its airing in September of 2010, a year after Typhoon Ondoy, the NDRRMC announced that prevention plans were in place, funding, coordination and implementation were all that was necessary. It is the same justification given by many public officials today.

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TAGS: “City on Water, ” Tropical Storm Falcon, disasters, Floods, MMDA, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, NDRRMC, PNP, Police, safety of citizens, weather
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