DON’T (JUST) BLAME IT ON THE RAIN | The challenge of flood-proofing Metro Manila 7 years after Ondoy
“Sa New York, ang kayang makapasok, truck. Pero ‘yong sa atin, ang p’wede na nga lang sigurong pumasok ay aso. [In New York, a truck could fit in. But here, maybe only a dog could enter.].”
Patrick Gatan, director of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)’s Unified Project Management Office on Flood Control, is comparing the size of the drainage culverts that he saw in the most populous city in the U.S. to Metro Manila’s concrete drainage pipes.
“Ang layo natin sa kanila [What we have is nowhere near to what they have],” Gatan says.
The National Capital Region (NCR)’s flood control system is indeed far from the flood safeguards of the world’s more advanced cities because it is obsolete and inefficient.
Before Ondoy devastated Metro Manila with floodwaters that reached rooftops on September 26, 2009, the nation’s capital already had every ingredient to cook up a catastrophe and was like a willing victim ready to be gobbled up by a monster storm.
Gatan says before the typhoon dumped one month’s worth of rain in just six hours, claiming the lives of 464 people, the service lives of many of Metro Manila’s flood-pumping stations and drainage systems were either about to expire or had already exceeded their design capacities.
“Nadiskubre namin, lahat ng pumping stations natin ay 30 years ang average age. Umaandar nga, pero hindi na effective…Tsaka ‘yong drainage system was designed only for 10 years…tapos barado na,” he says.
[We discovered that the average age of all of our pumping stations was 30 years. They were operating but they were no longer effective. And the drainage system was only designed for 10 years and they were already clogged.]
Not only that. Gatan says that before Ondoy, the NCR’s bigger flood control insfrastructure and natural flood reservoirs were also choked with silt and sediments. These include rivers and tributaries that were turned into toilets and dumpsites; riverbanks occupied by shanties and factories; and floodways shallowed and narrowed by encroachment of informal settlers and commercial and industrial establishments.
Flood-proofing Metro Manila: A history of unfinished business
Five years after the typhoon, an urban planner and architect claims nothing much has been done to make Metro Manila prepared for another Ondoy-like flood hazard. He says a comprehensive strategy needs to be implemented to be able to disaster-proof the nation’s capital, whose carrying capacity is continuously being overwhelmed by rapid and massive population growth and urbanization.
“If another Ondoy happens tomorrow, Metro Manila is not prepared. I’m sorry to say that,” says renowned architect and urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr.
Palafox says he never got tired of trying to persuade the government to adopt a comprehensive approach to disaster preparedness through sound urban planning, architecture, and engineering. However, his efforts have thus far been fruitless.
In January 2010, four months after Ondoy, he sent 60 recommendations on disaster prevention to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that included the promotion of comprehensive flood control measures.
In July 2010, Palafox again sent the 60 recommendations to then newly elected President Benigno Aquino III, adding 23 post-Ondoy recommendations to address flooding. Again, in November 2013, Palafox submitted his proposals to Aquino, this time containing 103 recommendations.
“We kept sending and very few have been done like hazard mapping,” the frustrated Palafox says, unable to note the irony: he is “better appreciated” as an architect and urban and environmental planner in 38 countries where he worked than in his own country.
It’s not that the government isn’t doing anything to address flooding. Attempts to disaster-proof Metro Manila have in fact been going on for decades.
However, Palafox says the government’s approaches to solving the flooding problem are often “piecemeal” and have thus become a perpetually unfinished business.
“It seems that concept to commitment to completion takes more than a lifetime,” he says.
Palafox claims politics, or lack of political will and visionary leadership, had played a big part in why historically, flood control and disaster prevention projects were never started, delayed, partially completed, or altogether scrapped.
The metropolis could have been like Venice
Palafox says that in 1905 while the Philippines was under U.S. colonial rule and Manila was being designed as the country’s capital, American architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham had proposed to widen, dredge, and beautify the city’s esteros like the famous canals of Venice that were turned into water-traffic corridors.
According to Palafox, Burnham’s master plan for Manila could have also addressed flooding in the metropolis as the American architect also proposed “interconnecting esteros and improving connections to the Pasig River, Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay, which would “diminish the danger of overflow” in major channels.
However, Burnham’s plan was not implemented. Because of limited government resources, then President Manuel Quezon had to re-allocate Burnham’s project fund for the improvement of irrigation infrastructure in the provinces.
Ondoy disaster could have been mitigated as early as Marcos’ time
In the 1970s, during the Marcos administration, a study on land use plan known as the 1976-1977 Metro Manila Transport Land Use and Development Planning Project or MMetroplan was funded by the World Bank (WB) and finalized by Hong Kong-based consulting firm Freeman Fox and Associates.
According to Palafox, who was part of the WB team that did the study, the MMetroplan could have mitigated flooding in Metro Manila and prevented Ondoy-like hazards from becoming disasters.
The study recommended the restriction of development in the Marikina Valley, the western shores of Laguna de Bay, and the Manila Bay coastal area to the north of Manila.
The areas, according to the study, were either low-lying or lacked adequate facilities for the treatment and disposal of sewage and thus could contribute to “longer-term flooding and water pollution.”
Moreover, Palafox says the study recommended that the government monitor the Marikina riverbank – where no structure should be allowed within nine meters from the riverside.
However, MMetroplan was never carried out. Years later, the areas where development should have been kept in control became heavily urbanized, crowded with commercial structures and people in many housing facilities, as thousands of others had settled along waterways.
After more than three decades, Ondoy ravaged these areas. The most devasted was Marikina City, which was submerged in water of up to 10 feet deep.
Also, Marikina River swelled to 23 meters above sea level and broke its banks during the typhoon. Marikina’s streets were transformed into rivers, drowning to death 78 people, the highest recorded fatality in the NCR during the disaster.
Floodway without a spillway
There was one major project that was built during the Marcos administration to address flooding in the metropolis. The Manggahan Floodway, a fully gated diversion dam completed in 1986, was constructed to reduce flooding along Pasig River and its tributaries by diverting floodwaters from Marikina River to Laguna Bay.
But Palafox says that while the floodway was completed, the project did not solve flooding; it merely transferred floodwaters from the river to the lake, affecting communities surrounding Laguna de Bay.
He said Manggahan should have been built with the Paranaque spillway so Laguna de Bay could flush out excess water to Manila Bay and prevent flooding along Taguig City and the coastal areas in the provinces of Laguna and Rizal.
“Until now, the government has not yet built the spillway. The Manggahan Floodway diverts floodwaters from Metro Manila to Laguna Lake and there are already about 22 or 23 rivers flowing to the lake. That’s why I said the lake has 22 bathtubs that do not have drainage,” says Palafox.
Nearly three decades after Manggahan was built without the spillway, the 10-kilometer floodway’s effective width has narrowed by 40 meters to 220 meters from its designed width of 260 meters – this, due to encroachment by informal settlers and commercial establishments.
Meanwhile, Paranaque, which used to be a municipality in Rizal in the 1970s, is now largely urbanized following its conversion into a Metro Manila City in 1998 during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos.
Paranaque is now a heavily populated area and is home to hundreds of subidvisions, shopping malls, supermarkets, and other commercial establishments. Critics say this will make it difficult and costly for the government to build a spillway in the city as it is expected to face relocation and right-of -way issues.
More unfinished, rejected flood projects after Marcos, FVR, Erap, GMA
During the post-Marcos era, the government again embarked on several flood -control measures for Metro Manila. However, no major project was completed, while some were thumbed down.
In 1998, the Estrada administration started the Camanava Flood Control Project Plan that aimed to stop floodwaters coming from the Marikina and Tullahan rivers.
However, the project, which received an initial P1.9 billion from the Obuchi Fund of Japan but whose cost grew to P10 billion, was discontinued after the Arroyo administration questioned its effectivity and refused to release funds for its completion.
During the Arroyo administration, the government again embarked on another flood control project, only to be rejected later by its successor.
The P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Restoration Project (LLRP) with Belgian firm Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon was supposed to address flooding in Metro Manila by deepening Laguna de Bay, which is among NCR’s major flood reservoirs. The lake’s depth has decreased to 2.8 meters from 10 meters due to the wanton dumping of effluents and debris, which block the flow of water from the lake to Manila Bay.
In June 2011, President Aquino cancelled the LLRP on the basis of alleged irregularities and on suspicion that it was a midnight deal of the Arroyo administration because it was signed in February 2010, a few months before the May presidential polls. This prompted the Belgian company to file a P6-billon recovery case against the Philippine government.
And yet, before the project’s cancellation, former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued a legal opinion in August 2010, saying the LLRP “cannot be construed as a midnight deal since it is covered by official development assistance from the Belgian government.”
In June 2014, the Aquino administration launched its own Laguna de Bay flood control project. The P123-billion Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike Project will build a 47-kilometer dike along the lake to prevent flooding in coastal towns in southern Metro Manila and Laguna. It will be bidded out before the year ends, according to the DPWH. Still, some critics contend this won’t lick the flooding.
But not all of Metro Manila’s flood control projects are delayed by politics. The implementation of other flood projects has been stalled simply because these had to comply with technical and bureaucratic requirements.
DPWH’s Gatan cites the case of the Pasig-Marikina River Improvement Project, which was based on the 1990 master plan for flood control and drainage project in Metro Manila done through technical assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
He says the four-phase project’s detailed design only started to be implemented 10 years after the 1990 master plan because it had to be first presented to the DPWH; secure an endorsement from the National Economic Development Authority’s Regional Development Council; undergo review by the NEDA’s Investment Committee under two levels – technical board and Cabinet level – before the project was finally screened by the NEDA board.
The project’s construction only started in 2009, according to Gatan. “It is still on-going kasi mayroon siyang pre-stage, mahabang masyado [because it has a pre-stage, it’s too long].”
By: Annie Ruth Sabangan, Interaksyon
Published By: Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) Admin