Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Metro Manila flooding: A disaster of mismanagement and corruption

TROPICAL storm Ondoy, internationally known Ketsana, that hit mostly Central Luzon on September 26 was not even a typhoon. It was all about a two-day torrential rain with barely a wind. But it left the country with 295 people dead and counting, hundreds injured and many more missing.

Damage to property according to government reports is estimated at P9.767 billion which counts P3.412 billion in infrastructure and P6.354 in agriculture. The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) further reports that at least 828,380 families or 4,081,596 persons were affected in the entire Luzon, Cordillera, Western Visayas, Regions 9 and 12, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Metro Manila were affected.

But these are government figures. And they are cold. What makes one shiver are the amateur videos in Youtube and maybe a million pictures on facebook that could paint a thousand words about nameless faces hugging on rooftops or wading on rising waters that could launch, with apologies to Bread, a thousand ships but only three government rubber boats were actually available.

Today, almost two weeks after the tropical storm, 1,786 barangays are still flooded. According reports, there are still 216,845 families or 1,092,827 persons that are holed up in the evacuation centers. And 39,068 houses damaged with 16,219 totally and 22,849 partially.

While most of the survivors are clearing their houses with thick mud, finger-pointing seem to have become the order of the day. The political opposition and most of the general public are heaping curses over the inutility of the national government that was caught flatfooted. NDCC chair Gilbert Teodoro blames the local government units for not being prepared and not responding too soon.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., is filing a class action suit against those responsible for the allegedly “reckless release of water from dam.” Another Senator, Miriam Defensor Santiago, said the mayors of areas gravely affected by tropical storm Ondoy, including Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, should be suspended for negligence.

Others surmised that maybe this misfortune is an act of God. Or perhaps because of the global warming and the consequent climate changes that is bringing about more rains and typhoons. But was it really? Could the massive flooding have been mitigated and lives save? Whence came the real disaster?

Global Warming and climate change

Without rocking the boat on Al Gore who received a Nobel Peace Prize for just making a film “An Inconvenient Truth” and touring around the world brandishing his environmental niche, global warming until now is still a scientific theory. What is beyond theory is the environmental lobby that has become so successful in political fora and academic bodies so that both proponents and fans have fearlessly accepted it as gospel truth.

Charles Darwin over 150 years ago has already showed that coral atolls grow on top of sinking volcanoes. He also observed that the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu which is in danger of sinking under the waves is so because the land beneath it is dropping due to factors not necessarily because of global warming.

The same may be true with rising temperature, which, according to studies have done a roller-coaster even before industrialization began to add CO2 to the atmosphere. The earth, for instance, has cooled down between 1940 and 1976, warmed from 1976 to 1998 and has been cooling down since 1998, according to scientific records.

This, of course, is for experts. And a layperson may not dare question scientific findings which till this day are still being debated by the scientific community. But granting, for the sake of argument, that global warming is real, factoring it in the recent inundation of Metro Manila is a long shot. (Since I was a kid, the experience of flooding and typhoons had been common place in my province of Eastern Samar—even before global warming became a blockbuster!).

Columnist Perry Diaz quotes an email that refutes it all saying that “It’s deemed impossible for the supposedly excessive amount of rainfall, equivalent to a month’s outpour condensed in 6 hours time, to be the main culprit.” He gives the following reasons: 1) the rain was not that strong; 2) We’ve had worst rains before; 3) And why Marikina, Pasig and Cainta became water worlds in just an hour; and 4) Why Moriones, Tondo, just several hundred meters away from Manila Bay was barely affected if nature did cause the rivers to swell, overflow and contribute greatly to the deluge. It makes sense.

Besides, what happened to the much advertised disaster preparedness on expensive TV by the government and its Gilbert Teodoro?

Gross neglect and mismanagement

A more plausible factor is the gross neglect and urban mismanagement. Urban planner Felino Palafox was quoted lately as saying: “The flood disaster that struck Metro Manila over the weekend was not an act of God but a sin of omission by government and private real estate developers.”

He said further that “a land use plan that took floods into consideration was drawn up as far back as 1977, titled ‘Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project,” sponsored by the World Bank.” The study he said “had already noted the possibility of heavy flooding in at least three sites of urban growth in the Philippine capital—the Marikina Valley and its northern and southern parts.”

But nothing was done about it. Instead of considering the study, the government has build projects and allowed estate developers to indiscriminately build housing subdivisions on critical areas that in effect would block the natural flow of flood waters.

The Manggahan Floodway was constructed precisely to mitigate the flooding in Marikina, Pasig and Cainta. This time, and maybe even before, it did not work. Reportedly, there was a mechanical or systems failure of the water pumping station which have left rusty because of gross neglect.

Metro Manila is supposed to be blessed with wide rivers, tributaries and “esteros”. These are the natural floodways that has saved residents from killer floods years back. But this time, these tributaries are clogged and “cemented” with all kinds of garbage of all shapes and sizes from refrigerators to mattress to human waste and name it.

The growing population has often blamed for the litter that has contributed much to the inundation of Metro Manila. But Hong Kong, Tokyo and even Manhattan do have as much number of populations, yet they do not encounter the same problem as Manila does. Population management is the key. While centralization of population is indeed problem, allowing people to build houses under waterways and bridges is indeed the summit of population mismanagement, if not incompetence and social irresponsibility.

Even if the population is reduced and decentralized to other provinces, the end result will still be the same if the government will not manage it rationally.

Corruption, plain and simple

In his statement issued shortly after the Metro Manila flooding, CBCP president and Jaro Archbishop bewailed saying, “If there were not graft and corruption in our government, our government would be more prepared to respond to such crisis.” That is a mouthful enough.

But the hard-hitting Philippine Daily Inquirer Columnist, Conrado de Quiros, says it his own way: “Corruption was the lifeboat that should have been there but were not because the money had been stolen. Corruption was the pile of relief goods that should have been there but was not because the money had been stolen. Corruption was the dams and garbage incinerators and drainage systems and relocation areas for those living beside creeks that should have been there but were not because the money had been stolen.”

As it appears, there has been a reduction of images in the government: from a much advertised, albeit costly, strong republic and super-regions, it has laid low to becoming a mendicant. MalacaƱang is begging for donors to help its strange relief operations that involve bringing well chosen flood victims to take refuge in MalacaƱang—making it the best evacuation center in the world. NDCC is also soliciting funds from its constituents for its relief work. Not to be outdone, the Department of Health is also soliciting medicine from the general public. It is the government now competing with non government organizations in raising funds.

Obviously, unless someone is spinning a trick somewhere, the government does not have ready funds for disaster assistance—which is worse. The Commission on Audit (COA) has recently reported that President Arroyo “has all but spent the P800 million contingency fund allotted to the Office of the President.” Moreover, COA has also reported that “nearly every peso of the fund had been used for her foreign junkets, on tope of the more than P1 billion budget for her official travels.”

And that, without even considering other anomalies where the office of the President or the extended office of his family had been accused of irregularities.
That, indeed, maybe the biggest disaster that has been hitting the country for some years now.

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