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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A People Caught in Its Own Dung: Two of a Series by Ado Paglinawan

This is an article written by Ado Paglinawan and is the first part of a series entitled "A People Caught in Its Own Dung."

Part One: Palafox wades through the waters of utter neglect

The Philippine Embassy called last Thursday for consultations with the Filipino community in Washington DC and I got myself in an animated discussion with Gerry Florendo, an engineer from Baltimore Maryland and husband of Sony Florendo, one of the NGO prime movers in the Baltimore-Washingto n corridor.

I met this couple more than twenty years ago, and even after Sony had already undergone a kidney transplant and fights recurring infections from time to time, they still hold a lot of gravitas hereabouts.

I told him that the only thing of value that has so far come out of the Ondoy disaster other than good people all over coming to the aid of the Filipino victims, is the revelation of urban planner Felino Palafox, that the flood that occurred with catastophic proportions, was not an act of God but man – “a sin of omission by government and private real estate developers.”

Palafox exposed that as early as1977, the World Bank sponsored a study called “Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project,” that noted the possibility of heavy flooding in at least three sites of urban growth in the Philippine capital, namely the Marikina Valley and its northern and southern parts, the very same areas ravaged by the recent flood.

He identified the culprit as “Urban development…spreading into areas which are, in their present state, unsuitable—either because they are low-lying and liable to flooding, or because development is without adequate facilities for the treatment and disposal of sewage (and will just) contribute to the severe pollution of areas such as Laguna de Bay.”

The engineer who took up urban planning at Harvard said there was little infrastructure to prevent flooding and cited the need to construct a spillway in ParaƱaque to drain excess water from Laguna Lake to Manila Bay .

“The Manggahan floodway between Pasig and Taytay, was constructed to drain floodwater from the mountains flowing through the Marikina River into the Laguna Lake . But what happens when the Laguna Lake is overflows? Thus the urgent need for the ParaƱaque spillway to direct excess water from the lake into the Manila Bay ,” he said.

Palafox added that the study also proposed desilting the Pasig and Marikina Rivers to accommodate more water.

“What should have been done was to use the silt and mud collected from the river to construct ‘green islands’ just like in Holland . The green islands should have been constructed at the mouths of the rivers and could be used for ‘recreational purposes’ like parks, arboretums and sports arenas. As these islands settle, say after 15 years, you can use them for industrial purposes like oil depots.”

But he does know why the Philippine government never constructed the spillway. “Yet they know what the flood lines are so why have they allowed developers of subdivisions to construct housing projects below the flood lines?” he asked.

If he had his way, he would plan out Metro Manila according to the 1905 design of American architect Daniel Burnham envisioning a Manila structured the same way as Paris built near the Seine River and Venice with its waterways. “In Venice , you work on the first floor and live on the second floor.” he quipped.

Palafox said you do not need an engineer to understand this. And if I may add, neither a rocket scientist! He pointed out that our ancestors had long bequeathed the wisdom to us because the Badjaos have built houses on stilts to elevate them above the flood lines.
Neither is the man talking through his hat. Palafox has done some development in the portion of the Nile near Khartoum in Sudan where the construction was executed well above the flood lines, conforming to the international standard looking at the flood history of a location for the past 500 years

He criticized the chronic lack of foresight in land development in the Philippines with developers looking only beyond 25 years of history. Aggravating this, there was also a chronic oversight by government over the years on the issue of garbage and illegal logging.

The famous engineer, cum urban planner, quoted the World Bank study as saying “The pressures for development in areas unsuitable for development exist and will continue to exist, and without action, high and unnecessary environmental, social and economic costs will be incurred.”

Like Palafox, I cannot understand why the Paranaque spillway making life less intolerable in the Philippines was never executed despite its essentiality to flood control and electric generation in Metro Manila .. This matter should have been regarded as a priority national interest.

I can only surmise that the worst ever record of corruption, plunder and racketeering under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo make for the reluctance and evasiveness of foreign investors and lenders in financing further infrastructure projects in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, millions of our people suffer because they have no appetite to commit the vultures and predators in their midst to the guillotine. Bad things happen to a good people because they eat the dung that the ruling elite, oligarchs and political dynasties throw at their direction. Soon the dung become their own.

The two candidates for president who came out recently mirror Philippine society’s prospects of deeper problems to come to Juan de la Cruz.

Noynoy only has the coattails of his parents to carry him across. Gibo relies on the money and power of his patron to make him win.

But both are very wet behind their ears. Ondoy brought out the worst in them while it brought out the best in the ordinary men and women in the streets.

After millions of people commiserated with the death of a former president who was his mother, his publicists and drumbeaters created euphoria that Noynoy was the hope of the motherland. During and after Ondoy, however, he hid his head like an ostrich and was nowhere to be found. They say he is not corrupt and that is why many rushed to adulate him but the flash flood just revealed that he is not good for anything either. In the midst of utmost need for hope, Noynoy exposed his true self - a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal that, as Shakespeare puts it, is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Before Ondoy, Gibo spent tens if not hundred of millions bombarding the Philippine air lanes with paid advertisements showing how he as chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council has organized the national police and local governments to face any calamity. When the flash flood occurred, all NDCC could show were not more than 14 rubber boats to rescue thousands who were in their rooftops. When finally he appeared, Gibo did not even want his legs wet so he went on inspection tours aboard a tall Army truck. Now, he has been trying to convert the calamity into a series of photo opportunity.

Both Noynoy and Gibo have no concrete and proven track record to base why the nation should entrust any mandate to them. There is no saying where they will take the country to if elected and even if they did, with what are they going to guarantee implementation and delivery?

In time of crisis, they have been weighed, measured and found to be grossly wanting. Together, they add to the hopelessness of the current social situation.


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