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Monday, October 5, 2009

On Storm Ondoy and What the Government May Consider Doing

by Armando N. Alli

A. A Tale of 2 Floods (During Storm Ondoy)

Storm Ondoy of that fateful Saturday, September 26, 2009, was reportedly not a strong storm and did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary. The rains started at nighttime but by mid-morning, there was no letup as a consistent amount of rain just poured and poured, and poured. We were to later learn that in about 10 hours, as much as 18 inches of rain fell on Metro Manila that day. We were probably lucky to have been there to find that out.


Many residents of Marikina City woke up that morning completely unaware of the life-changing and life-taking events that were about to transpire a few hours later. Provident Village was at a large bend in the Marikina River, just across the new SM mall. The floodwater that rushed into their homes that day did not leave them much time to save themselves and many were trapped and killed right in their very homes, ironically where they were supposed to be safe. This event was replicated many times over, although in lesser degrees and with less casualties, elsewhere in Marikina City and in Metro Manila. The water subsided sometime thereafter to reveal a swath of devastation and ruined lives. Mercifully, the Marikina River was able to do its job of taking the water away.

A few kilometers downriver, a slightly different kind of flooding took place in Pasig City and in Cainta and Taytay of Rizal Province but nonetheless as deadly and as destructive. The areas lying at the EAST bank of the Manggahan Floodway were inundated and many lives were also lost or ruined and placed at very great risk as a result. While the floodwaters in some areas receded or somehow found its way to the Manggahan Floodway (as in the west bank areas of the floodway), many areas remained under water for almost a week and that situation continues to this day. The drainage system of natural and man-made waterways was NOT working at all at the areas beyond the EAST bank of the Manggahan Floodway. If the water is not removed immediately, sickness and disease and maybe desperate human actions are soon expected to take their toll.

We need to get to the answers to these questions fast because new and stronger/ more destructive storms are already upon us and these will multiply the suffering of our countrymen. What happened? Did our National and Local Governments fail us? What were the DPWH, the DILG and the MMDA doing all of this time? Did our civil engineers in charge of our infrastructure, particularly the drainage system, fail to do their jobs? Is there anyone to blame? Or are we all to blame?

B. What needs to be reexamined in terms of State Policy?

Let us first examine State Policies that may have had something to do with what happened:

For whatever reason/ consideration, the DPWH has apparently relinquished the planning and management of the flood control system for the Metro Manila Area (MMA) to the MMDA, a practice that could be questioned as the same is a primary DPWH role; furthermore, it could be possible that the MMDA may not legally carry out such a mandate (not having been created by law), the main reason why its actions are often contested by the LGUs;

About 18 years ago, the Local Government Code (R.A. No. 7160) surprisingly and inexplicably allowed the LGU City/ Municipal Engineers (in charge of horizontal infrastructure) to simultaneously serve as Acting Building Officials (in charge of vertical infrastructure), a practice that persists to this day despite the non-exigency of the supposed situation/s that were used to justify Municipal/ City Engineers assuming such roles; there is NO check and balance in such as system; as Acting Building Officials, the said City/ Municipal Engineers are tasked to implement both the 1977 National Building Code of the Philippines (P.D. No. 1096) and the Water Code; ALL these functions are given to only one (1) individual to directly/ indirectly discharge the functions of up to thirteen (13) different state-regulated professions; lapses (deliberate or otherwise) and possibly knowing violation of the said laws by the said entities are key reasons why we could be having flooding problems;

The 1977 National Building Code of the Philippines (P.D. No. 1096) is a general and earlier law that must defer to stipulations under special and later laws such as the professional regulatory laws (PRLs); the DPWH is virtually usurping the functions of the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) and its Professional Regulatory Boards (PRBs) by unilaterally interpreting such PRLs without proper consultation; the DPWH is also issuing Memorandum Orders, with provisions that may be violative of PRLs or even standing Court Orders and mandating LGU Building Officials to immediately enforce the same, without benefit of public hearings/ consultation;

The State Policies on horizontal developments, particularly as these refer to open spaces, should be reviewed, amended and repealed since we need to conserve low-lying land for agricultural production i.e. use only the lower slopes of hills and mountains for land development rather than agriculturally productive, flat land and we visibly need to increase open spaces, particularly those that can hold or absorb large amounts of surface water;

The State Policies on population control/ management, and possibly on rural-urban migration may need to be revisited as we apparently have ineffective policies that have resulted in continuing population increase and movement/ displacement; and

The incineration of wastes is banned under the Clean Air Act; this may need to be revisited since we now have an incalculable amount of natural and artificial/ man-made waste and debris that need to be disposed of at the soonest time possible.

C. What can be done?

We now ask ourselves what can we now do or at least attempt to do?

As the DPWH is presently handling both horizontal and vertical infrastructure, there is now NO check and balance in the system i.e. the DPWH, through its LGU Building Officials (who are mostly Municipal/ City Engineers in an acting capacity as Building Officials) review and approve building plans that apparently consistently violate the 1977 National Building Code of the Philippines/ NBCP (P.D. No. 1096), the Fire Code of the Phils. (R.A. No. 9514, formerly P.D. No. 1185), the Accessibility Law (B.P. No. 344) and the Water Code, especially in terms of the mandated waterway easements, with apparent little regard for the consequences on both the natural and built environments, on the general population and on the end-users; if the DPWH cannot implement and enforce these laws, chief of which is P.D. No. 1096, which it is tasked to fully implement and enforce, then the DPWH is clearly NOT the proper agency to handle such matters;

the LGU City/Municipal Engineers which are under DILG control (acting as Building Officials under DPWH control) are presently in charge of both horizontal and vertical infrastructure for almost all LGUs nationwide; again, there is NO check and balance in such a system because it assumes that such a person (usually a civil engineer) is capable of understanding and discharging the component functions of about twelve (12) other state-regulated professionals, chief among them the Architects and Environmental Planners; the LGU City/ Municipal Engineers may have little to no training or knowledge about environmental planning and architecture;

As the DPWH and its LGU Building Officials (or City/ Municipal Engineers) are clearly incapable of enforcing the National Building Code of the Philippines (PD No. 1096) and the Water Code through the dismantling and removal of illegal structures on waterways and since the HUDCC appears to also be incapable of dealing with the physical problems of informal settlers, there may be need for a separate Department, the focus of which shall be in the areas of settlements planning, housing, land development, relocation programs for informal settlers and vertical structures;

We may therefore need to revisit earlier legislative proposals (if any) for the creation of a proposed Department of Planning and Housing, which MUST be the SOLE central authority on ALL physical, land and water use/ site planning, transportation planning and all vertical design regulatory functions for the National Government; the Environmental Planners and Architects who shall be assisting the policy makers are the state-regulated professionals needed for this job, probably not the Civil Engineers who are more adept at program/ project implementation;


So that its focus would NOT be divided, the DPWH must SOLELY concentrate on horizontal infrastructure i.e. the coordinative horizontal planning (with the proposed Department of Planning and Housing), construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, civil works, flood control structures and related structures, water supply and management, traffic management, waste management, protection of coastal areas and resources and related works;

the DPWH can help the other agencies implement vertical projects but the planning and design of such vertical projects should NOT be done by the DPWH due to its relatively poor record in vertical design i.e. school and government office buildings and related vertical public infrastructure that are poorly space-planned, that do not last and are not sensitive to the requirements of tropical and sustainable design, resulting in a waste of public funds;

The DPWH must be mandated to fully implement and enforce Secs. 302.3 & 4 of the 2004 Revised IRR of P.D. No. 1096 (the 1977 National Building Code of the Philippines) that LIMIT ONLY to Architects the signing and sealing of ALL ARCHITECTURAL documents for projects in the Philippines, provisions already fully harmonized in 2004 by the DPWH itself with the multiple provisions of the Architecture Act of 2004 (R.A. No. 9266) that say the same thing; there is NO TRO, NO injunction and NO pending constitutional question on either Secs. 302.3 & 4 of the 2004 Revised IRR of P.D. No. 1096 or on R.A. No. 9266; the May 2005 injunction on Secs. 302.3 & 4 of the 2004 Revised IRR of P.D. No. 1096 was already LIFTED/ DISSOLVED in January of 2008 (and affirmed in May 2009) by 2 immediately executory Court Orders but the DPWH Secretary, a civil engineer by training, still continues to allow 114,000 civil engineers/ CEs nationwide (who have very little or no knowledge of architecture) to sign and seal ARCHITECTURAL documents in violation of law and the 2 standing Court Orders; since there has been no TRO nor injunction issued by the Court of Appeals to date on Secs. 302.3 & 4 of the 2004 Revised IRR of P.D. No. 1096, the DPWH Secretary is now attempting to re-label/ reclassify ARCHITECTURAL documents as civil documents to continue to allow CEs nationwide to sign the re-labeled ARCHITECTURAL documents; if the CEs still continue to sign ARCHITECTURAL plans/ documents, then the problems exposed by Storm Ondoy shall persist all over the Philippines and continue to wreak havoc on our lives;

REPEAL the section of the Local Government Code (R.A. No. 7160) that inexplicably allowed the LGU City/ Municipal Engineers (in charge of horizontal infrastructure) to simultaneously serve as Acting Building Officials (in charge of horizontal infrastructure); there is NO check and balance in such a system; thereafter, Building Officials (who should be Architects by law, i.e. R.A. No. 9266) and City/ Municipal Architects must become mandatory for all LGUs; the Building Official is a fulltime job while the City/ Municipal Architects can be employed on a part-time basis;

the City/ Municipal Planning Officers must be an Environmental Planner or someone sufficiently trained by the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planning (PIEP) or possibly even certified by PRC PRB Board of Environmental Planning as capable of functioning as an LGU Planning Officer; in relation to this, Congressional action on the pending bill on environmental planning (to repeal P.D. No. 1308) should now be accelerated;

All architectural and physical/ land/ use planning programs and projects that are to be implemented/ undertaken under the Government Procurement and Reform Act (GPRA) of 2003 (R.A. No. 9184) must primarily involve Architects and Environmental Planners, not civil engineers; the Bid and Award Committee (BAC) Observers for such procurement activities (goods, services or infrastructure) must come primarily from the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) or the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) or other similar organizations that can effectively, impartially and professionally advise the BAC of the procuring entity; the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) should implement and enforce the same the soonest as it is already provided for under their July 2009 Revised IRR for R.A. No. 9184;

Reconsider, amend or repeal the ban in incineration of solid wastes as provided for under the Clean Air Act, but preferably only if substitutes for plastics and non-biodegradable packaging materials are already in place; this could effectively reduce the need for dumpsites and the volume of waste that find its way into our waterways;

land is a scarce resource that should be wisely used; it is now possibly the time to consider and promote high density vertical developments rather than low density horizontal residential developments on converted farmland; it is also time to introduce such high density structures to fill up vacant or underutilized land that abound in our urban settlements (infilling) so that urban sprawl could be curtailed; these could have a great effect on the performance of our waterway and flood control systems;

as the resources of the State are finite, there should be greater and more effective population control policies/ mechanisms in place; otherwise, certain segments of society, particularly the middle class, will keep on supporting them involuntarily through the taxes that they pay; there may be need to accelerate quality legislative work on the pending reproductive health bills;

For the National Government to revisit the following Metro Manila physical flood control proposals advanced by various entities over the past 4 decades:

SHORT TERM
commission a short study (including a quick hydrology/ flood survey) or commence an official investigation to find out what really happened last 26 September 2009 and why floodwaters remain stagnant at Pasig, Cainta and Taytay; the DPWH must explain why the water in these areas are not being drained; the study must map out the extent of flooding that day and the following days; the investigation must necessarily also include finding out what happened during the great Iloilo City flood of 2 years ago;
mandate all LGUs to remove all impediments at all waterways, including the illegal structures of informal settlers i.e. which reduce the carrying capacity of waterways and contribute to debris formation;
temporarily allow the burning of wastes and debris to reduce the possible of these wastes finding their way back to the waterways;
de-silt the Laguna Lake to increase its holding capacity;
deepen the Pasig River to increase its carrying capacity and construct canals to connect its meandering sections to facilitate floodwater flow (if technically feasible);
upgrade the dismal capabilities of the NDCC for disaster response;

MEDIUM TERM
clear the Manggahan Floodway embankments of ALL illegal structures estimated at about 25,000 (including those erected by the LGUs) and of ALL its estimated 250,000 informal settlers (to be done by the DPWH, DILG/ LGUs, HUDCC, etc.);
redevelop the Marikina River bank/ bend areas identifiable as overflow areas or mini-flood plains so that these could properly serve their purposes in future storm events (by DPWH, DILG, MMDA, LGUs, etc.);
undertake a comprehensive hydrology/ flooding study for the Metro Manila Area and the Greater Manila Area (which includes Cainta, Taytay, Antipolo City, San Mateo and Montalban) so that their flood control systems could be integrated and so that upstream holding/ impounding areas that can delay the arrival of Sierra Madre storm waters/ surface runoff could be identified; we should be able to somehow harness/use all of these freshwater for our benefit; a series of new dam systems for impounding water for domestic or utility applications could also be proposed under such a study;
update the MMETROPLAN study of the 1970s;

LONG TO VERY LONG TERM
i) construct the Paranaque Spillway that would relieve the Laguna Lake during storm events; if a right-of-way (ROW) could be found, the Paranaque Spillway could be integrated with other infrastructure developments i.e. related to transport, conveyance of utility systems, possible property development, etc.

reproduced from (source)

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  1. Calm after the storms. Brilliant Ideas and Plans, Tons of it after the damage is done. Pretty much like the mushrooms after the rain. Where were we and these identified solutions then? Here we are victims of a Government in peril.

    One of the rise and stagnation of flood water from Pasig is the non-opening of floodgates as guarded by armed PSG under the instructions of Malacanang.

    The flooding solution should be the flagship project of the next president.

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