The Long View: Ignoring plans has a price

The Long View
Ignoring plans has a price
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:21:00 10/08/2009

In 2003, the New Zealand social and environmental historian Greg Bankoff published a map of Metro Manila, with grey splotches that he identified as the flood-prone areas of the metropolis, mainly Navotas, Manila itself, Pasay City, Taguig, and parts of Marikina. That map coincides almost exactly with one put together by Newsbreak and published on showing the places that actually got flooded due to Storm “Ondoy.”

However, the flooding was even more extensive than what Bankoff expected in some places, particularly in the Marikina area. Still, the first point to realize is that those who have studied these things and people in the area have known for ages where it tends to flood. And in the past, these natural realities were taken into account in environmental planning for cities.

Kenneth Cardenas, an MA Sociology student in University of the Philippines Diliman, began an article to inquire into this situation, in his Facebook account of all places. He noticed in the news, for example, that “large areas of the east bank of the Marikina River – the exact same areas that were subjected to a massive flash flood – should not have been settled in the first place. Plans that have been drawn up in 1977 called for limits on construction in these areas and public works designed to withstand even the once-in-a-century flooding.”

He also noted that in Quezon City, “a ridge along the west bank of the Marikina River, which should have been preserved as a watershed, was paved over as exclusive subdivisions (such as La Vista, Loyola Grand Villas, Blue Ridge, and Ayala Heights), schools (Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College) or settled as slums.”

In fact, according to Cardenas, “the 1941 Frost Plan for Quezon City identified a protected area on the west bank that stretched from the Batasan area in the north down to Libis in the south.”

I, for one, was worried sick over a friend and his family stranded for days in their flooded house in the vicinity of Eastwood in Libis, Quezon City.

But planning is one thing. Even if as far back as 1940, city planners knew where it flooded because of geography and planned accordingly, and set aside wide areas of greenery to serve as a natural sponge, so to speak, such lands became increasingly valuable to real estate developers, the government units that profit from the fees and businesses such developments create, and an expanding population demanding places to live.

Cardenas says the result is this: what was meant to be park land – a healthy place for relaxation and recreation under the 1940 Frost Plan for Quezon City – has, by today, instead become a place for slums, a golf course, and villages—a density never intended by the original planners.

Which brings us to Paulo Alcazaren, and his recent Philippine Star column on why Singapore and Malaysia were able to put in fairly effective flood-control infrastructurem and we Filipinos, on the other hand, have failed. The Singaporeans and Malaysians, he said, realized the benefits of park land and green spaces, and preserved them, precisely because of their contribution to flood control. At the same time, with powerful national governments, extensive well-planned (looking ahead not 20 or 30 years but decades further than that) flood control projects could be undertaken.

Alcazaren pointed out that much of our flood control infrastructure dates to the martial law era – the Manggahan floodway, for example.

On Wikipedia you’ll find a map of the flood plain of Marikina, and what Manggahan does, which is, to connect the Marikina River to Laguna de Bay. The problem is, if both river and lake are suddenly filled up because the surrounding areas of Marikina can’t even slow down the draining of water by temporarily absorbing them, then the whole thing turns into a morass of flooded homes.

Cardenas also points out that as the middle and upper classes look for someone to blame, the easiest thing to do is blame the poor. Comparing our situation with Indonesia is instructive, he says. We have similar per capita incomes, but why is it that 41 percent of poor urban Filipinos live in slums, often in vulnerable areas, while only 23 percent of Indonesia’s urban poor live in slums?

Let me try to describe to you a graphic provided by Armando N. Alli, focusing on the parts of Marikina and Quezon City that in olden times would have been filled with creeks and with a historical tendency to flood. Today it’s a big urban sprawl of shanties, gated communities, factories, roads. Alli marked out areas in magenta as the places that flooded badly. In some cases they coincide with relatively new public works, like the stretch of C-5 along Ateneo or in Libis, or part of Imelda Avenue. Such places may have sliced through natural drainage or older man-made drains.

What nature had designed as a kind of soggy sponge, which environmental and urban planners over 60 years ago believed should be unbuilt, green space shielding the rest of the metropolis has been turned by the private sector, with the OK of government, into places where the public will have to confront the problem of flooding over and over again. The road works, for example, serve as dikes, retaining water since they’re higher than the surrounding areas, worsening the flooding.

So do we need to draw up a new coordinating authority, with greater powers for emergencies? Yes, but with so many good plans ignored, what plans are in place to improve flood-control? And can it even be done with our existing laws and political setup?

Many expect this to become an electoral issue everywhere in the country where floods have caused unprecedented devastation.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

15 thoughts on “The Long View: Ignoring plans has a price

  1. I summarised the key contributing factors that together aggravated not just the effects of the flood but our ability to cope with the disaster as well here:

    Facing up to nature: Are we up to it?

    In the diagram there, you will see that there are aspects of the problem that had long histories of gross negligence (such as forest and waterways degradation) and therefore demand long-term capital-intensive solutions and there are some aspects that are quite recent (such as road access and emergency services inadequacy) and require relatively less investment.

    The bottom line is that the problem can be solved and risks mitigated. It only requires a bit of intelligence applied to the way we go about managing our affairs as a people.

  2. yes,mlq3 .

    self correction:
    dewey blvd ,finance building and the city hall were implemented. it was not dropped until after ww2.

  3. Department of Public Works and Highways & Japan International Cooperation Agency: Flood Control and Sabo Engineering Center (FCSEC) Newsletter’s FLOOD FOR THOUGHT…

    “The kinds of things you see coming, you know they’re going to happen, and yet we at times seem unwilling or unable to act.”
    — Dean David T. Ellwood

    copy-pasted from Acting in Time

  4. The national government now has to choose between abandoning the recently flooded areas or building new flood infrastructure to accomodate the built up areas.

    Both will cost a lot of money.

  5. There is a need for either a single public entity to oversee urban and regional planning and development or for better coordination among existing agencies to take place.

    The release of land for development currently goes through an approval process with the HUDC, HLURB and the DENR. LGUs also have a role here. The goals of these agencies may actually go against sound urban planning.

    For instance the housing agencies seek to maximise residential accommodation, while LGUs on the other hand want to maximise revenue from property assessments. The DENR only looks at the environmental impact with regard to a narrow set of criteria that doesn’t take into account urban design.

    A master plan that takes into account demography and population growth and the infrastructure and transport corridors of the city is needed. Yes, the previous plans were ignored, but only because no central regulatory body was put in charge of enforcing it.

  6. Cusp,

    The land use act which is still pending has many reasons why it would not move.

    For me the opinion of the CREBA administrator during that time(2005) may be a good reason for a stalemate.

    Pete Tario, administrator of the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Association (CREBA), meanwhile, expressed concern over the existing laws affected by the bill especially those pertinent to eco-zones and housing.

    He also opined that the power of the LGUs to reclassify land shall be affected or suspended with the enactment of the bill. ?The authority of the local government in the reclassification of land must be respected because they are the ones concerned with the development of their towns and cities,? he averred.

    many might share his opinion,maybe majority of the mayors and governors.

    for the verbiage of a recent version of the bill, please refer to sbn 843.!.pdf

  7. “A master plan that takes into account demography and population growth and the infrastructure and transport corridors of the city is needed. Yes, the previous plans were ignored, but only because no central regulatory body was put in charge of enforcing it.” – The Cusp


    Previous plans were conveniently ignored by politicians and by the private sector. Why? There may be no single reason, but I’m absolutely certain that greed played an important role. It is much less expensive to develop properties without being burdened by environmental restraints. And also takes less time, so that the cash register can quickly start ringing. Buyers were also hungry to invest in a piece of the lucrative property market, and short-cutting regulations was a way to make their investments more affordable. Nevermind the future, because what matters is profits now!

    Squatters? They are caught in a vise, but not totally blameless. They are victims in the sense that they are thrust into their situation because of circumstances beyond their control. The absence of urban planning and a more geographically dispersed economic development plan encouraged migration to NCR and the large cities, where jobs and livelihood opportunities are available. Nevermind if the living conditions are miserable and squalid, because what matters is to survive on a daily basis.

    And politicians? Along with the government bureaucracy, they are guilty of aiding and conniving with developers, squatters and the public. They take money from the developers and votes from the squatters. They, too, are concerned only with the present. It is far easier to produce low-cost, high-visiblity projects that, literally, barely scratch the surface, than it is to go beyond the expedient and plan projects that would last beyond the next term or two.

    Of course, hanging over all of this is the pall of lack of financial resources. Graft and corruption, the lack of political will to raise revenue through taxation (and enforce it), the lack of political will to rein in frivolous spending and budget deficits, the absence of an economic roadmap. These all contribute to the hand-to-mouth existence we all seem to be experiencing.

    While the effects of “Ondoy” remain fresh, there may be attempts to correct the myopia and the sleaze. However, experience has taught me not to bet on it. After this has become all but a nightmare, we will return to our reckless and short-sighted ways.

  8. It’s only a few months before the national elections. Don’t expect any flood control project to be done. The next President should be prepared with ad hoc flood control projects.

  9. I believe climate change is exposing some of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of planning and development systems, not only in developing economies like the Philippines, but even in the developed world where coastal properties are at risk. The same sort of complacency from emergency units have been exposed by the Royal Commission looking into the response to the Victorian bushfires on “Black Saturday”. The dikes that failed to hold back the waters of Hurricane Katrina were not designed for such a deluge.

    Certainly new measures of mitigation and adaptation to climate change are required (they must be more than just ad hoc in nature), but as Manolo hinted in a previous post, we should revisit the MMDA’s structure and mandate. If it cannot be revived as a political entity, it should at least be given broader administrative powers not dependent on LGU consent when it involves technical matters such as flood control.

    An elected governor or appointed administrator similar to the SBMA President with broad powers over planning and development is needed in my view. The jurisdiction should be expanded to cover the Greater Manila Area. Bayani Fernando should actually be tapped in the remaining months of GMA to provide recommendations to the succeeding administration and if possible be kept in a holdover capacity in the next president’s cabinet.

  10. So much problems, how can I help?

    Greed, Corruption, Poverty, Drugs, Filth, Immorality, Infrastructure, Inequality, Prostitution, Environment, Devastation, Child Abuse, Social Problems, Squatters, Terrorism, etc.

    I would start by making some changes within me.

  11. “He also noted that in Quezon City, “a ridge along the west bank of the Marikina River, which should have been preserved as a watershed, was paved over as exclusive subdivisions (such as La Vista, Loyola Grand Villas, Blue Ridge, and Ayala Heights), schools (Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College) or settled as slums.””

    In a just world, all the above would be bulldozed and turned back into watersheds. Instead, proposals will focus on bulldozing the slums.

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