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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bahala na or baha - 'la na?

What went wrong with Metro Manila? Was there urban planning at all for this metropolis?

As traced by last Tuesday’s episode of The Correspondents (anchored by Karen Davila), there was. Unfortunately, there was lack of implementation.

With the help of resource persons armed with diagrams, I now finally understand the issue over the unimplemented Parañaque spillway that people kept talking about in the aftermath of Ondoy.

In the ‘70s, plans were underway to dig through Parañaque to create a spillway from Laguna Lake down Manila Bay. Had that plan been implemented, flooding shouldn’t have happened in the Laguna lakeshore communities. But look at the barangays surrounding the lake now — these are still submerged in water three weeks after Ondoy.

So why was the Parañaque spillway never dug up? As pointed out in The Correspondents, Parañaque became a fashionable residential community in the ‘70s and nobody could work their way through there anymore by the time government was ready to start the project.

And then there was also the issue of the grand plan for Metro Manila also around that time that was never implemented. This dates back to the infamous period when Imelda Marcos was governor of Metro Manila. After the Marcoses were removed from power, every mayor was given the task to run his own town or city without coordinating with their neighbors and that created a problem of governance for the head of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Karen clearly illustrated that when she hopped atop a raft in a submerged area where there used to be a street prior to Ondoy.

Why was that place still submerged almost three weeks after Ondoy? Who had jurisdiction over that? And so she proceeds to point out the fact that a few meters away was the boundary line of Taytay, to her other side was Taguig and if she could only cross, that was Pasig.

And then there was the matter of the short term for government officials — like a mayor is only given a three-year term and that explains why there is no long-range planning for our towns and cities. I agree with that, but given the reality of politics in the Philippines, a mayor may vacate his or her post after several terms, but eventually the spouse takes over or even one of the children and please spare me the burden of rattling off names.

Those who hang on to their power, of course, should just be rightfully branded as greedy — like they can’t have enough. Now, greed was another reason why urban planning went haywire in Metro Manila. As one resource person said: One of the biggest sources of income for those cities came from the development of some of those subdivisions that shouldn’t have been there in the first place because these were low-lying areas.

Even MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando bitterly admitted to Karen that Marikina shouldn’t have been inhabited and should probably have been just allowed to remain what it was supposed to be: Rice fields. But in due fairness to Fernando, those subdivisions were already there even before he became Marikina mayor. Despite being in the fault line, Marikina residents I know were happy with the way the city was developed by him. It is, in fact, the most disaster prepared among our cities, but 90 percent of it still got submerged.

In that same episode, The Correspondents showed a map (supposedly submitted to the United Nations) that indicated the areas where we were not supposed to inhabit. But build away we did — and look at the repercussions.

These government officials toy with both the rich and poor. They play with the money of the rich by approving the developments of these subdivisions (and profit even more from the huge real estate taxes that property owners have to pay annually) even if those places aren’t fit for human population. The poor, of course, have been used by generations of politicians who need the vote of the informal settlers come election time. Surely, we need not say anymore that our esteros have all been but clogged when these squatters decided to appropriate these waterways for their own use. That had always been obvious, but to this day is tolerated by the government. And so we got denuded. Let’s see if Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will succeed with her recent pronouncement to relocate informal settlers who obstruct our waterways.

Historically, most of us know that in his attempt to decongest Manila proper, the late Pres. Manuel L. Quezon had the plans laid out to move the center to what is now Quezon City, which is safer because it stands on higher ground. But as another resource person reminded Karen, the Second World War intervened and Quezon’s plan to move all government offices there was never fully realized.

But if you think about it now, we would still have problems with flooding because at the rate our population grew, we all wouldn’t fit still in Quezon City and surely we’d go the surrounding areas — like Marikina and now Bulacan — which was what most of us did. But would anyone dare get into an argument with the Catholic Church with regard to its stand on population control? Uh-oh. Did I just get ex-communicated?

And so what do we do now to prevent another Ondoy? (Pepeng is another matter.) As resource person Paolo Alcazaren (of this paper) put it in The Correspondents, by December and with another Pacquiao win, we’d forget all about the tragedy that was Ondoy. Yes, I agree with him. We’ll just go our usual merry way. No thanks to our “bahala na” attitude.

Or should it be “baha-la” na?

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