Manila unprepared for floods

Posted at 01/22/2013 2:33 AM | Updated as of 01/25/2013 12:39 PM

Scorecard: Mayor Lim poor on environmental planning and management 

Part One

A view of the Manila city hall. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra

The city of Manila takes pride as the nation’s heart and soul, one of the oldest and most historic places in the Philippines. The seat of power, it is home to Malacañang Palace and the Supreme Court.

Despite this seeming grandeur, the Philippine capital is among the most vulnerable to floods. Worse, it is ill-prepared to cope with such disasters. With 1.65 million population as of 2010—and even a higher daytime population of 3.8 million in a 4,000-hectare sprawl—Manila is cited as the most densely populated city in the world (Sources: Time Special Report: The World at 7 Billion (Oct. 2011); Forbes.com’s World’s Densest Cities, 2006).

When Alfredo Lim returned as mayor in 2007 (he served his first term as mayor starting in 1992), he said he would lead the city with a vision of reviving the old glory of Manila as the financial capital of the country, but failed to address the creeping environmental problems.

 

Manila’s hydrological map. Source: Manila Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance 2005-2020

Take Sta. Cruz, the fourth most populated district in Manila. It is host to families whose houses are right on top of the waterway, including Estero de San Lazaro, which drains into the Pasig River. This 643-meter stretch of the estero flows within the districts of Sta. Cruz, Binondo and Tondo. It is only one of the 20 existing esteros crisscrossing the city.

Myrna Galang and family live in this makeshift house that stands right on top of Estero de San Lazaro in Sta. Cruz, Manila. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra

Myrna Galang, housewife and a mother of four, has been living here for the last 18 years in a community of shanties. Her family is one of the 107,997 households in Metro Manila who have set up residence in danger zones identified by the National Housing Authority. (Source: UN Habitat, “Innovative Urban Tenure in the Philippines,” 2011) She says the tropical storm Ondoy in 2009 struck her more than the rains brought by the monsoon in August 2012. Their galvanized iron sheet roofs flew into the air and floods filled what used to appear as a dead estero.

But flooding is not new to them.

“Lagi kaming nababahaan, pagka nabahaan kami lilipat kami sa Regidor sa elementary, doon kami, pag humupa na ung tubig saka kami babalik (Our area always gets flooded. If that happens, we go to the nearby Regidor Elementary School, but when the flood subsides, we go back to our house.)” Galang’s story is familiar story among the informal settlers living in danger zones.

Florentino Dapdap (top), former chairman of Barangay 330 in Manila, is himself an informal settler living just beside Estero de San Lazaro, an identified danger zone. He shows us a usual view from his house – garbage filling up the waterway. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra

Her neighbor, Florentino Dapdap, former chairman of Barangay 330 and also living along the estero, admits informal settlers like him are part of the problem. “Nakakadumi daw ng Ilog Pasig tsaka ng Manila Bay nanggagaling sa iskwater, sa mga estero, dun umaagos, eh kailangan linisin un para luminis ang Manila Bay tsaka Ilog pasig. ‘Yon lang naman dahilan doon eh. Iskwater ako, oo nakakabara talaga (They say we contribute to the pollution of Pasig River and Manila Bay, where waters from the tributaries or esteros drain. The esteros need to be cleaned so Manila Bay and Pasig River could also be restored. That’s the reason behind that. I’m a squatter and yes, we cause clogging along the esteros.)”

Communities along the esteros are among the main causes of flooding in the city; they obstruct the flow of water and improperly dispose trash in the waterways.

A poor community living in shanties along and on the Estero de San Lazaro in Manila. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra

When the heavy rains brought by the monsoon last year, locally called as “Habagat,” hit almost 10,000 families in 33 barangays of Manila, the city declared a state of calamity. The 10-day ceaseless rains killed 41 people including 3 Manileños— 1 by electrocution and 2 by drowning.

After this natural battering, President Aquino ordered the public works department to clear the structures along the waterways. If things would push through as planned, the families of Galang and Dapdap would be relocated this year.

No disaster risk reduction plan

As it is, the city government is not organized to effectively respond to disasters.

During calamities, City Administrator Jesus Mari Marzan is the point person and his office serves as the command center. Marzan is the executive director of Manila’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) while Mayor Lim chairs it. Its membership was limited to those involved in relief and rescue operations. In February 2011, in a belated move, Lim included officers of the city budget office and the city planning and development office in the council. This supposedly signalled the start of a long-term and wholistic approach to disaster management.

Moreover, the Commission on Audit (COA) found that Manila has not developed its disaster risk reduction and management plan as of end of 2011. COA also noted that Manila has not submitted its report on how it used the MDRRM Fund, a violation of the Local Government Code. (Despite our requests, we were not given a copy of the report on the use of previous MDRRM funds.)

In the same report, COA asked the MDRRM Council to submit the names of its members, the disaster risk reduction management plan itself, apart from its annual work and financial plan, status of projects, and other resources dedicated to disaster risk reduction.

The office of Mayor Lim received the copy of the COA report on July 19, 2012. Interestingly, Marzan said he was not familiar with COA’s findings and claimed he was not furnished a copy of the report. (We had to e-mail to the MDRRM Council links to the report.)

Manila City Administrator Jesus Mari Marzan is also the executive director of Manila’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Photo credit: Riziel Ann Cabreros

In an interview, Marzan said they were still developing the disaster risk reduction and management plan when COA conducted the audit in 2011. “Admittedly, it [the MDRRMC] was kinda new and you know we had our meetings, so probably during that time we did not have a definite plan, but you know we have complied with that already.”

We were given a soft copy of the mother plan without Marzan’s signature. The plan may not be valid since there is no city ordinance yet creating the MDRRM Office, as prescribed by law. The same ordinance would also include the allocation of personnel and budget. COA declined to confirm if Manila had submitted its plan because they were still in the process of producing the COA report for 2012.

Moreover, Manila has no city environment and natural resources officer. The city executive has the option to appoint one, as provided by the Local Government Code.

A separate unit in the Manila City Hall, the Office of the City Engineer, appears to work independently of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. It conducts de-clogging and clearing operations, repairs roads destroyed by flood, and mobilizes quick-response teams during calamities.

(This series is produced as part of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s first environmental investigative reporting fellowship program in the Philippines launched in 2012.)

Clean and green?

Two weeks before Christmas day in 2012, Mayor Lim handed 25 awards for the greenest barangays and cleanest zones in the city for the year, including grand prizes for three greenest barangays and one grand prize for the cleanest zone.

Lim stressed the importance of trees in the absorption of flood waters. He asked the barangay leaders to prioritize cleanliness, to observe proper waste disposal, and to make it a New Year’s resolution to keep their areas clean and green.

The message of keeping Manila clean and green came after the city was submerged with flood mixed with garbage as it suffered the onslaught of floods in the last 4 years.

In September 2009, Ondoy flooded 239 out of 1,705 barangays in Metro Manila and hit almost 1 million families all over the country. Over all, Ondoy left 164 dead and an estimated damage of P11 billion.

Two years after, Typhoon Pedring hit over 600,000 families in parts of the country including Metro Manila. Pedring left 85 people dead and caused P15.5-billion damage to properties. Parts of the scenic Roxas Boulevard in Manila were flooded as Pedring slammed the old seawall of Manila Bay that ushered floods to a nearby 5-star hotel as well as the US Embassy.

Manila City Engineer Armando Andres at work. He has been sitting as a member of Manila’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council since February 2011. Photo credit: Riziel Ann Cabreros

Manila also needs its own city environment and natural resources officer who will address environmental issues. City engineer Armando Andres said the previous administrations may have overlooked it, but one could probably be appointed to the post in the “immediate future.”

Lim had the chance to appoint one during his first 2 terms as Manila mayor in 1992-1995 and 1995-1998 and when he returned in 2007. But in a period of 11 years, he “overlooked” this.

(This series is produced as part of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s first environmental investigative reporting fellowship program in the Philippines launched in 2012.)