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From the Chairman

Charlie A.V. Gorayeb

Charlie A.V. Gorayeb

Chairman of the Board, CREBA Chairman, CREBA Advocacy & Legislative Affairs Committee Honorary Consul General, Republic of Djibouti

Urban Planning and the Environment

The calamities of the recent weeks brought about by heavy monsoon rains wrought considerable havoc to lives, properties and industries which bring back painful memories of the infamous typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng of 2009. Some say it was a little better this time because people had better ideas on what to do and how and that the public was better prepared and alert due to early warning signals. Yet it does not obscure the fact that the effect is still tremendous and there remains a lot to be done, on all fronts, if we are to prepare adequately for the next disaster to come. 

Experts like Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) – Philippines chief Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan say that rapid urbanization, especially in the capital is to blame. A newspaper report noted Mr. Tan’s analysis that the big floods, despite the absence of storm and the presence of mere monsoon rains, that hit the Philippines was a result “of an unfettered and mindless march to urbanization that had replaced soils and trees with concrete jungles.” Filipinos, he said, are to be blamed for the deluge, and not the monsoon rains.

While there is no debate that human activities bear huge impact on worsening the effects of natural disasters, the construction of more buildings for various purposes either for commerce or residence, per se, is not the central and only culprit. 

Water does tend to flow downward to lower grounds. Hence, waterways such as rivers, creeks, lakes, and the like, must always be kept clear and free from obstructions to allow its free flow to bigger bodies of water. Sad to say, though, a lot of such places, especially in the metropolis, are heavily populated with informal settlers perched dangerously on riverbanks, esteros, creeksides, lakesides and shorelines. And yet, some local leaders continue to harbour these heavily populated communities, possibly because of the huge promise of votes during elections. Occupation of the waterways by huge populations and establishments result to a great amount of wastes which, if not disposed properly, as they usually are, lead to considerable pollution and reduction of the water reservoir, hence, rivers, lakes and other water bodies overflow during heavy rain downpour and lead to intense flooding.

One of our major water bodies is the Laguna de Bay – a multipurpose resource used as for navigation, water resource, and a haven for fishery and aquaculture and a cistern for domestic, agricultural, and industrial effluents. The magnitude of fish pens in the lake are amongst the biggest factors that reduce its capacity to hold water which results to overflowing and flooding in the surrounding low-lying areas.

Government data show the tremendous volume of residing in the Laguna de Bay Region discharge their solid and liquid wastes indirectly to the lake through its tributaries. While some industries maintain wastewater treatment facilities, the lake absorbs huge amounts of pollution. The hastened agricultural modernization throughout the region has likewise taken a heavy toll on the lake due to the use of chemical based fertilizers and pesticides whose residues eventually find their way to the lake basin. As far as domestic wastes are concerned, tons of waste generated by residents of Metro Manila are dumped into the lake. All these, and more, result to a heavily polluted and highly silted Laguna de Bay.

We agree with Mr. Tan that one of the root causes of this overarching quandary is politics and poor planning. Real estate developers can only build structures on a chosen area after getting all necessary permits and licenses from concerned government agencies. However, if such permits and licenses are issued even if they violate rules and regulations that is the exercise of the government’s police and regulatory powers, then that is entirely a different story altogether.

As early as 2010, CREBA through its late founder Atty. Manuel M. Serrano put to fore a proposal for the comprehensive rehabilitation of the Laguna Lake which includes water quality purification, development of support facilities that will make the lake the central catch basin of floodwater from all directions, dredging, construction of a circumferential road, building a ferry system from Laguna to Pasig and back, reforestation, resettlement of informal settlers, and reclamation of selected sites, all designed to redound to the over-all objective of poverty alleviation. But no government functionary was at that time willing to take on such an ambitious, even if tremendously beneficial, project.

Waterfront business districts around the world have come, in recent years, to signify urban progress and prosperity. They have raised the international profile of their respective cities while spurring growth and investments locally. 

In the case of South Korea, just as the peninsula itself is divided into two nations, the Han River divides the city of Seoul into a northern and a southern area. Along the banks of the river, especially in Seoul, lie not informal settlements but pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, various restaurants and cafes. Today, it is a major tourist attraction and ecological jewel traversed by 27 bridges and 7 subways. In 2012 and 2018, respectively, new lines will cross Han River by a tunnel beneath the riverbed, while an eighth subway will be extended by 2017.

The Singapore government, on the other hand, regards its Marina Bay project as a centrepiece of urban transformation, providing the city with the opportunity to attract new investments, visitors and talents. It is here where the most innovative facilities and infrastructure such as the underground “common services tunnel” are built and where mega activities take place. 

CREBA believes that the need to establish larger annual targets for mass housing is made even more urgent and compelling by the spate of typhoons, floods, and other natural and man-made calamities that have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dwellings and left many families homeless and penniless overnight. Local governments must complete their comprehensive land use plans (CLUPs) immediately. Once and for all, our local government leaders must exert all will, efforts and resources to remove people along riverbanks, sloping, mining areas, and other danger zones.

Published in the Manila Bulletin September 2012

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