LAST June 13, barely on the second week of the school year, heavy rains resulted in a flash flood, stranding more than 2,000 Thomasians on campus. It was the beginning of the very familiar UST flood season, it seems.

Less than a week later on June 17, the flood was duplicated, caused by tropical storm “Emong.”

University administrators have been more prepared this time in declaring class suspension and securing the safety of students. This year’s academic calendar has even been adjusted in anticipation of weather disturbances and class disruptiions.

But while UST and other academic institutions in the University Belt and elsewhere in Metro Manila brace themselves for the storm season whose effects have become more and more distressful and alarming through the years, it seems that the government, national and local, has done nothing except to pin the blame on one another when the floods come rampaging.

To be sure, it is shocking that three years into the Aquino administration, one of whose first acts was to fire the chief of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), weather forecasting in the country remains hopelessly Jurassic.

For example, Pagasa failed to predict the thunderstorm in the afternoon of June 13 so that by the time school authorities had declared a class suspension, Sampaloc and other Manila districts were already inundated.

After the June 17 flooding which affected a wider swathe of Metro Manila and stranded more motorists and passengers, especially in the Makati business district, the Aquino government made the motions of being on top of the situation. But its PR initiative was spoiled when the Pagasa chief tendered his resignation because of a better offer in the Middle East. He was the third chief weather forecaster to resign from the three-year government. He resigned with an agency whose decrepit equipment has hardly been improved what with the government paying mere lip service to public safety and civil defense compromised by typhoons and floods.

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It does not help that the two main government agencies tasked to provide flood-control solutions—Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority—are pinning the blame on each other. It would seem that neither wants to be held accountable.

DPWH said they were constricted in carrying out flood-control projects due to MMDA’s strictness in issuing permits. The latter, in turn, blamed DPWH contractor’s late submission of the necessary documents.

In short, public safety has been compromised because of red tape.

This is not a defense of short cuts. The MMDA has the perfect right to uphold regulatory procedures. But it is obvious that both are government agencies that should coordinate with one another to hasten flood-control projects in which time is of the essence. The left hand should know what the right is doing.

How flood control has been bureaucratized—and in the process, how public safety has been compromised—by the MMDA and DPWH is obvious since one had seen expensive public works projects left and right around Metro Manila last summer amid the election season when such projects were supposed to have been banned! Obviously the MMDA and DPWH—and the Comelec—have a lot to explain a how such infrastructure projects were carried out despite the prohibition on public works.

As a result of the stasis in the MMDA and DPWH, the latter failed to flush out the waters because its pumping stations were clogged with garbage dumped by informal settlers. The DPWH said it failed to dredge the creeks apparently because it didn’t get the permit from the MMDA. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson has also suggested that some local executive opposed the removal of the squatters because of the election.

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But all of these are alibis! They merely betray the incompetence of government.

Crisis? Quick! Look busy!

President Aquino showed his administration’s characteristic way of handling a crisis it itself has caused by calling for a summit of all agencies to resolve the flood problem. It seems that Aquino’s government style is this: “There’s a crisis? Quick! Look busy!”

During the summit, Singson unveiled his “master plan” to relieve Metro Manila of its flood woes. The full tab? All of P352 billion! When is the full implementation? Year 2035!

It is lamentable that while DPWH does not work on the basics such as dredging creeks and rivers of garbage and clearing waterways of squatters, it has the gumption to come out with an expensive “master plan” thst is neither here nor there.

Instead, the DPWH has chosen to construct expensive concreting projects that worsen flooding.

Early in 2012, the government proposed to build a P900-million flyover on Lacson and España. Several architects and urban planners criticized the project, calling it a band-aid solution that would result in worse traffic and more urban decay.

DPWH later put the flyover project on hold and said it woud construct instead an underpass on España. The idea rubbed off the people the wrong way. Some even thought the DPWH was joking. But who can blame them? After all, the idea of building an underground passage in an area notorious for being submerged in flood seems ridiculous.

But DPWH said the underpass would be of dual purpose—reducing traffic jams in the area and functioning as a catch basin for floodwater. But experts said both purposes were dubious.

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Concrete greed

In the meantime, Singson said the DPWH has also proposed the construction of an underground cistern beneath the open grounds of UST that would catch flood waters around Sampaloc. But again this shows how in government, the right does not know what the left hand is doing: the UST open grounds have been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government, so how could a national agency like the DPWH have proposed such a harebrained idea to UST? Any construction on the open grounds of UST would have violated the declaration of the Republic!

If DPWH bureacrats and kickback-chasers had any sense in them, they should have realized that UST’s open grounds are a telling lesson on what has gone wrong with public works and infrastructure development. Because of the mania and greed for concrete developments, open grounds and waterways have been bulldozed over and in their place have been erected concrete mammoths that have deprived Metro Manila of their natural ecology to absorb water and mitigate flooding.

The DPWH’s elevation of España and other roads around UST, its road widening that resulted in trees being uprooted to make way for motorists, and City Hall’s untrammelled grant of permits to developers and profiteers for them to build very ugly skyscapers around the campus have merely added to the concreting and the destruction of the natural environment, resulting in the worsening floods of the past years.

If we’re seeing a master plan here, it’s a diabolical master plan. At the least, it’s a master plan of gross mismanagement and utter corruption.

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