Jojo A. Robles

No floods by 2035

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I think Robert Blair Carabuena set his sights too low when he roughed up a mere traffic enforcer. These days, I sincerely wish Carabuena would visit the headquarters of the Metro Manila Development Authority and beat up the man who calls himself its chairman.

Yes, that former mayor of a one-stoplight city in the mountains, where it never floods, in his current incarnation as the clueless and incompetent chairman of the MMDA, had what he thought was a brilliant idea: Because afternoon rains cause traffic, why not let workers, students and everyone else who is heading home after work or school leave early?

I have a better idea, I think: Why not send Chairman Francis Tolentino back to Tagaytay, where he can cool his heels and await the arrival of tourists every summer on his single highway, instead of inflicting his stupidity on the tired, traffic-addled and waterlogged millions who brave the floods and the gridlock in Metro Manila every blessed day?

There was a time when President Noynoy Aquino had Tolentino’s back, as they say. When Metro Manila’s residents complained about the traffic, Aquino gave his provinciano MMDA chairman a free pass by saying that the gridlock on Edsa and other main roads was a good thing because it was a sign of increased economic activity.

But Aquino, who appointed Tolentino as the first non-Metro Manila resident to head MMDA on the strength of the recommendation of his uncle, former Senator Agapito “Butz” Aquino, seems to have changed his mind, both about the horrendous metropolitan traffic and the work of the former Tagaytay mayor. Last I heard Aquino mention Tolentino, the President was chiding him in public because Aquino had gotten stuck in traffic and was late for an appointment in Taguig.

That was just three weeks ago, when traffic had not been worsened by the lethal combination of school opening and the arrival of the rainy season. Now that Malacañang has also declared that flooding is a local, not a national, problem that requires the response of a local government agency like MMDA and not Malacañang Palace, Tolentino has been cut off by Aquino once again.

And so Tolentino is forced to come up with “solutions” like sending people home early from work or school, as if this would not make a serious dent on productivity and education during the months that rain falls in earnest every day. Why Tolentino can’t come up with real solutions like compelling his traffic enforcers to stay on their posts to direct traffic during the rains—instead of disappearing because they can no longer mulct from motorists stuck in gridlock—boggles the mind.

Imagine, if you can, several months in a year where workers and students knock off early, like they did yesterday—when, ironically, the rain didn’t come as predicted. Now, try to wrap your mind around the losses in productivity and the effect of the lost school days on the students.

Then, imagine if MMDA and the other government agencies just did their jobs of clearing esteros and rivers before the rains came, directing traffic flow when it floods, deploying trucks to bring stranded people home and coming to the aid of those trapped by flooding in low-lying areas.

You’ll quickly realize what a fool Tolentino is. A barriotic fool.

* * *

Oh, but I saved the best of Tolentino for the last. The MMDA chairman, in a statement that will certainly haunt him until the end of his life, promised a flood-free Metro Manila – in 2035.

“By 2035, we are still young,” Tolentino said. “When the [flood control] master plan was conceptualized, it was not envisioned to be completed this year.”

Or in 20 years, apparently. And just to emphasize that his agency is not even involved in this supposed master plan to end all flooding, Tolentino said the massive flood control project is going to be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways, not MMDA.

No one knows yet what this project will entail or what it will cost or even how many of the people who now suffer when floodwater rises and the streets become huge parking lots will still be alive by 2035. All we have is Tolentino’s word that such a project exists, probably in some DPWH official’s mind or in his computer, as a PowerPoint presentation.

So, in the meantime, according to this fool that Aquino sent to buy some vinegar and who ended up as MMDA chairman, we will all just have to bear with the floods. “[The flooding] will not end until the project is completed and it will result in what transpired last night, but we hope to minimize the adverse effects,” he said.

If what happened last Monday night—and what will certainly happen yet again, because the rainy season has only just begun—is Tolentino’s idea of minimizing the effects of the flooding, then we’re really in trouble. And we’re in trouble now, not in 2035.

Now, where’s Carabuena when you really, really need him to knock some sense into Tolentino’s head?

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