Aquino acts on flood woes

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Manila --- President Benigno S. Aquino III has directed the national government to impose sanctions on local government units (LGUs) that allow informal settlers to return to their former settlement areas that are among the major waterways in Metro Manila.

Presidential Communications and Strategic Planning Secretary Ramon Carandang said yesterday the President had given the instructions during the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday on Metro Manila flooding.

“It’s the responsibility of the LGUs na ‘di na sila makabalik dun [for the informal settlers not to return to the area] so we’ll do everything we can,” Carandang said.

“It’s the LGUs’ job to prevent them from coming back. We will make them accountable if they come back,” he said.

Carandang said while past mistakes can no longer be sanctioned, the government will be stricter in imposing sanctions this time, noting that living near waterways is against the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) Law.

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson said the government has identified eight major waterways that need to be cleared, including San Juan River, Tullahan River, Manggahan floodway, Pasig River and Estero de Maypajo.

He said almost 20,000 informal settler families would have to be moved to resettlement sites.

The 20,000 informal settler families in eight major waterways is part of the 60,130 total of informal settler families in 273 waterways in Metro Manila.

“May timetable na to implement dahil funding is already there [We have a timetable to implement because there is already funding]. Funding is not an issue,” Singson said.

He said efforts for the clearing of waterways started before summer and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, for his part, said relocation of informal settler families includes obtaining their biometrics to ensure that they will not go back to the site or to other danger areas.

“Lahat ng gagawin ng pamahalaan ay para sa kanilang kabutihan at kaligtaasan [Everything that the government does is for their own good and for their own safety]… It will be done in a humane and just manner,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino meanwhile said the Master Plan for flood control in Metro Manila does not happen overnight.

“Rather, it should be seen and felt as a process,” he said.

“A pumping station is designed for a specific waterway and machinery for that cannot be bought over the counter,” Tolentino added.

The Master Plan, which was approved by the Aquino administration last year, is designed to come up with a permanent long term solution and would cover 17 million in population.

The government had set aside a total of P5-billion in high impact projects alone under the Master Plan.

For his part, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said the government has allocated P40 billion to address the massive flooding in Metro Manila that has been a major cause of stress and anger for motorists and commuters in the past few days.

Roxas said the fund allocation is actually P10 billion every year that started in 2012 and is set to be completed when President Aquino steps down in 2016.

The bulk of the fund, according to Roxas, will be allocated for the relocation of some 60,000 families who are currently living in more than 10 waterways in Metro Manila.

“The safety of the people, especially those living near the waterways, is the priority of the Aquino administration and this is the reason why we have been continuously looking for ways for them to have safe and decent lives,” Roxas told reporters in a chance interview at Camp Crame.

So far, Roxas said some 5,000 housing units have already been completed in the provinces through off-site housing project while another 5,000 units inside Metro Manila are expected to be completed by October this year.

The target, according to Roxas, is to relocate 20,000 families every year until the entire 60,000 families living in danger zones are relocated to safer grounds.

In answering criticisms on the delay of the housing project for those living in danger zones in the metropolis, Roxas explained that it is because they have been making sure that those will be moved out of their houses will not just be relocated but will be transferred in a place where they could start and have a decent living.

He added that the government is also taking into considerations the concerns of the urban poor, including their request that the relocation site should be not that far from their work places.

This is the reason, he said, why they included in the planning the in-city relocation sites, with affordable monthly amortization.

Roxas did not specify the areas where the in-city relocation site would be built but earlier mentioned the cities of Pasig, Manila and San Juan as having families living in danger zones.

The official said another factor that causes the delay in the implementation is the government’s effort to look for as many vacant lots that will be used in in-city housing projects.

Roxas explained that the relocation of thousands of families occupying the waterways would be a big help in easing the flooding problem in Metro Manila.

While there are separate funds for the anti-flood infrastructure projects in the metropolis, Roxas said even the experts admitted that these infrastructure projects are not enough to address the flooding.

“No matter how many drainage and tunnels we construct to lead the floodwater out of Manila, we will continue to experience the same problem until we clear the waterways where water naturally flow out of Metro Manila,” said Roxas.

The official even cited the current complaint of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) that they could not totally clean the waterways because of the houses that were built alongside and on top of the waterways.

“So the big part of the plan of the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) and the MMDA is to clear these waterways so that water will easily flow to the Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay,” said Roxas.

The good news, according to Roxas, is that the P40 billion anti-flood fund allocation does not need foreign funding, noting that the government has saved enough money. (With reports from Aaron Recuenco and Ben R. Rosario) (Manila Bulletin)

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