Sponsorship speech for the Senate Committee on Public Works report on Metro Manila Flood Management

Overall Master Plan on Flood Management for Metro Manila

Mr. President, this Friday, September 26, marks the 5th anniversary of the onslaught of tropical storm Ondoy (or “Ketsana”, its name in the international community) in Metro Manila. Also, incidentally, the United Nations just held yesterday the 2014 Climate Change Summit in New York City. And I take the floor today to report to this august Chamber the findings of your Committee on Public Works on the Resolution filed by Senator Ralph Recto (Proposed Senate Resolution No. 6) that called upon the Committee to inquire, in aid of legislation, about the current flood problem of Metro Manila and the initiatives planned and being implemented by the Government to manage and solve the same.

Our unprecedented experience during Ondoy on September 26, 2009 was a stark reminder that even Metro Manila, which is widely known as the main financial capital and economic hub of the country, is not exempt from the disastrous effects of environmental calamities. It was a terrifying and stupefying wake-up call not only to the extreme effects of high-intensity and non-stop precipitation as a consequence of climate change, but also to the vulnerability of our communities to such delubious effects.

The unforeseen destruction of tropical storm Ondoy was not attributed to the strength and gustiness of its winds for it merely packed 85kph in wind speed and up to 100kph gusty strength. In fact, when Ondoy entered, Metro Manila was merely placed on storm warning signal No. 1. The enormity of the untold effects of Ondoy lay in its precipitation delivery, or the amount of rainfall and its concentration over a short period of time.

According to PAGASA, Ondoy poured in just a span of 6 hours a whopping 392 millimeters of rainfall over Metro Manila, even surpassing the 15-year average amount of rainfall for the entire month of September of 364 millimeters!

As a consequence of the severe flooding, a major portion of Metro Manila’s streets was paralyzed. Cellphone cameras captured never-before-seen images, showing horrific scenes of up to roof-high floods, of deep rivers overflowing, of inundated exclusive villages and urban centers. Also photographed were elevated parking structures of malls becoming virtual rescue places for motor vehicles, which were lucky enough to avoid submergence, and providing safe haven for the commuters.

Reportedly, thirty-seven (37) roads sections in Metro Manila had been rendered impassable to both vehicles and pedestrians. Business operations and other essential public services all came to a halt, while classes were suspended. Expensive equipment, machinery, and even motor vehicles, were not spared as these too went underwater.

In sum, Ondoy reached some P11 billion in total damage to our infrastructure and agriculture, 464 deaths, 529 injured and 37 others missing. More than 185,000 houses and 1,382 school buildings were either destroyed or damaged, and thousands of vehicles rendered unserviceable. As a matter of fact, one insurance company has referred to Ondoy as “the most expensive learning experience for the motor insurance industry” in the Philippines.

We also had to deal with the concomitant health consequences of the flooding: the outbreak of leptospirosis, which post-Ondoy reports revealed 178 deaths and more than 2,200 patients treated.

Let us fast-forward 5 years later, 2009 to 2014.

My esteemed colleagues, just last Friday, “Mario” (Fung-Wong) battered Metro Manila with torrential rains as a result of the confluence of tropical storm Mario and the southwest monsoon or habagat. Mario poured down on Metro Manila 268 millimeters of rain over a 24-hour period. Once again, as if in déjà vu, Metro Manila became a virtual catchbasin of the deluge that descended from the clouds and flowed from its peripheries. It seemed like Ondoy all over again.

Metro Manila’s experience with Ondoy, as with Mario, highlighted not so much the strength of these environmental hazards, but more significantly, the vulnerability of our communities and our people, confirmed by the findings of the Committee. And with the unnerving statistics that the strongest, deadliest and costliest typhoons start to come in during the final quarter of the year, this may be the opportune time to remind ourselves of the urgency of addressing these weaknesses in our communities, and the cogent need for reorienting and reengineering our strategies to effect the same.

In the Committee deliberations, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DWPH) presented its diagnosis of the flood problem of Metro Manila, and identified three (3) major flooding occurrences in the metropolis and its surrounding areas, which in turn were attributed to two (2) main factors: climate change, and the negative effects of rapid yet uncontrolled urbanization.

The first kind of flooding is reportedly caused by overflow due to the huge volume of water coming down to the Pasig-Marikina river from the Sierra Madre mountains and the mountain ranges around Laguna Lake, exacerbated by the loss of watershed atop these mountain ranges. The second is the flooding due to insufficient drainage systems in the core area of Metro Manila. And the third type is the flooding due to the topography of the low-lying communities around Manila Bay and Laguna Lake.

These 3 flooding types were all showcased during the Ondoy floods, where an average of 3,000 cubic meters-per-second torrents rammed their way down tributaries with limited capacities of only in the hundreds of cubic meters per seconds. Worse, the discharge of the floodwaters was grossly impeded thanks to over-constricted waterways and esteros, which are packed not only with heavy siltation and obstructions coming from garbage and other solid wastes, but also with the effluence coming from human settlement communities and other man-made obstructions. Our “mismanaged” solid wastes also further heighten the flooding problem as they get sucked in by the pumping stations, thereby seriously damaging these crucial equipment. Lastly, low-lying communities in the Metro are not only the first to get inundated but also the last to dry up, due to their observed peculiar topography.

The solutions proposed by the DPWH involve both structural and non-structural interventions, which are all mentioned in detail in the Committee Report. On the one hand, the projects entailing structural intervention include river flow improvement, dam construction, rehabilitation and improvement of major pumping stations, and the like. On the other hand, the non-structural measures involve strengthening of PAGASA’s flood information and warning and rain-gauging systems, strengthening of community-based flood risk management systems, and timely completion and submission of judiciously crafted land use, climate change and DRRM plans by the local government units, reforestation, integrated water resources and river basin management, and strict enforcement of our waterways easement laws.

As may be gleaned from the aforementioned findings, the solutions proposed by the DPWH are mostly addressed to the Executive Branch for implementation, which primarily rests on the shoulders of agencies like the DPWH, DENR, DILG, DOST, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), not to forget the responsibilities of the local governments themselves—all of whom are expected to be adequately equipped with the necessary technical know-how that go with the implementing powers, all implying the availability of necessary funding to address all the aspects of the problem falling within their respective mandates and territorial jurisdictions.

Furthermore, the Committee had also unraveled certain key policy issues and organizational concerns that are related, directly and/or indirectly, to our flood problem in Metro Manila—and elsewhere. Most of which would urgently need prompt and effective interventions from the Legislative Branch. Hence, the Committee most respectfully recommends the following measures for the urgent consideration of this august Chamber which points to their immediate enactment, if we are to realistically approach our flood problem holistically and comprehensively. The important measures recommended are:

1) Hasten the modernization and capacity-building of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

2) Harmonize and rationalize the existing national policies on the differing uses of our land resources, and strengthen their strict enforcement and effective implementation.

3) Create the Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD), in order to maximize and better coordinate the numerous functions and services offered by key shelter agencies and the private sector, and to ensure that our resettlement and relocation programs and initiatives are strictly in accordance with Republic Act No. 7279.

4) Increase the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) shares of the LGUs and mandate their direct remittance to them, so that they may be able to more adequately and efficiently finance, in a timely manner, so as to enable them to pursue their respective local and community-based flood risk-mapping an

d planning towards the implementation of their flood management projects.

5) Legislate the creation of a national agency that shall be responsible for the effective and systematic management of the country’s river basins and watersheds.

6) Ensure the efficient and strengthened coordination and operational linkages between and among government agencies, such as the DPWH, the Laguna Lake Development Authority, MMDA, and others, and the LGUs, in order to avoid overlapping of functions and costly redundancy of efforts relating to flood management.

7) The appropriate Senate Committee may consider undertaking a separate study and evaluation of the implementation of Presidential Decree No. 1067, or the Water Code of the Philippines, as well as the roles of the LLDA and other similar bodies, in order to ensure that all flood management activities and projects are harmonized with the national policies on integrated water resource management.

8) Consider strengthening the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), through amendment of its charter, i.e., Republic Act No. 7924.

9) Review and revise the National Building Code (Presidential Decree No. 1096), in order to elevate and upgrade our standards and capacities with regard to building and infrastructure standards that could bring about safety and resiliency.

10) Institute “green building” measures to reverse and arrest our otherwise wasteful and imprudent building practices, and ultimately contribute to resource conservation and environmental sustainability.

11) And finally, as in all cases, we should ensure that all our legislative and executive actions are consistent with our international commitments and obligations, such as the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) “Agenda 21”.

With the aforementioned findings and recommendations of the Committee, this Representation earnestly exhorts our concerned colleagues in this Chamber to seriously consider the reported findings and analyses, not only in the course of our plenary and committee deliberations in the Senate, but also in our own individual legislative agenda, with the objective of not only helping in significantly addressing the challenges of our flood problems here in Metro Manila, but also in capacitating and strengthening our communities and our citizenry to adapt to and weather these worsening effects of global warming and climate change.

Thank you very much.

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