when P352 billion does not even come close to cutting it (part 1)

Philippine General Hospital, c1910-1915

Philippine General Hospital, c1910-1915 (Photo credit: John T Pilot)

CHINO HILLS, CA – In the wake of the Habagat 2012, Patrick Gatan, the head of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) Project Management Office for Major Flood Control Projects bared a plan to spend P352 billion over 23 years (until 2035) for infrastructure projects “aimed at reducing the vulnerability of Metro Manila and and outlying provinces to flooding during heavy rains”.

Hmmm…

I don’t really know whether to take this seriously or not. Of course, P352 billion is nothing to sneeze about. Then again, that’s only just over P15 billion a year on average over the 23 years. If you take out the P198 billion that is supposedly being appropriated for a new dam in Marikina, it leaves only P154 billion or P6.7 billion for other projects in the “comprehensive plan”.

This news item was all over the front pages of the major dailies and was even the banner headline on the Inquirer. But then again – who the heck is Patrick Gatan (no offense sir)? If something like this were to be taken seriously shouldn’t it be at least DPWH Secretary Babes Singson or even the President himself who should be front and center with this news and not poor Mr. Gatan who was quick to point out that the plan had yet to be approved by the NEDA Board.

A lot has already been said about the supposed causes of this recent cataclysmic event. These are really nothing new and really “old hat” coming so soon after the supposedly “one in a hundred years” deluge that was Ondoy.

Sadly, the punditry we are seeing and hearing now will continue to be seen and heard over and over again year after year because all the solutions that are being proposed (whether logical or inane) only go over the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause. And until those who are in positions to know the difference acknowledge the real problem, and propound and champion a real solution – Filipinos will be condemned to never-ending and more frequent Ondoys and Habagat 2012s.

If we look at what has happened and what could possibly happen in the future, the impact and effects of typhoons and monsoonal rains can be gauged from two variables – first, the strength and/or intensity of these weather phenomena and second, the physical environment that it will be impacting.

As to the first, the strength and/or intensity of these events, common wisdom is that global warming is causing stronger and more frequent typhoons and destructive weather. The perceived anecdotal evidence seems to support this view propounded famously by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”. But is this really the case? There are some equally compelling though less publicized arguments taking the view that global warming has nothing to do with typhoons or at least not caused an increase in the number and intensity of adverse weather phenomena. Whoever is right (and I am not here to argue either position), what is sure to happen is that the Philippines will continue to be hit on average by between 12-20 typhoons a year which will be compounded by monsoonal events.

As for the second variable, the physical environment which will be impacted by these weather events, it has definitely changed and changed for the worse. The denudation of our forests, the disruption of natural waterways and pathways for excess rain water, the building of structures where none should be built, the increase in the population living in disaster-prone areas – all these have contributed and will continue to contribute to the intensification of the effects of these weather conditions.

So, whether global warming has anything to do with it or not, the human tragedy from future Ondoys will continue to happen because we, ourselves, have laid the ground for this to happen.

Now back to the P352 billion – my hope is that this gets scrapped in its entirety. It will be money wasted and will only serve to make us (falsely) hope for a resolution to these tragedies – a false hope because this “comprehensive plan” does not confront the root cause of the problem and thus does not provide a real solution. Instead, it proposes to build more infrastructure which FIGHTS NATURE instead of accepting the reality of nature and adapting to it – a fight which we are destined to lose.

I also wonder about how the 80 million or so other Filipinos who do not live in Metro Manila feel about spending all this money. Why should they be made to pay to make the lives of those stupid enough to live in a flood plain marginally better?

So what should we be doing?

Strangely enough, the most sensible path has come out of MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino. Atty. Tolentino recently published a book – “A New City—A New Metro Manila, A New Future” – which essentially lays out the case for building a New Metro Manila. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, who better to know the frailties and limitations of Metro Manila other than the guy charged with trying to govern it.

(To be continued)

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One Comment on “when P352 billion does not even come close to cutting it (part 1)”

  1. jorenz says:

    The DPWH Secretary is Secretary Singson. Good article and well-argued points, regardless. Keep safe buddy.


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