Palace urged to build ponds vs floods
MANILA, Philippines – Spending only P1,000 for labor, he dug a pond in front of his house. He knew this 10-square meter hole – with fish and lilies to keep mosquitoes away – can collect excess rainwater and prevent flooding within its vicinity.
A Ramon Magsaysay awardee, top environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr said rainwater ponds like this can solve flooding problems in the Philippines. In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, Oposa urged the government to “find vacant spaces, especially in low-lying areas, and excavate the land and turn it into ponds, water reservoirs, and lakes so that excess waters will have a place to go.”
Oposa distills the common reasons for flooding in one sentence: “Excess waters have nowhere to go.”
“Every problem contains within itself the seed of its own solution. The solution to flooding is really very simple: Give the excess waters a place to go. That is the function of wetlands, ponds, and lakes,” he said in the piece published Saturday, August 11.
The problem, he said, is that the government has been selling land for commercial development.
“Do we really need all these malls and commercial 'development'? How much do we spend for 'relief' efforts, how much is the damage and the cost of the lives that result from every flooding episode? Can we not set aside even a portion of those areas to catch excess rainwaters, and turn some of it into open spaces for parks and possible evacuation centers?” Oposa wrote.
“Mr Gobyerno, hanggang pera-pera na lang ba talaga ito?” he said. (Mr Government, is this all about the money?)
A Newsbreak report made the same observation in 2002, noting that almost a 5th of Metro Manila's 63,000-hectare land area is naturally flood-prone. Urban development “has covered practically every part of the city in impermeable asphalt and cement, making it difficult for rainwater to seep through soil,” explained the writer, Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza, in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler.
“Have you ever wondered why the campus of the University of Santo Tomas often gets flooded? That's because the Dominican fathers built the university on top of what used to be the Estero de Alix in Sampaloc, Manila,” Mendoza said.
Laws in place
Oposa, however, said he sees a “little ray of hope.” He noted the existence of laws like Republic Act 6716, or the Rainwater Collector Law, which was signed in 1989. The environmental lawyer said the law ordered the construction of 100,000 rainwater collectors in each barangay until 1991 – a function that was eventually devolved to local governments under the Local Government Code.
“Of course, like many of the laws in this country, it lies atrophied in the sickbed of non-compliance,” he said.
Thus, in an unprecedented move in 2010, Oposa and other citizens petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the Office of the President, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and local government units to implement the Rainwater Collector Law.
It was the first case to invoke the Writ of Kalikasan, then a new legal remedy “on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated,” among other things.
Oposa said the DILG and the DPWH, as a result, entered into a memorandum of agreement to implement the law. This has been submitted to the SC for approval, he added.
Political will needed
Like Oposa, various government agencies see the importance of rainwater collection systems.
In February this year, DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo urged local executives to construct rainwater collectors in line with their development or climate action plans. “These will be useful both during the wet and dry seasons, since they would not only lessen the impact of floods on our people, but would also serve as our additional water resource during summer,” Robredo said.
At around the same time, DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson also ordered his agency's field offices to construct rainwater collection systems in public schools, allocating P39.6-M for 547 of these in 2012. His main concern was water supply during the dry season.
“We plan to double the number of schools with these facilities this year to address the lack of water supply in state-run institutions amid the forecast of Pagasa that La Niña is expected to extend up to the first quarter,” Singson said.
But seeing the law's importance is one thing, fully implementing it is another. Oposa said President Benigno Aquino III himself needs to step in, especially with a “full-blown crisis in our midst.”
He said Aquino's Cabinet, after all, is composed of “the right people in the right places at the right time.”
He cited DPWH's Singson, “who, in his private sector days with a water company, was responsible for putting up a huge rainwater collector in the Fort (Taguig).” He said this rainwater collector, which is supposedly the size of a 7-storey building, has prevented flooding in the area.
He also mentioned, among other government officials, DILG's Robredo. A former mayor of typhoon-prone Nagay City, Robredo “understands only too well the meaning of resilience and adaptation.”
“Every crisis is an opportunity,” Oposa explained. “All it needs is guidance and the go-signal from our leader. With a fast-track action plan, we can minimize flooding by the rainy season of 2013, and altogether eliminate it by 2015.” – Rappler.com