[PHOTO AT LEFT - Photo shows shanties at the mouth of Pasig River near the Parola compound in Tondo, Manila where a dredging project is currently being implemented. WILLY PEREZ |MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, OCTOBER 17, 2009 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo will implement the forced relocation of thousands of families living on riverbanks and other high-risk areas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces even if it would mean losing the political support of local government officials, presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde said yesterday.

Remonde said the President reiterated her resolve to implement a long-term plan to make the nation’s capital safer from natural calamities during the special meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) at Malacañang yesterday.

Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo was open to the idea of radically rearranging the layout of Metro Manila to make it safer from severe flooding and other natural disasters.

Remonde said the President noted some local officials were opposing the idea of relocating squatters and residents out of harm’s way.

He said Mrs. Arroyo would nevertheless implement the forced relocation of residents even if it would mean losing a substantial constituency and votes of local officials concerned with the onset of elections in 2010.

“Being a politician, she understands these (opposition to relocation) but she is determined to enforce her orders for the long-term good,” Remonde told a news briefing.

With only seven months left in office, Remonde said, “The President will have the political will to achieve her objectives to save lives and property until the end of her term.”

“The President recognizes that the topography and geography of Metro Manila will have to change because of this (flooding),” he said.

The proposal to permanently relocate residents out of harm’s way was brought up during a meeting with disaster officials earlier this month.

Mrs. Arroyo noted that thousands of families have been forced out of their homes because of the flooding brought by tropical storm “Ondoy.”

Disaster officials stressed the need for a plan to move out the families living near riverbanks and waterways to prevent another disaster from occurring when a storm like Ondoy would strike the metropolis.

Ondoy left a trail of destruction, killing almost 300 people, and affected some three million residents in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Among the hardest hit by the flooding are the cities of Marikina and Pasig, as well as the nearby province of Rizal.

Remonde said the President is studying two proposed executive orders, among them the permanent relocation of squatters along the Pasig and Marikina Rivers and other main waterways in Metro Manila.

He said the proposed executive order would include punitive actions against local officials opposing the permanent relocation of their residents who are at risk.

“When you take your oath (of office) you swear to enforce the law, so putting up those structures in riverbanks and other danger-prone areas is a violation of the law. If these (laws) are not enforced by local government officials, they themselves are violating the law,” Remonde said.

He added the President is also studying the proposal to create a council that would supervise river basin and dam operations.

Remonde said Vice President Noli de Castro, the country’s housing czar, was tasked to hammer out the final order on the permanent relocation.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said the plan to permanently relocate affected families would be sustained by De Castro who will identify available lands and relocation sites in different stages of development in provinces near Metro Manila.

The President said among the relocation sites available are San Mateo and Rodriguez towns in Rizal, Calauan in Laguna, and San Miguel in Bulacan.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, for his part, called on local chief executives to allocate and identify the lands in their cities and towns that are ideal for relocation of their constituents.

Puno reminded local officials to comply with the provisions of Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.

“I urge our mayors to act with urgency and fast-track the submission of this inventory so that we may be able to assist the many families rendered homeless by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng,” Puno said.

He said many local officials have failed to comply with the requirement of RA 7279 to conduct an inventory of their lands.

Relocation of waterway settlers to take years - Palace By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated October 17, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The massive relocation program for residents living in danger-prone areas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces could take years to complete and become a critical campaign issue in the 2010 presidential race, a Malacañang official said yesterday.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Laguna Lake Development Authority general manager Eduardo Manda is working closely with Vice President Noli de Castro and local officials on the relocation of people living along the lakeshore.

Reports said millions have to be permanently resettled to safer areas if the national and local governments are serious in preventing flood casualties.

Remonde said it is not fair for Manda to blame former President Fidel Ramos “or anybody” for the mushrooming squatter colonies in critical waterways in Marikina City and Pasig City.

“As we have been pointing out from the very beginning, now is not the time for finger pointing, now is not the time to blame anybody because now is the time to really get our act together as one country, as one people to be able to effectively address our major problem of rehabilitation,” Remonde said.

He said under the government’s timetable in the aftermath of storm “Ondoy” and typhoon “Pepeng,” there would be one to three months for relief work, three to six months for recovery, and six months onwards for rehabilitation.

He pointed out that the rehabilitation in areas in the Visayas badly hit by typhoon “Frank” in 2008 has not yet been completed.

“I think the actual major relocation will still take place maybe three to six months from now and will last very much longer,” Remonde said.

He said De Castro is also working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to identify more idle government lands that could be developed and converted into housing sites.

De Castro, the government’s housing czar, earlier this week said the latest inventory showed a housing project in Tuba, Benguet could make available 223 units.

He said the Department of Agrarian Reform has also pinpointed Uringan, Pangasinan as a possible relocation site for 1,000 families.

He added that the National Housing Authority has offered housing materials’ loan to informal settler families affected by the typhoons on instructions of President Arroyo.

De Castro also reported that around 450 families from Marikina City have been relocated to Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

He pointed out that “social preparations” are ongoing for the prioritized 400 families from Quezon City who will transfer to Towerville, San Jose del Monte, and Bulacan.

He said for the immediate identified housing requirements, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council can make available 8,175 more units for displaced families.

He said a total of 2,350 housing units are ready for occupancy at the government’s relocation sites in Sta. Rosa, Biñan, and San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

De Castro said 5,825 developed and serviced lots are already available, but needing only about two months to complete site development and house construction in Calauan, Laguna and in Rodriguez, Rizal.

Remonde said “it would be good if this issue would stand the test of the elections (because) this could be the basis for voters to vote or not, depending on the candidates’ stand on the issue.”

Illegal structures

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has started implementing a massive clearing of Metro Manila’s waterways to prevent the repeat of massive flooding like what happened at the height of Ondoy.

Edelberto Tayao, DPWH regional director for National Capital Region, told reporters at the weekly Friday Balitaan at Rembrandt Hotel in Quezon City that they were coordinating with the Metro Manila Development Authority and local government units.

“We are now in the process of identifying illegal structures along Metro Manila waterways,” he said.

Target of the massive cleanup operations are illegal structures like buildings and houses built along waterways.

He said the program, which will be carried out in the next few months, is aimed at clearing major waterways that have been clogged by garbage and other structures which blocked the flow of water.

Initial reports said most waterways in the metropolis have been reclaimed, forcing water to overflow during heavy rains.

DPWH undersecretary Romeo Momo said the clearing of waterways would also be carried out in flood-prone areas in other parts of the country.

He said the agency has already identified flood-prone areas and begun rehabilitation works to restore damaged roads and bridges.

Mono said the damage to roads, bridges, and waterways has reached over P2 billion.

Finding solution to flood problem

But aside from shanties set up by squatters along waterways, factories and houses built on former rice fields have also contributed to the flooding in Metro Manila, the MMDA said.

MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando noted that massive flooding also occurred in 1909 and 1937 in Marikina Valley.

The floodwaters did not damage the area as these flowed from the upland areas of Rizal province to the rice fields, he said.

Marikina Valley, the MMDA said, includes the cities of Quezon, Marikina, Pasig and Cainta in Rizal.

“The area then was not yet developed, thus the water simply flows through the rice fields discharging to the Laguna Lake and Marikina River all the way to the Manila Bay,” Fernando said.

He said the same areas are now filled with houses and factories that have blocked the flow of floodwater from the upland areas of Rizal province to the Laguna Lake and Marikina River.

He added that the MMDA is now finding a solution to Metro Manila’s flood problem.

One solution being seriously considered is the in-city relocation of squatters who have built shanties along blocked waterways, he stressed.

Fernando said informal settlers would be relocated to medium-rise tenement units similar to the urban BLISS housing project of the Marcos administration.

He said informal settlers would rent the tenement units at low monthly rates.

They are still identifying areas in Manila and Quezon City where tenements could be built, he said.

He explained that while the project would make use of public property, the government would buy private property, if necessary.

Fernando said the MMDA would prioritize the relocation of those living in danger zones such as riverbanks and waterways in Metro Manila.

Earlier, Malacañang said it would implement the forced relocation of thousands of families living along riverbanks or in high-risk areas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. – With Perseus Echeminada, Mike Frialde

GMA wants Pasig River dredged by 2010 By Katherine Adraneda (The Philippine Star) Updated October 16, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo has ordered the Pasig River dredging project to be completed by December 2010 in order to lessen, if not resolve, the flooding in Metro Manila and other areas surrounding Laguna Lake, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Lito Atienza said yesterday.

As of Oct. 15, the dredging project was almost 30 percent complete with at least 468, 000 cubic meters of sediment materials already scraped from the riverbed. The project is supposed to run for six more years.

“It’s a good thing that this project started months before the onslaught of tropical storm Ondoy because given the head start we were able to lessen the calamity. If this project did not start months before, the disaster we experienced because of the typhoon could have been worse,” Atienza said.

During her visit yesterday afternoon at the project site, near the mouth of Pasig River in Baseco, the Chief Executive lauded what the project development has attained so far, but still hoped that the dredging operation would be stepped up.

Atienza, who also chairs the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), which oversees efforts to revive the Pasig River, said the swift flow of water in the river would help lower the water level in Laguna Lake.

“Pasig River provides the natural drainage line for the water from the Laguna Lake towards the Manila Bay. Though this project will not solve the problem of flooding, this will nevertheless greatly help lessen incidents of flooding as well as the destruction especially whenever there is another abnormal volume of rainfall, which is being attributed to climate change,” he said.

Earlier, the PRRC announced that its “comprehensive” dredging of the Pasig River is “definitely making headway.” The Belgian government-sponsored venture formally started last April.

The Pasig River dredging project requires the removal of an estimated 2.83 million cubic meters of debris or sediment from the 27-kilometer Pasig River through the use of five Eco-Grab machines; and its containment to two Underwater Placement Overdepths with Capping (UPOCs) in a “safe site” in Manila Bay.

PRRC deputy executive director Alan Gatpolintan said the undertaking would specifically cover a portion of the Pasig River from an extension into Manila Bay to the Napindan Hydraulic Flood Control Gate.

The dredged materials would be contained using the UPOC technology, a type of confined disposal facility, he also said.

UPOC involves the excavation of the containment cell at the seabed using a tractor suction hopper dredger or mechanical clamshell bucket, Gatpolintan explained. Each UPOC could accommodate 1.4 million cubic meters of contaminated materials.

Atienza said the UPOC technology is “very, very environmentally safe and clean.”

The dredging project aims to improve water quality of the river to reduce health risks, enhance transport potentials, and eliminate or mitigate flooding in the area.

Despite its current polluted state, Gatpolintan said Pasig River can hold as much as 6.5 million cubic meters of water, but the dredging project, once completed, would increase the river’s capacity by as much as 40 percent.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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