MANILA, Philippines – In his last State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 27, President Benigno Aquino III spent about 10 minutes listing down ongoing and completed infrastructure projects.
But he also took the time to air his frustrations over projects that did not materialize because of opposition from different groups. One of these groups was apparently the University of Santo Tomas (UST), which rejected the construction of a proposed catchment area on campus.
“Our strategy is clear: in constructing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, we reduce the suffering where we must, and we accelerate the delivery of benefits. I only ask that we all contribute in the effort, and that we be willing to make sacrifices,” Aquino said in Filipino.
His first example was a “particular university” in Manila.
“Para matugunan ang madalas na pagbaha sa Maynila, isinulong natin ang pagpapagawa ng catchment area, pero tumutol po dito ang isang malaking unibersidad. May lumang mga gusali daw kasi silang baka maapektuhan ng gagawing proyekto.”
(For example: to address flooding in Manila, we pushed for the construction of a catchment area, which a particular university was protested. They said that some of their old buildings could be affected by the project.)
According to a 2013 report by the official student publication The Varsitarian, the plan was to build a “retarding tank” under UST’s open grounds for a double purpose: a catchment basin during rainy season, and an underground parking facility during dry season.
The Department of Public Works and Highways first proposed this in 2011, but the UST administration rejected the proposal in 2013, citing “security concerns” and the “expected disturbance of the university’s regular activities.”
UST’s open spaces and other buildings are also National Cultural Treasures, as declared by the National Museum in 2010. This means government has to protect these areas and provide funding for their conservation and restoration.
On Monday evening, hours after the SONA, The Varsitarian posted this:
President Aquino's #SONA2015: "Big university" in Manila opposed flood catchment project. Read our 2013 report:…
President Aquino's #SONA2015: "Big university" in Manila opposed flood catchment project. Read our 2013 report:…Posted by The Varsitarian on Monday, 27 July 2015
The post revived discussions on how to solve the flood problems of Manila without sacrificing culture.
“Building a catch basin in UST or near it is not the answer. The government must revive all the dead rivers and esteros to solve the flood problems,” Harlo Mullen suggested.
“Hundred-year-old structures are worth protecting and for sure there’s a way to stop flooding without ruining century old buildings,” Julie Anne Buena Quita said.
For Vhel Marquez-Salud Gee, Aquino’s statement shows he has “absolutely no regard to culture, history, and heritage.”
In his speech, the President also hit groups that opposed the plan to open up an alternative route in order to get started with retrofitting the Guadalupe bridge along EDSA, Metro Manila’s main highway. He also lamented about local officials that “put roadblocks” to prevent infrastructure projects.
“If they do not want to cooperate, the only thing I will say is this: next year is an election year, and our ‘bosses’ will be the ones to decide who has alleviated, or added to, their suffering,” he said. – Rappler.com
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