Flood control: Our problem, not our solution

Purple S. Romero

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Local government officials say they were not consulted on the significant aspects of the Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas (Camanava) flood control project

PERENNIAL FLOODING. Navotas continues to find solutions to persistent flooding. Photo by Rappler/John Javellana

MANILA, Philippines –The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) – through a P3-B loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency – devised a flood control project that was envisoned to mitigate flooding in the cities of Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas (Camanava). 

Local government officials said they were not consulted on the significant aspects of the project, however. (Check the timeline of the project here)

They saw the biggest irony –  that the project was made for them and their people, but they were allegedly left out of the process. The costs are dire, as the project suffered from infirmities that experts warned may affect the effectiveness of the flood control project which took almost 10 years to be completed. (Watch: Sinking Cities

Purple Romero reports:

At the height of the southwest monsoon in August 2012, this 20-year-old riverwall in Malabon collapsed.

It could have been avoided, if the right flood control project was put in place 13 years earlier in the flood-prone cities of Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas. 

Local government units were kept in the dark for most of the years the project was being developed.  

Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, who used to be mayor, says the lack of consultation led to a project with faulty design.

Former Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco: This is Malabon-Navotas river, there is Manila Bay. If you’re going to look at the map, this is Malabon-Navotas river, that is Manila Bay. So since we’re below sea-level, the water comes from two sides – from Malabon-Navotas river, Manila Bay)

So if you want to protect Navotas from the high tide, what do you do? You have to put a riverwall or a dike in Malabon-Navotas river and Manila Bay, because if you only put a riverwall at one side only, water will come from the other side.

Tiangco says the original design included a coastal dike.

Tiangco: In the original design of the Camanava flood project, aside from the one to be constructed at the Malabon-Navotas side, there was also a coastal dike to be built by Manila bay. But when they implemented the project, they removed the coastal dike because of lack of budget. They informed us, we complained but there’s no budget. If there’s no budget, what can you do?  

By 2008, the project was way behind schedule.

The city government of Malabon asked the DPWH for copies of the contract and design of the project. 

Ed Bautista, Malabon City Engineer: We were given a copy of the design after the project was done. How can we say if the design is right? But we think that being stakeholders, we should be provided with this information. 

The project has 26 components. 

Work started in 2003.  

It was supposed to be finished in 2007, but by 2008, only 88% was completed. 

DPWH project manager Carla Bartolo blames the delay on the difficulty of expropriating properties and removing informal settlers.

Camanava DPWH project manager Carla Bartolo: The delay of the project was due to right-of-way acquisition. That’s the main cause of the delay. 

The DPWH was supposed to expropriate 308 lots. 

By 2009, it had paid for only 176. 

To date, around P20-million worth of properties have yet to to be paid for.

Bartolo: That’s the thing – we negotiate with them, they agree [to] our terms, then they change their minds. I don’t know for what reason, so we expropriate their properties. We have paid most of the property owners. There are only a few left who have yet to be paid. We first negotiated, then they changed their minds. 

Most them have already been paid. Only a few were left. First they negotiated, then they changed their minds. We only have to pay less than P20 million. 

The incomplete expropriation of properties proved costly. 

Because of unresolved right-of-way problems, several components were dropped from the original contract:

  • remaining portions of polder dike in Malabon
  • Malabon river channel improvement
  • remaining portions of Longos Creek Channel improvement
  • Estero de Maypajo Channel improvement
  • Catmon creek channel improvement
  • and the northern catmon drainage facilities

By 2008, the affected local governments insisted on their stake in the project.

Then Malabon Mayor Canuto Oreta formed an advisory council that would monitor and check why the flood control project remained unfinished.

The council found that parts of the project design were flawed.

The navigational gate — which is supposed to control the sea water coming from Manila Bay and the outgoing water from the Navotas-Malabon river — failed to operate in its test run in 2008. 

Bartolo blames it on the 4-meter debris that clogged the base. 

Then DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane said it was just a “glitch.” 

The gate was actually corroded – the link rods, brackets, and detached bolts were damaged. 

Bartolo herself reported this to the Kamanava committee, but only in February 2012 – 4 years after the disastrous test run. 

Malabon initially planned to sue the DPWH in 2010. 

Engr. Benjamim Villacorta, acting city administrator, said the DPWH violated the Local Government Code when it did not inform the LGU of the status of the project.

The Malabon city government says the national government also violated Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials when it failed to release the documents requested by the local government within 15 days.

A legal case would have been complicated, so the local governments constructed their own flood mitigating structures. 

They used their own funds.

They simply couldn’t trust the unfinished national government project. 

Tiangco: In my early years as mayor, from 2001-2002, I saw that the project is already delayed. So what we did was we put up riverwalls. 

Despite the complaints over the first phase of the flood control project, the DPWH is set to start with phase 2.

This time, it’s for the city of Valenzuela in Metro Manila and the towns of Obando and Meycauyan in Bulacan.

Malabon sent to DPWH a list of improvements for the Camanava flood control project. These included the upgrade of the elevation of polder dike, Catmon creek rehabilitation, rehabilitation of riverwalls and construction of pumping station and floodgates.

The DPWH is not even certain the project can withstand the effects of extreme weather or climate change.

Its officials wash its hands of responsibility and blames the designers.

Bartolo: It’s our consultant who did. We’re not designers – the consultants did, but I think they considered it. They pegged the project for 2020 land use. 

In fact, Camanava officials fear that the design of the project is not only faulty, it has become obsolete. 

Bautista: After Habagat, Camanava was severely underwater. Congressman Jay Lacson requested an audience with [current DPWH] Secretary [Rogelio] Singson. He himself was convinced, he confirmed that there were lapses in the design. They are amenable that we can experience such calamity with a 20-year floos-return period. But imagine [what] Ondoy was in 2009, then 3 years after, we had Habagat. So the design is now obsolete. 

For 13 years, local officials demanded the truth about the Camanava flood control project. 

When they finally got it, it was too late. – Rappler.com

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