Manila lags behind other cities in environmental governance

By Riziel Ann Cabreros, ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC)

Posted at Jan 22 2013 03:17 AM | Updated as of Jan 22 2013 11:17 AM

Second of two parts

Shanties at the mouth of the port area. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra

In 2010, Manila was one of the eight cities in the National Capital Region that got an overall performance rating below the national average based on Department of Interior and Local Government’s 2010 State of Performance of Cities.

Manila lagged behind other cities like Valenzuela, San Juan, and Taguig in administrative governnance, social governance, economic governance, and environmental governance.

The city’s peace, security and disaster risk management as well as its urban ecosystem management have been identified as areas for improvement by the DILG in its e-report on Manila’s state of local governance from 2009-2011. Recommendations included strengthening the solid waste management board and ensuring that every barangay has a material recovery facility (MRF).

MRF is defined in Republic Act 9003 or Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 as a facility “designed to receive, sort, process, and store compostable and recyclable materials efficiently and in an environmentally sound manner.”

Looking back, Manila had its comprehensive land use plan and zoning ordinance in 2006 before Mayor Jose Atienza stepped down. The plan incorporated the issues, needs, and solutions to problems in different sectors of governance including environmental governance. It identified the flood-prone areas and recommended solutions to the problem.

The City Planning and Development Office created medium-term plans since the first election of Lim in 2007. What happened?


It appears that the bureaucracy in City Hall has slowed down disaster management.

Architect Marlou Campaner, chief of the Urban Design Division of the City Planning and Development Office, said in his report in February 2011 that since the national disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) plan was not formulated yet, Manila’s own DRRM plan “cannot be ideally crafted.”

The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, said Campaner, provides that local governments should have a DRRM officer who is tasked to formulate and implement a comprehensive and integrated local DRRM plan. Manila has yet to pass a city ordinance that would create the MDRRM office.

Meantime, Virgilio Martin III of the Manila Health Department was first assigned as an interim MDRRM officer. However, he was relieved from his duties in December 2011. Months after, Gilbert Celestino was assigned to the post on a contractual basis; he was under the supervision of Marzan.

A glimpse of Baseco, a community that is vulnerable to floods and fire. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra.

Celestino attended trainings and eventually worked on the MDRRM plan. For the past year, under the leadership of Marzan, the MDRRMO has set up disaster control and evacuation centers in Delpan and Baseco that are expected to be inaugurated before the campaign season, according to Celestino. These areas are densely populated by families living in makeshift houses and shanties. Marzan said they chose to build in these areas based on past experiences.

Baseco, identified as vulnerable to typhoons, floods, and fire, would have poor accessibility to help in case disaster strikes since there is only one way out. “People have nowhere to go to, so where will they run to if something happens? At least they have somewhere safe to go to,” Marzan said.

“It may not be formally acknowledged by the council yet, but the MDRRM is functioning,” Marzan pointed out.

We requested an interview with Mayor Lim, but we were referred to City Engineer Armando Andres, who had this to say when asked on how the absence of the city ordinance creating the MDRRM Office affect their work, “I don’t think it’s necessary. If a storm hits the city, should we still wait for the city council? Of course, not. If a calamity strikes, we respond. We have our people and our equipment.”

Ordinance is urgent

The Office of the Mayor belatedly sent the proposed ordinance creating the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office to the city council in November 2012; it was certified as urgent.

As of this writing (January 2013), the proposed city ordinance is yet to be included in the agenda of a city council session. Will it be passed before the campaign period for local candidates begins on March?

Councilor Jocelyn Dawis-Asuncion is for a change of leadership in the city of Manila. Photo credit: Riziel Ann Cabreros

Moving forward, Councilor Jocelyn Dawis-Asuncion hopes for a change in leadership in the May elections. “I think we need a change, because there are things that I wish we did and these are not being done. Maybe a change of leadership would focus on what is really important and basic,” said Asuncion, who is now on her last-term as a councilor.

Lim is running for a third term against former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in 2001 and convicted of plunder, but remains popular. Will disaster issues be part of the campaign discourse? That remains a big question mark.

Beyond political boundaries

Architect and urban planning expert Paulo Alcazaren says Metro Manila should be governed as a province. Photo credit: Alex Esguerra

To be truly prepared for floods, urban planning expert and architect Paulo Alcazaren says the government should go beyond political boundaries and approach disaster risk and reduction management at the regional level. This means including the uplands, like the Sierra Madre mountains: “If you manage the uplands so that trees start to re-grow and retain the soil, the soil won’t come down to fill up Laguna. The several hundred billion project to dredge Laguna Lake will be useless if you do not stop the source of the siltation.”

Alcazaren points out that with the overlapping national and local jurisdictions especially in Metro Manila, the megacity should be governed as a province. “Oftentimes, you look at 3 overlapping jurisdictions, so how can you get anything done? The solution to Metro Manila is to restructure it. It is the last megacity in Asia that is not governed as a province.”

Alcazaren is one of the authors of Lungsod Iskwater: The Evolution of Informality, a book that looks at how informality has become a norm in the planning of settlements in Metro Manila and all of the urban areas. They pin the blame on the failure of government to impose strict management and rigorous planning in the development of towns and cities. He proposes that the government should prioritize providing land and housing for the poor, including the informal settlers along the waterways or esteros.

Contrary to the planned mid-rise buildings as housing for the informal settlers, Alcazaren says the government should be looking at building 15 to 30-storey housing projects for the poor because these are much more efficient. He adds, “You save a lot on utility, amenities, and you free up the land for the open space that is needed by the population.”

(This series is produced as part of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s first environmental investigative reporting fellowship program in the Philippines launched in 2012.)