MANILA, Philippines - Metro Manila will never be flood-free, according to the chief of the agency in charge of flood control efforts.
Francis Tolentino, chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), told the Senate committee on climate change at a hearing on Thursday that even building additional infrastructure won't be enough to prevent floods.
"Metro Manila can never be flood resistant," Tolentino said.
He explained that certain parts of Metro Manila like Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela are below sea level, making them susceptible to flooding
Tolentino also identified other flood-prone areas such as R. Papa St. in Manila, Maysilo Circle in Mandaluyong, and Araneta Ave. in Quezon City.
"But Metro Manila can be flood resilient," he added, citing Marikina and certain parts of Quezon City where residents have learned to prepare themselves for floods and survive.
Tolentino said the MMDA's 51 pumping stations can only do so much, especially because of the huge amount of trash in waterways that clog them.
He said this was a problem when floods due to monsoon rains inundated many parts of Metro Manila last week.
"Pagod na ang mga pump natin. Ang nahihigop natin ngayon, puro basura," he said.
Senate climate change committee chair Loren Legarda told Tolentino to make sure the Solid Waste Management Act is being implemented well.
Legarda noted that only 30 percent of the country is implementing the law, which mandates waste segregation, among others.
"I don't want to wait for amendments to the law," she said. "I think what we must do is help each other, MMDA and the local government units."
Without trash, Tolentino said floods in Metro Manila will be reduced.
"We must adapt but we must also limit the impact on our daily life," Legarda told reporters after the hearing.
Other experts in the hearing pointed to settlements along waterways such as creeks and rivers as a cause of floods.
Architect Nathaniel Von Einsiedel, the chief planner of Metro Manila during the Marcos administration, said this makes infrastructure against floods inadequate.
"Because of continuing urbanization and population growth, the infrastructure gets overwhelmed after a few years. The absorptive capacity, the open spaces have been drastically reduced," he said.
The National Housing Authority assured the committee that it will begin this year its relocation program for people living along waterways. Assistant General Manager Froilan Kampitan said they aim to finish relocating 147,000 families by 2016.
Another senator, however, pointed out that the MMDA's poor management of the pumping stations caused the floods last week, especially in Taguig City.
A day after delivering a privilege speech on the matter, Senate Minority Leader Alan Cayetano took Tolentino to task for his supposedly late approval of a request to purchase fuel for some pumping stations.
For instance, the request for the pumping station in Hagonoy was approved after 21 days, and the fuel delivered when Metro Manila was already flooded.
During Thursday's hearing, Tolentino clarified that he approved the fuel purchase requests only a few days after they were sent to his office. He said the fuel was supposed to last until September.
But Cayetano said the fuel was still delivered late and the pumping stations did not work. He also showed an August 2 letter from former MMDA engineer Michael Doce telling Assistant General Manager Edenison Fainsan that the fuel delivery was still incomplete.
Tolentino said the MMDA is now investigating the matter. The committee ordered him to submit his findings on August 22.