'Gov't, private developers liable for flood damage'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 01 2009 12:36 AM | Updated as of Oct 01 2009 06:55 PM

Urban planner and architect Felino Palafox Jr.

MANILA - Government agencies and private developers are jointly liable for the massive loss of life and property in several Metro Manila cities for practicing poor urban planning and allowing commercial and residential structures to be built in flood-prone areas, according to "green" architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr.

Palafox said a 1977 World Bank-funded study identified Marikina Valley, the western shores of Laguna de Bay, and the Manila Bay coastal area as among development areas that should prepare for flooding, earthquakes and possible changes in topography.

The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (Metroplan), which was finalized by Hong Kong-based consulting firm Freeman Fox and Associates, has been used as a blueprint by urban planning developers and various government agencies and urban planners. Unfortunately, he said corruption and lack of planning has led to the shelving of some of the plan's recommendations.

"You see the irony here. National government agencies are aware that there is a flooding level of so many meters, then another national government agency would approve subdivision plans for only nine-meter high houses. There are about 32 signatures to obtain just to do a development project. It's like an obstacle course," he said in an ANC interview last Tuesday.

Proposed Parañaque spillway (in red) to flush out the excess water to the Laguna Bay and South China Sea

He said the Metroplan addressed flood-mapping in Metro Manila, specifically after the massive typhoon in 1970. He said the Metroplan included the construction of the Manggahan Floodway, which would divert floodwaters from reaching Metro Manila by diverting the water to the Laguna Lake.

"There was supposed to be a Parañaque spillway to flush out the excess water to the Laguna Bay and South China Sea, but this was never done. It was part of the recommendation," he said.

Palafox said the study recommended the monitoring of the Marikina Riverbank so that the water would not reach 90 meters. Likewise, no structure should have been allowed within 9 meters from the riverbank, he added.

The architect said he is currently working with Marikina Mayor Marides Fernando on several development projects in the city. He said that in Marikina, structures should be built above 17 meters which is above the maximum flood level of the city.

This is the reason why SM Marikina, which he helped design, was built on stilts, with the lower level of the mall used only for parking and all the shops on higher levels.

"In Marikina, instead of nine-meter high buildings you go upward and build a boulevard with dikes. All subdivisions should go medium-rise or high-rise and there should no longer be individual houses. It should be mixed use. You live upstairs, you work in the middle and you shop downstairs, just like Paris," he said.

Manila like Paris

1970's study already showed low-lying areas in Metro Manila are prone to flooding - Palafox

Palafox said that in 1905, American architect Daniel Burnham envisioned building Manila like the city of Paris. "He said it should be designed like Paris beside the River Seine, like Manila beside Pasig River. He said the esteros of Manila could be like the canals of Venice. We were alright until the 1940s when the Americans left and then we adopted wrong models of urban planning," he said.

As an architect, he said he often tells potential clients that they should practice due diligence and look at the 100-year flood history of a potential development area before starting construction. He lamented, however, that some short-sighted clients would only look at the 25-year flood history of an area since the planned structures are not built to last.

"We are always reacting to crisis. It bothered me when I saw these reports and pictures and people are saying it's an act of God. It's not. It's us not following the plans and proposals. If you are an urban planner, an environmental planner, these have been planned as early as 1905," he said.

He said that to address the problem of flooding, the government should consider "vertical urbanism" and build more high-rises instead of "horizontal urbanism."

He criticized the lack of coordination among government agencies and cited the EDSA corridor as a prime example of how urban planning has failed in the Philippines.

"I did a study in Harvard on the EDSA corridor on how not to do a city. You have high-transit stations surrounded by low-gated communities and low-density military camps. How do you make people walk to it?" he said.

He said that to address the problem of climate change and future flooding in the Philippines, urban planners should start redesigning cities in the country by looking at the lessons of the past and seeing what other countries are doing.

"In a crisis like this, it's an opportunity to be creative and learn. Technology can address these problems," he said. With a report from Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News