THE waters have receded. The evacuation centers now empty are being cleaned to serve again as classrooms, churches, and basketball courts. The evacuees have gone back to their homes in low grounds and along the river or creek banks. Everything is going back to normal until the next heavy rains and strong typhoons and the perennial floods. Will we never learn?
In my first trip to Seoul, Korea, I noticed the wide expanse along the riverbanks devoted to sports fields and promenades. I was struck by how suitably they were located beside a flowing river allowing sports enthusiasts to take in the beautiful sight and for the elderly to sit down on the benches that dotted the promenade taking in the cool breeze. Later I learned from my Korean colleagues that there was good reason for having the sports complexes (basketball, tennis, and badminton courts and soccer fields) and the mini parks on both sides of the river. When the river overflows, no homes are threatened and hardly any lives lost. After the flooding, it was relatively inexpensive to restore the areas to being parks and sports fields.
Why not do the same thing in the Philippines? Instead of allowing the residents to go back to their shanties along the many rivers of Metro Manila and the environs, why don't we transform these spaces into places for sports and leisure? This will also solve the problem of informal settlers being relocated from these sites and in a few months or so, a new group of informal dwellers occupy the area. We should know by now that any vacant area tempts the homeless to settle in.
When we relocate informal settlers, it seems that the main focus seems to be to just get them out of these high-risk areas. There is no concern that they are being relocated in low-lying areas prone to flooding. There are no provisions for social services - no schools for their children, any health centers, etc. Their livelihood are back where they were originally settled and if they continue to earn a living, they will have to expend so much for transportation expenses that they end up having two residences -back where they were and in the new site.
I remember that when the adjoining property in Quezon City of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas mint jammed with informal settlers was leveled by a fire, we negotiated with the administration of then Mayor Mel Mathay and the mayors of the relocation sites in towns of Rizal not just for the transfer but for ensuring that the social infrastructure would be put in place. We made sure that a non-governmental organization would handle the community development as well as assist in getting the settlers to grasp the entrepreneurial and livelihood opportunities. Of course each family was also provided funds to meet their transfer and relocation costs. In my visits to the relocation sites, I found the residents contented and staying put.
With R6 billion in calamity funds and elections not too far off, I am worried that much of the funds will be used for disaster relief (where expenses are difficult to audit) rather than disaster recovery, which involve establishing infrastructures and sustainable initiatives. It would make sense for local governments, including barangays, to present their plans and budget for the use of calamity funds rather than embark on a spending spree. Rather than keep these potential voters in high-risk areas, local government officials for once should act in the best interest of the people rather than their electoral ambitions. We could then make sure that in the next floods, there will be no victims nor houses to destroy in these high-risk areas.
Business Bits. Given the many vehicles submerged in the floods, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino should heed the suggestion of my good friend Gene Sebastian to suspend the color coding for one month.