Editorial: Pick-up sticks game

·2 min read

IF it isn’t lost on you, then you perhaps remember how it goes. You drop a loose stack of sticks on a tabletop and, in turns, you slowly remove a stick without disturbing the whole bundle. It’s both a physical and mental skill challenge.

Our cities’ problems with flooding apparently take the nature of a game of sticks and the whole stack of complications had been incrementally dropped through years of neglect and myopia. But unlike how the game is carried out, solutions to real-life inundation in our city require moving the whole stack of factors that contribute to it.

Two recent reactions to the Oct. 13, 2020 surprise flood, which claimed three lives, are now on the table.

One, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella has formed an ad hoc committee to address the problem of illegal structures that obstruct the city’s waterways. It is headed by City Engineer Kenneth Carmelita Enriquez, and will be composed of representatives from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 7, the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7, the Prevention, Restoration, Order, Beautification and Enhancement (Probe) team, and the City Legal Office.

The mayor said the committee would see to it that these owners comply with the instruction to remove these structures. The other task was for the committee to come up with an “engineering solution” to address the obstructions.

In Labella’s talk with the owners, the mayor was promised compliance by the latter. Note, however, the soft stance that the City takes as no deadline was set and that the owners are given “reasonable time” for clearing activities. Filing of complaints should be the last resort, the mayor said.

Wouldn’t this charitable leeway throw us back to the same vicious cycle? The structures are clear violations if only the City sticks to the letter of the law and the official map. Most of the identified structures, reports said, were built in the 1970s and 1990s yet, which is to say we already have an extended roster of officials who had looked the other way.

And yet the mayor opts to take the politically safe position of giving these owners “reasonable time.” That is at once putting weight on the few over an inconvenienced public and a city whose good name had been dumped down with tons of plastic and black water. A strong political will more likely reflects the anger and impatience that the Cebuanos feel about the endless cycle of flooding.

We understand the messy complications linked to the problem—which, for instance, include illegal settlers in easement areas, an entire problem that needs a whole set of solutions, one of which is relocation—but a show of genuine political will might just be that one giant step for mankind.