EXPLAINER: Mayor Labella wants to use 'engineering, win-win' solution to floods. VM Rama wants to wrestle with the problem by the horn.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

WHAT HAPPENED IN PAST FEW DAYS. [1] Monday, October 26, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella met with owners of structures that block the city's waterways, which have caused the floods, a perennial problem in Cebu's premier city.

More publicized incidents were those at Maxilom/Mango Ave. on October 13 and at Bacalso-Llamas junction on October 19.

Flooding has spawned such jokes as "it floods only when it rains" and internet memes of a downtown business district looking like a canal in Venice and such sad stories as people drowning and properties destroyed in the floods.

[2] For two regular sessions already, October 21 and 28, the City Council tackled the flood problem through its Citizens Hour, grilling DPWH, city engineering and C-Cenro officials on what went wrong again and why solution continues to elude the city.

[3] Mayor Labella issued an executive order (#101, dated October 29, 2020) to "assess and implement measures against structures encroaching the easement in rivers and waterways" in the city. The EO declares among others: (a) flash floods after torrents of rain are caused "partly" by some illegal structures along rivers and waterways and (b) the City Government under the law has the power to remove them.

DIFFERENT POSTURES. The mayor and the City Council apparently have each a different stance or posture.

The City Council confronts the officials directly involved in the work of preventing flash floods, finds out the reason and prods them to act.

Vice Mayor Mike Rama particularly is combative. In the October 21 meeting, he wanted to know what went wrong with the drainage at the Bacalso-Llamas junction underpass, asked about "missing" funds, and threatened to sue erring officials.

Rama wanted to go to the scene of the floods and identify, with the government engineers, what can be done "now or the next day" -- if he "were the mayor."

In contrast, Mayor Labella wants cooperation from the owners of illegal structures, a "win-win" solution, without resorting to "drastic" legal action.

Labella forms an ad hoc committee composed of chiefs of DPS (public services), C-Cenro (environment), CCDRRMO (disaster control), OBO (building), Probe (anti-squatting team), city district engineer's office, DPWH-UNO, and DENR, plus two councilors. Thirteen members with City Engineer Kenneth Carmelita Enriquez and City Attorney Rey Gealon as chairman and vice chairman.

HOW THEY WORK. By the law-mandated structure, the office of the mayor has the main responsibility of solving the problem; it exercises the executive functions.

The City Council has the power to legislate on city problems, along with the right to inquire into the causes of each problem. Relevantly, it holds the power of the purse, for the needed logistics.

Residents must be glad that two branches of the local government are addressing the problem. It may move things faster -- or complicate things, if they can't agree on methods of solution.

The presence of two councilors in Labella's ad hoc committee may help. Councilors Jerry Guardo and Dave Tumulak sit with the temporary group and are also involved in City Council's separate efforts on the same problem. Even before the ad hoc group has met, Guardo already has a list of the owners of illegal structures that are "partly" to blame for the city's woes on flooding.

INITIAL TARGETS OF BLAME. To the City Council, the first to blame is DPWH, whose regional director virtually admitted having dug the tunnel for the underpass even though it failed to set up the required drainage.

To the mayor's office, the initial culprit, mentioned in EO #101, is the group of owners of illegal structures that clog the city's waterways.

To the public, particularly the residents and commuters afflicted by the floods, to blame are the several administrations that for decades have failed to solve the "perennial" problem. Who ruled the city for years and yet failed dismally? Inevitably included would be the present managers of the city who, as mayor, vice mayor or councilor, also had the chance to help end the crisis.

Questions of a doubting public must include: Where is the master drainage plan they used to talk about? Or even the huge cistern with the capacity of several Olympic-size swimming pools, which would catch excess water and hold it until it could flow to the sea without causing inconvenience and destruction?

CAUSE OF SKEPTICISM. Some City Hall comments and internet chatter must be wary about the non-litigation solution Mayor Labella is trying to reach.

If for several decades, these owners of illegal structures have stubbornly refused to remove or correct them, why should they do so now without the threat of "drastic legal action"?

Litigation, along with "lawful persuasion" in the form of executive action, may not be taken off the table.