Too much, too little water

The Metro Manila Development Authority chairman claimed that he too was a victim of the monstrous traffic that paralyzed Metro Manila in the evening of Sept. 8 up to dawn of Sept. 9 as he was stuck in traffic for four hours on his way to a television interview.

If that statement was meant to console the thousands of  tired and stressed-out commuters who were stranded in vehicles—containing their bladders and grumbling stomachs—the MMDA chair could have fared better by saying nothing at all. He should have been part of the solution to the traffic mess but failed. And now he expected sympathy. Nothing beats, of course, the insensitivity of Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya who said that traffic may be ruining the day of thousands but at least, “it’s not fatal”—as if to say we have no business complaining about it.

I was stuck too for five hours on my way from the Global city in Taguig to Parañaque on that same night. Trying a mind-over-matter trick to keep me calm, I suddenly remembered that back in March 1989 or 26 years ago, the Rainwater Catchment Law (RA 6716) was crafted precisely as an answer to the problem of flooding. That law, mandated the Department of Public Works and Highways to construct rainwater collectors in all low lying areas in the entire country. Not only will rainwater catchments solve the problem of flooding as excess rainwater will cascade to receptacles, the water collected will also provide a solution to the problem of water scarcity in times of dry spells. Thank God for technology, while sitting it out in traffic, I was able to do research on what the government has done to implement this vital law that could save precious manhours and oil resource as well as spare us from air pollution. 

My search revealed that in April 2010, a citizens’ group filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking that the Department of Public Works and the local government units be ordered to implement the Rainwater Catchment Law. Although that case appears to be still pending in the Supreme Court on account of technical issues, an offshoot was that a Memorandum of Agreement was drawn up between the Departments of Public Works and the Interior and Local Governments to implement the Rainwater Catchment Law. The DPWH was reported to have started building rainwater catchments in public schools in 2011 with the aim of constructing about 547 units in the entire country to address the need for water of many schools. Unfortunately, since 2012, there has been no report about the extent of the actual number of rainwater catchments completed by DPWH in public schools.

Then, too, the Rainwater Catchment Law mandates that rainwater collectors be installed in every barangay or clusters of barangays, not just public schools, to address the problem of flooding.  Because there has been complete silence from DPWH about its work on this project, one can only surmise that, as in many cases, when the private sector takes the initiative of calling for government action through the courts, government does a knee-jerk reaction but abandons action when the heat is out.

 We have been asked by the Palace to be more patient while the problem of traffic is being sorted out by the Highway Patrol Group of the Police. Yet, the traffic problem is not merely about enforcing rules. It is inextricably connected with the problem of flooding. Legislators have seen 26 years ago that the solution is the construction of rainwater catchments but the executive branch has let it “lie in the sickbed of inaction,” as the petitioners in the case filed at the Supreme Court said.

Patience is not all we need, unfortunately. What we need is a supranormal discernment to be able to understand, why after so much water was dumped by rains in Metro Manila last week, the Maynilad Water Co. announced last week too that it will implement rotating water interruptions this month due to diminishing water supply brought about by El Niño.

Why we refuse to learn from others confounds me. Singapore, for instance, an island city-state with a land area of only 700 square kilometers—slightly bigger than Metro Manila—has devoted two-thirds of its land area to rainwater catchments, including ponds and lakes. Singapore does not have rotating water interruptions even if it has less rainfall than the Philippines.


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