EDSA stripped
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 () - October 11, 2006 - 12:00am
It’s almost two weeks now after Milenyo battered Metro Manila but it was only yesterday that I got to see up close the billboards it destroyed along EDSA. Traffic was heavier than usual in EDSA yesterday while I was on my way to our weekly Tuesday Club breakfast at the EDSA Shangri-La in Pasig City. The traffic mess was largely caused by heavy equipment tearing down the billboards, and the work crew who were removing the fallen structures were occupying some of the lanes along the highways.

The engineering crew came from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) which was officially tasked to take charge of "Oplan Baklas Billboard", assisted by the workforce from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

President Arroyo had earlier issued Administrative Order (AO) 160 which directed the DPWH to determine which billboards "pose imminent danger to life, health, safety and property and to abate and dismantle the same." Mrs. Arroyo issued AO 160 after Typhoon "Milenyo" toppled many billboards in the metropolis last Sept. 28, leaving a man dead, injuring many others and damaging millions of pesos worth of property.

The President herself joined DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. and MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando last Monday in overseeing the dismantling of some of these billboards along EDSA. What was disturbing was the fact that many of these were reportedly constructed and festooned right in government properties. In fact, it was very absurd when Ebdane supposedly found out that a monstrous steel structure of advertising display was put up inside the compound of the DPWH Quezon City Engineering District Office, also along EDSA. Ebdane promised they would prioritize the removal of billboards found on government property.

As of yesterday, Ebdane cited a total of 42 billboards have so far been dismantled out of the existing 2,161 put up all over Metro Manila. In the aftermath of Milenyo, he said, the DPWH has assessed the structural integrity of these billboards that were still standing and 375 of these have been recommended for dismantling.

Many of the billboards also were put up along the tracks of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) as well as the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). After the massive inspection along EDSA, the DPWH chief has identified at least 35 "oversized" billboards and signages in all 13 MRT stations from North Avenue in Quezon City and Pasay-Taft Avenue in Pasay City that should be immediately removed. "The government must set the example, that’s why we will prioritize the dismantling of all billboards situated along government lots and other structures," he pointed out.

Milenyo
brought into the national consciousness the dangers of these seemingly innocuous billboards. The eyes of motorists and travelers are bombarded with so much advertisements displayed in these billboards along busy roads and highways and even along overhead railways. On the other hand, certain government authorities turned a blind eye to the hazards these dangerous structures pose.

What Milenyo further revealed was the fact that the tragic accidents of falling billboards could not have happened if some people, both in government and in private business, were not blinded by sheer greed to make lots of money even in utter disregard of public safety.

I gathered that advertisement placement in a billboard would cost approximately P2,000 per square meter. It is more costly to place ads in billboards compared to the average cost of P200 per square meter of leasing office space in Metro Manila. The Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines (OAAP), led by its chairman Carlo Llave, has admitted that some of the owners and operators of these "over-sized" billboards are not part of their organization because they precisely don’t want to be covered by self-regulating guidelines that include the maximum size of billboards they could put up.

Even before Milenyo struck us, the MMDA chairman has been waging a campaign against the harm these over-sized structures may bring especially during typhoons when winds can pack more than 100 miles per hour. And what did the MMDA chairman reap from this campaign? He was named in an P80 million graft suit at the Office of the Ombudsman filed against him last month by Trackworks, a private advertising agency that has the exclusive franchise of all ad spaces in the MRT facilities. When the MMDA crew removed eight billboards out of the MRT last June, they were arrested by policemen, charged and jailed for destruction of private property. This translates to P10 million each for the billboards removed and it’s a good business if the MMDA chief just let them stay as they are at the MRT.

Fernando was sued for graft after he allegedly wrote to corporate advertisers urging them not to patronize billboards that pose a danger to motorists and pedestrians. This graft suit was the latest case that Trackworks filed against Fernando. They also sued him in court which subsequently issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) versus the MMDA in 2002. The MMDA elevated this case and is pending before the Supreme Court (SC).

Now that President Arroyo issued AO 160, Fernando heaved a sigh of relief of sort because the burden of this campaign is now shifted to the DPWH. Given the pending case filed by Trackworks, the MMDA chairman has turned over the campaign to dismantle billboards at the MRT to Ebdane’s jurisdiction.

Being a former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) before he joined the Arroyo Cabinet, Ebdane should get greater cooperation from Department of Transportations and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Leandro Mendoza who also happens to be a retired PNP chief and now also an Arroyo Cabinet official. I bumped into Mendoza yesterday and he told me he would see to it these billboards that impinge upon public safety and encroaching right of way should be removed from MRT and LRT, both of which are under the DOTC. By the way, the MRT Authority is headed by Roberto Lastimoso, a retired PNP chief and is now the incumbent general manager of this agency.

I heard Ebdane saying in a radio interview that if the owners of these illegally constructed billboards will not voluntarily dismantle their structures, the DPWH will do it at no expense on their part. But he would give to his work crew who dismantle these structures to get the proceeds from the iron, steel, and metal scraps they can sell to junk buyers. Ebdane vowed to stripped EDSA and to clear the rest of Metro Manila of illegal billboards in two months’ time. Let’s wait and see.
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Write to marichu@philstar.net.ph

ALONG ARROYO CABINET BILLBOARDS DPWH EBDANE FERNANDO METRO MANILA MILENYO MMDA MRT
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