What it takes for DPWH to move
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2020 - 12:00am

My regular readers know that I take a strong position against illegal billboards. I take exception at how both the national and local governments have allowed billboards to inundate our cities even if they blatantly violate the national building code. As we know too well, billboards are a safety hazards to motorists, not to mention a cause for urban blight. They are visual pollution that make our cities appear more dense and cluttered than it already is.

Through my writings, I have made numerous appeals to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to strictly enforce the national building code. They fell on deaf ears. In fact, the situation got progressively worse what with hundreds of illegal billboards added to pollute our cityscapes. Desperate, I decided to bring my appeal to the highest office of the land.

I wrote the President on Nov. 18 last year. I besieged him to issue a policy directive instructing both the DPWH and local governments to strictly enforce the building code and take-down illegal billboards.

To the President’s credit, I received a reply from his office four days later. The letter was directed to DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, for which I was copy furnished. Malacañang handed-down an order to render “appropriate action” on my appeal.

Three weeks ago, I received a letter from the DPWH’s Acting Executive Director of the National Building Code Development Office (NBCDO), Atty. Johnson V. Domingo.

Atty. Domingo’s letter essentially made six points: 1. He said that through a task force called, Baklas Billboards, the NBCDO ensures that all billboards comply with the law; 2. That Secretary Villar is regularly apprised on the activities, accomplishments and recommendations of the task force; 3. That in August 2019, Undersecretary Roberto Bernardo required DPWH regional directors to submit a summary report of all constructed billboards within their jurisdiction along with their detailed specifications. These reports were to be used to draft an Executive Order for better billboard control; 5. That the Executive Order had been drafted and transmitted to Malacañang for the President’s signature; And 6. That the DPWH is already implementing all the existing issuances (rules, regulations and guidelines) to ensure that all existing and proposed billboards strictly comply with the law.

First of all, we appreciate the reply of the DPWH. We also appreciate the fact that the NBCDO had drafted an EO, based on the inputs of its regional offices.

It is the last point that I do not agree with. See, it is painfully obvious that the DPWH has failed to strictly implement the existing rules, regulations and guidelines relating to billboards. If so, we would not have the multitude of violations that are out there today. Let me cite some examples. (I live in Metro Manila so my examples are Manila-centric).

Example 1: The building code specifically states that “All regulated signs, temporary signs and LED signs, installed over or across and along public thoroughfares, center islands and road rights-of-ways, whether it be on a national road or secondary road are strictly prohibited.” It further says that “signs shall not be allowed within sidewalks, flyovers, interchanges, traffic signages, communications posts, LRT, and MRT structures (such as terminal stations, carriageways, columns and beams), waiting sheds or any part thereof”. 

Despite these clear-cut regulations, billboards and LED signs were allowed to be installed across and over EDSA itself. They are positioned in the beams and walkways of the MRT stations posting safety hazards and distractions to motorists. As if these were not enough, tarpaulin banners were allowed to be installed on the posts that traverse the MRT 3 tracks. Didn’t the regulation say that signs are strictly prohibited over or across and along public thoroughfares?

Lest we forget, the metal structures of billboards can easily cave-in during earthquakes and strong gusts of winds. We have seen this before when typhoons Milenyo and Pepeng knocked several billboards down causing death and destruction. As for LED signs, their intense luminosity and constantly changing graphics divert motorist’s attention away from the roads and to the ads, thus posting motorway danger.

Example 2: The building code says that “signs and signboards made of banners, pennants, tarpaulins and other similar nonrigid materials shall not be installed near power lines.” A drive through EDSA will show numerous tarpaulin billboards within striking distance of live power cables, electric posts and transformers. This is an electric and fire disaster waiting to happen.

Example 3: The building code states that “roof signs shall not be allowed.” Yet, numerous billboard structures were allowed to be built over roofs, some of which are rusty and possibly lacking in structural rigidity. These roof-mounted billboards are likely to be the first to topple-down during typhoons or earthquakes.

I can go on with other examples… but I think I’ve made my point.

To be fair, the DPWH is not the only party responsible for the billboard menace. The local government units are as much to blame. See, it is the offices of the mayors, through its business permit and license department, that issues permits to outdoor advertising companies to install and operate billboards. On many occasions, they do so knowing full well that these billboards are in violation of the building code. Why are permits granted? One can only assume that corruption figures in the equation. As one Metro Manila Mayor told me, “ang laki ng pera eh.”

Personally, I have not witnessed any billboard taken down on the back of building code violations. Either the DPWH is ignoring these violations or the influence of billboard owner over the LGUs and the DPWH is far greater than their sense of duty. Either way, the problem has become out of hand. We have reached a tipping point where something drastic must be done.

As my recent experience demonstrates, my appeals to the DPWH fell on deaf ears until the President himself interceded. This is why I ask the President to please sign the Executive Order empowering and instructing the DPWH to take down illegal billboards. It seems that only with the weight of the President’s directive will this problem be solved with finality.

Meanwhile, let us see how the DPWH handles this. If they act, with resolve, to take down illegal billboards even without the Executive Order, then we know they have the public’s welfare in mind. If they do not, then we know they only move when the man on top is watching. It will reveal where their loyalty lies.

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