Can the annual floods from Marikina River be controlled?

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

The recent torrential floods that devastated Pakistan is reminiscent of the 2009 onslaught of Ondoy that left thousands dead and billions of damaged properties. Then after, other threats from the overflow of rivers became almost a perennial nightmare of the residents, not only of nearby communities but of entire cities and municipalities that are gravely affected every time the typhoons and monsoon bring extraordinary volume of rains.

The big question is, can we still possibly control the negative impact of such floods, particularly the one caused by the usual inundations of Marikina River?

I take this as a case in point because this dilemma strikes the center of the country, the National Capital Region. We must be able to address this problem successfully and save the huge metropolis from being helplessly victimized by the raging waters from this 78-kilometer water system that traverses from the Sierra Madre Mountain Range through Rodriguez and San Mateo in Rizal, then Marikina and Quezon City, to Pasig. The solution used here can be the template in handling similar cases such as the Rio Grande in Cagayan and other major rivers as far as those in Mindanao.

Deploy no nonsense engineering solutions. There must be a comprehensive approach in mitigating the inevitable attacks of typhoons coupled by the monsoon rains that cause the rising of waters in Metro Manila, particularly those surrounding the Marikina River. Whatever happened to the supposed huge catch basin in the Sierra Madre? And what happened too to the massive reforestation of its slopes, which were abused through decades of reckless logging and quarry operations, both legal and clandestine?

What’s the status, real condition, of the heavily silted Marikina Riverbed which, in some parts, is only two meters deep? The national and local governments have poured in millions of pesos to widen and deepen the river with the objective of significantly increasing its capacity.

We also heard, but it fizzled out, of the Parañaque spillway that can systematically release the excess water from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay to decrease the floodwaters choking the NCR. Though others contested that there might be a backflow from the sea, this is also worth looking at as a possible complementary solution. No less than the renowned urban planner architect Felino “Jun” Palafox espoused this engineering plan.

It is high time and urgent that the concerned government agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), under the leadership of Secretary Manuel Bonoan, take up the cudgels in finally giving the area a fighting chance against the devastations of floods. He can lead the team that will involve the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), DENR, PAGASA, the affected local governments, especially Marikina City whose mayor, Marcelino Teodoro, made an impressive handling of the pandemic in his jurisdiction.

A clear and scientific blueprint that will confidently manage this costly problem is needed. We cannot afford to concede and leave the survival of the residents at the mercy of floods. For sure, there is still a possible engineering panacea that can essentially control, or at least lessen, the effects of a swollen Marikina River.

Audit and monitor the efforts exerted. To ensure that the problem on the regular flooding of Marikina River will be solved, the resources used, meaning public funds, must be properly accounted for. Dredging and flood control projects are the hardest to measure. It’s unreliable if we simply limit our audit based on the reported dredging activities such as estimating the mud grabbed and thrown by the giant backhoes that seem to constantly operate along the rivers. But judging by the results, the unabated floods are the clearest clue that not much is really being accomplished.

How I wish that the Senate, for example, can give its attention on this. An exercise of their oversight can shed light on how we are performing on this battleground, vis-à-vis the budget allocated for this intention through the years. Perhaps, Senate President Miguel Zubiri can render his mettle to seriously put all concerned agencies on their toes.

We must fully understand where we failed or succeed so far in managing this menace. Again, thousands of lives and billions already perished because of these floods. We can definitely avoid another catastrophe by courageously, scientifically and objectively confronting this problem.

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