• Emergency measures

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    It was bound to happen. After what seemed like an unusually long hot summer, the rainy season finally descended upon the Philippines this week. And did it ever.

    There was no typhoon, no habagat, just a low pressure area too far away from the National Capital Region to have any serious effect on the weather, or so everyone believed.

    It was, therefore, with a high degree of consternation that a mere few hours of rain resulted in the near paralysis of most of Metro Manila on Thursday. Streets were flooded and traffic ground to a halt.

    So unexpected was the deluge that the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education were caught flat-footed. Classes were suspended at around 3:00 p.m., by which time the floods had started to cripple the major thoroughfares.

    And this is just the beginning. Just wait for the typhoons to arrive, which they invariably will. If a big one hits the metropolis, what happened Thursday will seem like a mild drizzle by comparison.

    The knee and waist-deep floods that unexpectedly came earlier this week will make way for neck-deep floods, or worse.

    The paralysis will last for days, even weeks, under a worst case scenario.

    Most of us will blame global warming for the worsening weather year after year, and perhaps there will be much truth in this. But there are other factors that when taken together are the causes of the flooding of Metro Manila every time there is a hard rain.

    One recent news report stated that there were a number of esteros or canals within Metro Manila that were for all intents untouchable.

    The reason? Squatter shanties had all but overtaken the waterways which help clear floodwaters.

    Consider how ridiculous this situation is. An entire region is held hostage by a few hundred squatter families. Both the national and the local governments where they are entrenched claim that nothing can be done about the illegal occupants. Never mind that they endanger the lives of millions. The government simply refuses to touch them.

    Now consider the options that are available to a government with the political will to take the necessary action to protect the health and welfare of the majority. The most logical option is to destroy the shanties, after which the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) can do the needful, which is to dredge the waterways.

    Such an admittedly drastic step can be accomplished in a matter of days. If necessary, the MMDA and the concerned local government units can seek the assistance of both the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to act as a deterrent against possible violence.

    This step should not be considered an act of cruelty against those who have nothing in life. It is simply an act of survival.

    Surrendering the metropolis
    To do nothing against the illegal occupants, thereby allowing them to grow in numbers is to surrender the metropolis to people who are breaking the law. We need not be reminded that squatting is a crime, and squatting on esteros until they disappear will mean deadly flooding for decades to come.

    Perhaps the national government can have a parallel program of providing emergency housing for the informal settlers along the waterways. At the same time, the esteros should be regularly patrolled by either the PNP of the AFP to make sure that no new settlers come in after the previous ones have been removed.

    Those who refuse to peacefully leave their shanties will also have to be informed that the government is dead serious in the undertaking. They will have to face the full force of the law if they insist on staying put.

    We can expect some human rights groups or local politicians to interceded in their behalf. This comes with the territory. But no one has to be reminded that the majority of residents of Metro Manila also have their rights, and their right to a safe environment is being trampled upon by those who occupy the waterways.

    Being poor is not a crime, but illegally occupying esteros most definitely is. If the national and local government units continue to turn a blind eye to the problem of disappearing waterways, they are in effect allowing floods to became an everyday fact of life in the National Capital Region.

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