I GREW up on a quiet street in Mandaluyong City, in a compound filled with family, with bungalows for houses. Soon enough relatives started to migrate and sell their land. We have seen a beautiful bungalow demolished for a set of tiny townhouses. For a while we lived with a huge gaping hole in the lot in front of us, excavated for a condominium that didn’t happen.
Which is to say we lived with the noise and inconvenience of this kind of change called “land development.” And when the townhouses were being built, the only upside was that we could negotiate with family who had sold that land, and ask that there be rules for the construction, if only so we survived the years of noise and air pollution, and live through such a major disruption to residential living.
There is no law against selling private land to any developer. And in fairness to the City of Mandaluyong, our short strip of street has been devoid of huge developments, with only two-floor structures (with attics at most), even when these are tiny town houses.
There is of course another development in the offing on the corner, one that we hope is not some high-rise, because that would go against our residential zone. The street perpendicular to us, and which exits to Shaw Boulevard is an Amaya Development that had the sense to go to us before they started construction, informing us about working hours and asking us about our concerns. They have of course caused more traffic on our tiny road than they care to admit, with trucks and cement mixers parking where they shouldn’t. I have gone out in my pambahay once or twice in the middle of the night because of their noise, for in the evening when all should be quiet construction noise can only be deafening.
And now the pre-construction demolition right behind us has also made the days quite unbearable where we are, and it’s only the beginning. They’re actually only leveling off the land and drilling through adobe and cement foundation of the old house. They’re not even excavating yet, and we can only dread the next year or two of what we hear will be a townhouse development.
Because right now there is no one we can talk to. The site is left to the manongs who drive the equipment into the ground. The developers have not spoken to us, even as they will be building so close to our walls.
They are drilling very close to those walls at this point, and I mean waking up to what feels and sounds like an earthquake, with window jalousies shaking, my bed moving out of place – and my room’s on the second floor. In our living room, the earth moves as they drill. It’s enough to make your heart beat faster, if not freak you out.
To say that this is undue stress brought on by land development and that it is a health risk at this point – I’ve got senior citizens for parents – is an understatement.
Who cares about noise pollution?
In unplanned cities that are swiftly being developed, there is barely any sense of how these developments disturb residents’ daily lives. There is also no one to go to for help, or support, not that there are no laws that speak of protecting us from this kind of distress.
The Philippine Environmental Code of 1977 speaks of the need to “set a limit on the acceptable level of noise emitted from a given equipment for the protection of public health and welfare, considering among others, the magnitude and condition of use, the degree of noise reduction achievable through the application of best available technology and the cost of compliance.” It also speaks of establishing “appropriate standards for community noise levels considering <…> location, zoning and land use classification.”
The Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 includes noise in its list of emissions which are “any air contaminant, pollutant, gas stream or unwanted sound from a known source which is passed into the atmosphere.”
In cities like San Juan and Makati, City Ordinances take care of noise pollution brought on by sound systems and videokes, as well as horns and transportation exhaust systems for San Juan. One would like to think that for these cities that already acknowledge the importance of protecting residents from noise pollution, complaints against the disturbance that land development brings won’t fall on deaf ears.
Elsewhere in the world, environmental laws are in place to protect residential areas from the noise that construction brings. In the UK, it is acknowledged that “noise from machinery, drilling, demolition work and other kinds of activity on construction sites can be very distressing for people who live nearby, particularly in otherwise quiet residential areas.” Local councils are also given the power to regulate noise before and during the construction, given complaints from residents.
In the US, Psychology Today (Sept 2013) talks about why noise is hazardous to one’s health: “You hear a loud sound, and a stress cascade begins—adrenalin is released, blood vessels constrict, muscles tense, and blood pressure rises.” It further states that “excessive noise can lead to a whole host of other serious health problems <including> coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, stress-related health conditions such as migraine, colitis, and ulcers, and decreased sleep and sleep quality <as well as> excessive noise can lead to emotional problems such as mental fatigue, anxiety, and aggression.”
In my Mandaluyong, there is the Sanggunian Committee on Health, Public Welfare and Environmental Protection, with “jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the protection of the environment against destruction’s and pollution control law and other laws for the protection and advancement of the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”
Meanwhile, I, Mandaluyong resident for 27 years can only imagine suffering through this construction. Elsewhere in the world there are laws against these old machines that add a layer of noise and air pollution to this process. One also imagines that much of the noise can be controlled, from the screaming among the construction team, to doing the work of cement mixing and tile and steel cutting off-site and just bringing it in ready for the construction. But an authority needs to be on top of these things, protecting residents and making sure that our daily lives are disrupted as minimally as possible.
But alas. Right now we wake up to and lose our weekends to the noise of construction, we get headaches and risk our health. Meanwhile we wonder where we might go if and when our own home is damaged by this construction, that’s drilling down on adobe that is beneath our home, too.
Right here it looks like the health of residents is being sacrificed in favor of “development.” It’s truly like we are being pushed out of our homes. Where’s the justice is in that.