• Why blame the squatters? (2)

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    Flood is something we’ve already taken up in this space, but we’re revisiting it simply because it is too big a topic. Moreover, there are developments that cry out for comments and clarification.

    President Benigno Aquino 3rd announced yesterday that his administration would relocate 20,000 families living on riverbanks to areas presumably more conducive to a healthy family life. He also warned Metro Manila mayors—and this is the funny part—that they would be sanctioned if they allow these informal settlers to return to their old haunts.

    The relocation is supposed to be the final solution to the clogging of waterways, which is blamed for the flood that virtually paralyzed Metro Manila on Monday. It is also feared that the flood will be worse the next time around. And it will be, with everybody making pronouncements, we suspect, only for public consumption.

    Mr. Aquino is missing the point. Riverbank denizens account for just a small portion of the garbage that clog the waterways. Sure, they exacerbate the problem, but they are not its main cause.

    Inhabitants of depressed areas generate the biggest volume of garbage in the metropolis for the simple reason that there are so many of them. Those living in low-cost housing also contribute their share, and so do the residents of lower middle class subdivisions and old communities. Although they don’t live on riverbanks, these people are mainly responsible for the garbage that clogs the waterways. They throw away trash everywhere, but only because no garbage trucks come their way. Or they come only very rarely, say, once a week.

    As a result, tons and tons of trash pile up, and when the rains come the floodwaters carry them away and deposit them, naturally, into the rivers.

    Obviously, we cannot just raze down the slums. If we do that, we will have a revolution on our hands. And besides where will the rich get their maids who clean up their homes, their drivers, their nannies? Oh, it is also in the depressed areas where public schoolteachers live, along with lowly government employees. And policemen too before they become corrupt, after which they move to palatial homes in gated subdivisions.

    No, not the squatters, on or away from riverbanks. The biggest culprits are Metro Manila mayors. They appropriate billions of pesos for garbage collection every year, but they spend only a portion for the purpose and pocket the rest.

    One local government, as we mentioned the last time, appropriates a billion pesos annually for garbage collection. If half of the amount is spent for its intended purpose, every city street will have a garbage truck to itself making the collection every morning and afternoon of every day. The practice is true, in varying degrees, in all 16 cities and towns of the metropolis.

    Unfortunately, the media, usually a suspicious lot, play into the hands of politicians. It laps up the story, but PNoy is just playing politics when he issues the warning. He doesn’t really mean to put the mayors on the spot, most of them his allies. The mayors, for their part, actually welcome being tagged as squatter coddlers. In fact, they wear it as a badge of honor, especially on election day.

    By all means, let us get the squatters out of places they are not supposed to be in. But let us hold the mayors to account as well. Otherwise, this so-called flood summit is just a lot of hot air.

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