Taxpayers who were trapped by floods and standstill traffic in Metro Manila on Friday were bound to ask: Is this where our taxes go? Or perhaps more appropriately, is this where our taxes are wasted?
If you are a dutiful taxpayer, it’s frustrating when you get caught in the middle of a flood. Amid the chaos and the helplessness, you wonder if there is really a government that looks after you or cares about you. You wonder if your taxes really go where they should be spent.
The heavy downpour on Friday forced the government to suspend classes in private and public schools because many parts of Metro Manila were getting submerged in floodwater. Government workers were sent home at 3 p.m. and many private firms told their employees to go home early.
The government has a P23.5-billion budget to help manage flooding in Metro Manila. Despite this, flooding in the metropolis continue to get worse. So, what happened to the billions appropriated for flood control?
Before the Duterte administration took over, it was reported that there were 9,479 flood-control and drainage programs under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, with a total budget of P351.718 billion. Were any of these projects ever completed?
An equally worrying question: If this is what a southwest monsoon can do to the Philippine capital, what would happen if Metro Manila was in the direct path of a typhoon? The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) told the Commission on Audit (COA) in a recent report that floods in the National Capital Region took longer to subside in 2018 than in 2017. In 2018 it took an average of 30 minutes for floods in Metro Manila to subside, compared to an average of 18.5 minutes in 2017. So, despite all the government spending to modernize and improve the drainage systems and pumping stations and clear waterways of obstructions, flooding is still getting worse?
The MMDA admitted that only 41.63 percent of waterways and drainage systems were unclogged and desilted, which is why it takes more time for floods to subside. It said no flood mitigation project was completed prior to the onset of the rainy season in 2018.
Indeed, COA cited the MMDA for delays in the implementation of various flood-control projects.
“Evaluation of the flood-control projects of MMDA revealed that of the 170 programmed flood-control projects for 2018 with a total cost of P878.57 million, only 53 projects were fully implemented during the year,” COA said.
Needless to say, the government is responsible for the welfare of its citizens. Government officials have to make sure that the people are okay, especially during times when they most need help and can’t do things on their own, like when they are caught helpless by floods.
When funds have been earmarked, there is no excuse for lack of action. The government has to help take care of traffic and flooded roads and streets.
Indeed, we have never seen such heavy flooding occur so quickly after downpours, a phenomenon that is replicated in many parts of the metropolis, as well as in other towns and cities all over the country.
In the past, only the heaviest, consistent rain from strong typhoons triggered flooding. Nowadays, regular monsoon rains and intermittent showers can cause havoc on our roads and streets, making them impassable.
Our floods today are the worst in decades, even taking lives at times and causing damage to our cities and provinces, precisely because the government has failed to complete its promised solutions, because its multibillion flood- control program has been stalled.
With current technologies and innovations, surely government can expedite the critical infrastructure needed to solve Metro Manila’s flooding problems, especially considering that the metropolis accounts for the largest share of the national economy.
Of course, there is no overnight solution, but these problems have persisted for so long. It’s not like the government does not know which drainage systems and waterways are clogged with trash or impeded by squatters and other obstructions. It is not like the government does not already know what solutions are necessary.
Surely, with political will and a properly allocated and spent budget, the government could minimize flooding a lot sooner.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano