The politics of sewage

The fact is that there was no viable storm drainage system in place in Puerto Princesa City when Urduja dumped heavy rains over the city early this week, causing severe flooding in many low-lying areas. Next week, another tropical storm is expected to pass through the same path as Urduja, which means the city has to brace for more flooding as Christmas comes near.

Our perennial problem with flooding has not been lost to the city’s engineers and urban planners, in fairness to the engineering and planning offices of the city government. They have consistently identified the need for a sewage system as among the supposed priorities of any administration.

There appears in the 2018 budget some amount for drainage and sewage development, particularly for the construction of catchments or outfalls in certain low-lying areas of the city to control the flooding. There is likewise an appropriation for revising or updating a comprehensive sewage and flood control master plan that was outsourced by the city government to a private engineering firm reportedly for P5 million. It was not particularly clear how the plan ended up being mothballed just because there was no funding to implement it.

The current measures that are in place to address flooding are palliative at best. It was apparent in the deliberations held by the City Council on the 2018 budget that the present administration is not keen on spending a significant amount to implement its contracted sewage masterplan and opted instead to simply water it down to some form that its 2018 budget can afford.

The city’s sewage system is not only outmoded, having been built in the early 80s. It is almost non-existent when the rains come. Consistent throughout all administrations that have come and gone, the sewage system has always taken the back seat in urban planning.

For some reason, a modern sewage system never sounded like a political accomplishment of any administration. Instead, every leadership has taken pride in the number and length of roads they have concreted and the basketball courts cum multi-purpose halls they have put up. The irony is that the consequent rapid deterioration of these roads can be attributed in large part to the absence of a drainage to support them.

Constructing a proper sewage and flood control system for Puerto Princesa City will require not just a huge financial investment on the part of the city government. It is also a political gamble that will pay less than tried and tested recipes for winning votes.

As long as there is no political constituency that supports long-term visioning and urban planning, the inhabitants of Puerto Princesa City will have to continue enduring the floods and all the bad that come with it.

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