Lesson to be learned: ‘We must adapt to new norm’By Jeannette I. Andrade, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile prayed for divine intervention as the nation reeled under a continuous downpour.
But Senator Loren Legarda said that to mitigate environmental damage, the Aquino administration should strictly enforce laws.
“Laws and policies are in place but when will the executive start implementing our laws and when will people follow the laws enacted?” Legarda said in a statement.
“We now experience the ‘new norm’ and disaster response preparedness, such as warning and alert for evacuation, rescue and relief, can never be enough in this era of weather uncertainty brought by climate change,” said the chairperson of the Senate committee on climate change.
It may take more than God’s intervention and laws to save the country from nature’s wrath.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje on Wednesday said that Filipinos should learn to adopt to climate change.
“There is nothing we can do but to adapt to climate change and the only way we can be prepared for the impact of climate change is to accept that these recent developments in our country, like intense weather disturbances, heavy rainfall, as well as long dry season are now the ‘new normal,’” Paje told state television NBN.
Paje urged the public to heed government warnings, blaming the death of nine people who were buried in a landslide on Litex Road at Barangay (village) Commonwealth, Quezon City, on residents in the area who ignored an alert issued as early as 2002 that the place was susceptible to erosion.
He said he would ask the Quezon City government to declare the area a permanent danger zone.
Enough laws, no action
Legarda said that the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Water Act, Climate Change Act of 2009, and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, if fully implemented, were enough to ease the impact of natural disasters.
She said the government should also make the National Climate Change Action Plan and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan work.
“Despite experiences of the past, flooding persists. Now we ask, was there declogging of esteros? Was garbage in open dumps collected? ” she said.
“Were road repairs done? Is flood control implemented? Are there updated flood warning protocols for dam water releases? With flooding comes sickness, loss of livelihood and chaos,” added the senator, who authored some of the country’s laws on the environment.
Legarda said both the government and the public “should engage in heightened flood prevention measures and other disaster preparedness efforts.”
“No to open dumps. We must clean esteros and canals, segregate garbage, plant trees on vacant lots and roadsides, relocate urban settlers living in vulnerable areas, do rainwater catchment basins so that water is stored during rains and used during the dry season,” she said.
Land use plan
Legarda said the two laws on the environment “should serve as blueprints in mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in the government’s plans and programs, from the national down to the local level, not just on paper but in practice.”
Senator Gregorio Honasan also said yesterday a land use plan dictated by the national government and not by the myopic interests of local government officials and businessmen was the only solution to the annual typhoon disasters that plague the country.
In a phone interview, Honasan said that a centralized zoning plan for the Philippines would enable Malacañang to dictate what areas should be devoted for commercial, residential or recreational use and compel LGUs to remove people staying in high risk zones in urban centers such as waterways, lakes and rivers.
Honasan has been pushing for a land use plan since 1996 but it has met “subtle resistance” from local politicians and some real estate developers profiting from a decentralized zoning system.
“How can you convince people that it is in the national interest to relocate people in hazardous areas when doing so will affect their chances of reelection? How can you convince developers to accept a national land use plan when they have so far been dictating where a city’s infrastructure should be built based on their own interests? We have to stand up against this resistance and push for what is in our national interest,” he said.
Inspect dumps now
Also on Wednesday, the environmental group EcoWaste Coalition urged local and national agencies to inspect waste-disposal systems for possible flood damage that could pose danger to public health.
Coalition coordinator Edwin Alejo said inspections were crucial because the garbage disposal sites were vulnerable to flooding, soil erosion, spillage and washout.
Alejo said days of rain could have softened the soil and damaged the retention walls of dumps and landfills.
He reminded agencies that the disaster that struck a community at the Payatas dump in Quezon City in July 2000 happened days after nonstop rains. In that incident, a pile of trash 15 meters high collapsed on the squatter community below the dump, burying hundreds of shanties and killing their occupants.
In August last year, Alejo said, the retaining wall of the Irisan dump in Baguio City, weakened by days of heavy rain, gave way and piles of trash collapsed on a squatter colony below, killing five people.
Alejo proposed that residents, barangay officials and civic groups be involved in the inspections so that the public would know the true condition of the trash disposal sites. With reports from Jamie Marie Elona and Gil C. Cabacungan