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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, November 14, 2017
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Like a phoenix - 4


Almost all human settlements were founded close to a body of water, be they lakes, rivers or ocean because they provided for the needs for survival - food, sanitation and mobility. Waterways in modern times are like arteries and veins of the human body that once clogged or strained affect the entire community. Indeed like the passage of blood in humans they have to be decongested or cleared.

I mentioned yesterday Mandalagan River that has collective layers of mud and slime not only because of the garbage and silt but more so of the illegal structures. Other creeks and rivers of Bacolod are similar in their state of blockage but let us take Mandalagan River as an example for purposes of discussion of this subject that hardly takes notice.

The entire length of Mandalagan River once it entered Bacolod's immediate vicinity has been taken over by private occupants that, if we are to believe the law, ought to have building permits. Does the law allow these structures right on the river bank? In almost all cases the structure owners had built a retaining wall on the river itself, some into the area where water passes.

There is a required easement of at least three meters from the river bank that would have allowed passage along the length of the river, an esplanade or promenade for pedestrians at least. But this requirement is not followed. Why were these structures granted building permits?

A picture sent by a reader and published last Saturday of a building showed not just taking over the easement but the portions of the waterway itself, in effect blocking the water flow. Who's building is that and why was that granted a building and presumably an occupancy permit by the Office of the Building Official? OBO has been notorious in this regard and all these structures of strong materials could have never been built if the city had enforced the law.

Is this a case of ignorance, oversight or corruption? The current city administration knows the notoriety of OBO but nothing is done to correct its inefficiency and indications of dishonesty. The OBO has not even been changed when its performance or lack of it was an issue during the 2016 elections. In that sense the city administration should share OBO's guilt because it could have firmly done something but did not, even a mention to address this persistent and pernicious issue. The office of the mayor must share this culpability because these permits (including occupancy) require its approval.

Worse than structures that have encroached on the river banks are those that are built right on the river or above it. I once asked a city engineer about this and he pointed to the DENR and the DPWH as responsible. While that might be true, has the city complained and insisted on compliance with the law? The fact is that the city never did for whatever reason, instead it closed its eyes or shut its mouth to remove these illegal structures. It makes us wonder why or how much.

These illegal structures were constructed because people did not complain. After all they did not encroach on another person's property. But that is not an excuse, the reason we have a government whose function is to insure compliance of the law whether people complain or not.

Some of the creeks of Bacolod had already disappeared but they are still clearly marked in the city's map. What happened was that they were slowly choked to extinction by these structures. If we have periodic floods it is not because of heavy rains because heavy downpours are annual occurrences for centuries but because the city's natural drainage system had been lost.

We can easily pinpoint these clogged arteries. One has only to stop at a bridge in the city and look down and see these structures. If one wants to be investigative, one can make a list of the missing waterways, starting with the underground creeks under the Central market, beside Sea Breeze Hotel and China Bank, under the building beside Business Inn, and another near a surveyor's office across the hospital at 1 st Street. I can list more.

To remove these structures requires the strength of will. Does the city have that?

Let's tackle other issues next week.*






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