Could the Php 1.9 bn in flood control projects axed by Noynoy Aquino have saved Metro Manila from destruction?

The latest deluge to hit Metro Manila once again demonstrates the sorry state of preparedness of state emergency services in the Philippines and the woefully insufficient flood control infrastructure of the country’s premier metropolis. Flooding brought about by days of southwest monsoon rains pounding the northern Philippine island of Luzon have once again paralysed vast swaths of Metro Manila, displaced thousands of residents, and caused yet untold damage to property.

The first great flooding that temporarily aroused a bit of reflection among Manila’s residents on the precariousness of their existence as a modern megalopolis was 2009’s Typhoon Ondoy. Suffice to say, in its aftermath was a palpable resolve to set a bar of preparedness commensurate to the on-going risk that Manila will surely continue to face in the future of unpredictable change in climate. Sure enough, in 2011, another powerful typhoon Pedring hit Luzon and caused even more damage than its predecessor. The estimated Php 11 billion caused by Ondoy was eclipsed by Pedring‘s estimated Php 12.25 billion.

How much will 2012’s nameless disaster cost the nation? It is too early to tell owing to forecasts that point to continued rains over a foreseeable number of days.

[Photo courtesy Cool and Smooth Rhythm.]

Typhoon Pedring, which hit just one year after the ascent to power of Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III, highlighted the fate of a number of public works initiated under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) at the hands of what was then the newly-sworn-in president. In the aftermath of Pedring in late 2011, Representative Danilo Suarez of Quezon filed a House Resolution calling for an investigation into the effect of President BS Aquino’s cancellation of these projects.

Citing a Department of Public Works and Highways press release dated July 28, 2010, Suarez said DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson cancelled 19 approved negotiated projects worth P934.1 million under the POPSTRIP. The 19 are part of the 139 projects or 42 contract packages funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency loan for the urgent rehabilitation of flood control facilities worth P1.9 billion.

Suarez noted that the cancelled projects are located in areas recently flooded by recent typhoons. These are in Cordillera Administrative Region P53 million; Ilocos Norte, P35 million; Asingan, Pangasinan P91.4 million; San Manuel, Pangasinan P228 million; Cagayan P25.8 million; Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya P68.6 million; Kayapa and Dupax Nueva Vizcaya P27.4 million; Paombong and San Jose del Monte, Bulacan P9 million; Bulacan province P41 million; San Felipe and Iba, Zambales, P42.5 million; San Marcelino, Zambales, P19 million; Arayat, Pampanga, P77 million; Candaba, Pampanga, P78 million; Floridablanca, Pampanga P27 million; Guagua and Lubao, Pampanga, P16 million; Moncada and Bamban Tarclac P32 million; Aliaga, Nueva Ecija P18 million; Bungabon and San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija P19 million; and Balayan and Lemery, Batangas P22 million.

Suarez’s reflection on this unfortunate move by the Second Aquino Administration was damning: “One cannot help but think that if these projects were not capriciously cancelled on the sole fact that they were initiated by the previous administration, then the recent floodings could have been prevented or mitigated.”

Notably, in stark contrast to the cold specificity with which Aquino’s Malacañang axed these projects, the President’s 2011 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was glaringly vague — almost mysterious — when it came to communicating the overall public works investment strategy of his administration.

Despite being four times as long as the actual speech, the [2011] Technical Report contains even less than the speech’s proportion of proposed measures. Written almost entirely in the past tense, the Report contains voluminous (23,392 words’ worth of voluminous, to be exact) details on things that have already happened and very little of what is planned. And even the few forward-looking statements that can be found tend to be vague, such as: “For 2011, P16.20 billion or 24.3% of the total DPWH Capital Outlay has been allocated for infrastructure development in Mindanao. This will help facilitate economic growth in the region” and “”¦the Labor and Employment Plan 2011-2016 promotes putting the human resource base at the core of all policy reform initiatives to achieve inclusive growth that massively creates jobs and continuously reduces poverty.”

Those are not plans, those are aspirations. And aspirations are fine, as expressions of a desired end state, but the job the President’s bosses hired him for is to fill in the blanks between now and that desired end state; having aspirations is something anyone can do.

Indeed, in his 2010 SONA, President BS Aquino, in his usual vague form alluded to what in his mind was the questionable manner with which the previous administration under GMA initiated so many projects. In a move that was later proven to be disastrous to the economy, President BS Aquino severely cut government spending on the basis of a flawed understanding of the manner with which the former administration managed the budget

[Aquino] described as “revolting” the manner the Arroyo administration did business.

“Money was there only to be wasted. You have heard how the public coffers were squandered,” he said in his speech in Filipino to a packed Batasang Pambansa and a nationwide radio and television audience.

[Photo courtesy Jerry Ocampo.]

It was later found that these assertions about how GMA had plundered the national budget were unfounded and severely compromised the credibility of Aquino’s fiscal management team. Nevertheless, the government did underspend in the following year in 2011 which resulted in a marked drop in economic growth

In 2011, the Philippines’ GDP slowed to 3.9 percent from the 7.6 percent growth in 2010, partly due to government underspending.

The economy could have grown by 0.8 percentage points more last year if the government was able to spend as planned.

Add to that regrettable opportunity cost in 2011 the Php 12.5 billion damage caused by Typhoon Pedring on that year and now the still-to-be-ascertained cost of this year’s nameless flooding disaster — all because key infrastructure projects were summarily killed by President BS Aquino, perhaps simply because they were projects associated with his personal nemesis, the eeevvvvillll regime of GMA.