Friday, July 22, 2011

Environmental Issue in Davao City, Philippines


Approvals or applications for subdivision development assume a certain level and frequency of rainfall and a certain "acceptable" level of risk to those nearby. Those assumptions, in light of experience and accelerating Climate Change are no longer valid.  Anything can happen and likely will.
When huge rains are no longer absorbed by trees and ground cover, they will still find their way to the sea - drowning cars, homes, roads and people.  Similarly, Nacilla village in Ma-a experienced large landslides in June and is reported in great danger.  Nacilla is a harbinger, a bringer of warning, of the future of Shrine Hills.
Worse, flood and earth movements are often caused by human activities which have weakened hills above or their support below.  If we look at past landslide disasters anywhere in the world, we see much the same thing.
Even an apparently harmless application by a prominent developer for its proposed subdivision and nine-golf course between Quimpo Boulevard and Time Beach / Matina Aplaya Road near Queensland appears not to have fully taken into account what will happen when its outflows are added to run-offs from other older prior developments and heavy rains concurrent with high tides and rising ocean levels.  It may mimic the overflows of Ma-a Creek when heavy rains meet high tide and storm driven river levels.  Certain Councilors seem quite concerned by this very issue.  Don't let loose of it!
How will the 13.6 hectare property on grass and wetlands  drain rapidly enough to prevent flooding, even if surrounded by canals when the tides are high? It seems that concentrated on-rushing outflows will hit high tides, slow down, back up and spread out laterally above.
Will the proposed subdivision's Street sewage, motor oils, trash and other contaminated outflows rush out to further dirty our beaches and pollute our Gulf waters, area outflows that are now filtered by grass and wetlands?  What are the solutions that must be implemented?
Similarly, should unauthorized subdivisions or unauthorized buildings be approved after-the-fact for "Humanitarian Reasons" or should they be denied for Humanitarian Reasons?  In the case of erring Developers, humanitarian reasons must be translated as financial reasons, important but hardly as important as human lives
Should the lives, livelihoods and amenities of neighboring communities be traded for the financial reasons of erring Developers?  Not in our backyard, not without a fight and, hopefully, not in yours. .  Turn-downs will discourage Ignorance as tool of obtaining approvals at the expense of the greater good.

I am very glad to see the recent actions and comments by Mr. Roberto Alabado, CPDO, as well several councilors that Subdivision approvals must become much more rigorous and strict.  I would also advocate the following:

1) Significant increase in car or motorcycle transport provided to Engineering and Inspection Staff at the City Engineer office and City Planning office so that the limited staff can do more and with greater energy.

2) The City should require multi-million Peso Performance Bonds from Subdivision Developers so that Developer promises can be enforced more quickly and without Lawsuit.  Requiring performance bonds is available to the City through HLURB and DENR rules.  Find out how existing Bonding Requirements might be adapted for City use.

3) The City, as a matter of law, Banks and Local Home Insurers should require detailed (but uncomplicated) Flood Hazard / Flood Plain and Landslide Hazard Disclosure Statements, as determined by the DENR, MGB, Environmental Management Bureau and HLURB and signed by Buyers, well in advance of actual purchase.  Such signed disclosures should be part of any Cash or Time Payment arrangement Closing and paperwork.

The purchase would be rescindable (cancellable) at any time by the Buyer, even years later, for failure to disclose required facts.  No more of the "As is, Where is, At Buyers Risk, Buyer Beware" disclaimers in such contracts.  The Seller is in a much stronger more knowledgeable position compared to the Buyer.  There is simply too much at stake for the prospective buyer, community and "downstream" disaster and other costs to the City, not to require such written disclosures, acknowledged by buyers.

Otherwise, it is the CITY itself that is guaranteeing the subdivision safety by virtue of its approval processes.  Let the Seller (the one with the most to gain) be the Guarantor by virtue of Open Disclosure and Performance Bonds.   The Philippine precedent for this are the Cancer and other Health Warnings required on simple packages of cigarettes.  What less should be done for subdivisions that might kill whole families and cost taxpayers billions in Disaster Recovery costs?

In addition, such requirements would likely cause Developers themselves to be more self aware and needful of detailed geohazard studies before they themselves purchase property for development.  It would help them stay out of the same type of corner they currently push on to buyers.

Would this discourage the real estate and Subdivision Development process?  Only the bad kind.  And after the details are worked out, these protections would become a matter-of-course protections and expectations of Buyers.  Savings on Disaster recovery could go to upgrading schools and infrastructure, including repair of old existing drainage problems.  Let's find a way out of the hole, not dig it deeper.

Sincerely with best regards,

Stacey Baird
Ten year resident
Spring Village, Ma-a