Archive for October, 2006

An All-Nighter

Posted in Governance, Inner Thoughts with tags , , , on October 12, 2006 by Ruffy Biazon

Its exactly 11:52 PM on the Session Hall Clock. We are doing a marathon session in order to pass the budget of the National Government, starting from 10:00 AM this morning up to God knows what time.

SOme agencies have it easy, some don’t. Others spend only less than two minutes on deck, others take hours. The questions range from the foolish to the extremely important. Some of the Congressmen are still wide awake, while some are dozing off in their seats. Some are in the lounge having coffee or snacks, while others are already at home snug in their beds.

It seeems that it will become another all-nighter, a session that goes from one day in the calendar to the next. This usually happens during the plenary debates for the budget, although the two recent impeachment proceedings beat the record for the longest sessions held. When I was a neophyte during my first term, I usually brought a stash of snacks during sessions like these, which I wholeheartedly shared with my seatmates.

Right now, the budget of the Ombudsman is being taken up, with the Minority Leader asking the sponsor to name the top five agencies with the most number of cases filed against them combined with public perception. According to the Ombudsman, the top agency is the Bureau of Customs, followed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, then (not in order) by the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Immigration and one other agency I failed to get (I’m typing this live as the debates are ongoing).

As we debate on what the government should spend on and how much it will spend, most people are now in a state of bliss in dreamland, not knowing that major decisions affecting their lives and even their futures are being made by tired, half-awake and (at least for a day) overworked men and women. One might wonder if the wisdom of the decisions are not sacrificed under these conditions which are not exactly ideal.

Some people say that they “sleep on a decision”, meaning they make the decisions in the morning after, when they have taken a restful shut-eye, to make sure that their decisions are not rushed or flawed.

But in this case, we do have to make this decision in the middle of the night, for we go on recess tomorrow, and will not be back after two weeks. The National Budget has already been reenacted twice due to delays, and failure to act on this one again might cause another reenactment for 2007.

So, just as other important decisions that OCngress has made, most likely we will do it again like a thief in the night, under the coverness of darkness, while everyone is fast asleep.

Metro Manila Billboards – Unsightly Signs of Danger

Posted in Governance with tags , , , on October 4, 2006 by Ruffy Biazon

I delivered a privilege speech last Monday, October 2, the first working day after the typhoon which ravaged Metro Manila:

Mr. Speaker, Colleagues:

As we hold our sessions today, a significant part of our country is still suffering the effects of typhoon Milenyo. The headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer says, “Millions Still Have No Power, Water.” My family and I are included in those millions, as well as a big number of my constituents.

IN 1995, the last time that a typhoon directly hit Metro Manila, the roof of my house was blown away, exposing my home to the ravages of wind and water. This time around, though my roof is still intact, the felled trees, and downed utility posts cut off the basic necessities such as light and water. For several hours after Milenyo had left the Metro, I was even cut off from the outside world due to the blockage of roads leading out of my residence.

The wrath of typhoon Milenyo, which had winds of up to 165 kilometers per hour, surely reminded us of the power of Nature, of which even the technological advances of man have proven to be no match against.

Even with the latest technologies and techniques in construction, infrastructure was still damaged, from houses to utility poles, buildings to billboards. If there is one thing that is similar between locals of Metro Manila and the residents of the provinces usually hit by typhoons, it is that both are helpless against the onslaught of high wind and heavy rain.

But in Metro Manila, what makes strong typhoons more lethal are the various man-made structures that turn into missiles and projectiles that could kill if they hit a person. A piece of GI sheet peeled off from a roof…a piece of lumber…shattered glass…downed power lines….a gigantic outdoor advertising billboard. These pose real dangers to the people already cowering in fear of the typhoon’s wind and rain.

We can already say that Metro Manila is not just a concrete jungle but a billboard jungle as well. With the advent of large format printing, outdoor advertising was taken to new heights, literally and figuratively. There is even one billboard along EDSA which was touted as the largest billboard in the world, complete with a flashy publicity stunt. Another billboard was even used as a launch pad by former NCRPO Chief Vidal Querol when he zip-lined from one side of the Pasig river to the other.

Companies and products which wanted to catch the attention of the public, most especially those using the thoroughfares, took advantage of the ability to print their advertisements on a larger than life scale, even larger than a four story building.

Anyone who has experienced flying out of and into Metro Manila is treated to the competition for dominance of the skyline between the skyscrapers of the mega city and the billboards around the Metro. As the airplanes land in the Manila International and Domestic Airports, one can cannot help but wonder if the billboards along South Superhighway do not distract the pilots or impede their approach.

Some would think that these giant structures are sturdy enough not to pose a danger to the public. But typhoon Milenyo proved to us that the steel trusses of the giant billboards are no match to the power of Nature.

I use the South Superhighway in my daily commute. Everyday I pass that stretch, I wonder how these monstrosities would stand up to the test of the elements and forces of nature.

Now I don’t have to wonder at all. 25 billboards were felled by typhoon Milenyo in the stretch of South Superhighway from Villamor Air Base to Susana Heights alone. 25 giant billboards. Most of it fell in the jurisdiction of Paranaque and Muntinlupa.

One billboard fell across power lines, cutting off electrical service to a wide area, and caused heavy traffic along the service road and South Superhighway itself. Another one, with its tarpaulin advertisement still spread over the frame in spite of the typhoon, fell right on top of a residential community where the houses are of light materials. By the grace of God, the houses were not crushed due to a utility post and a house that was made of cement. Otherwise, it would have been a human tragedy.

Other billboards around Metro Manila were not spared. One billboard even killed an unfortunate driver of a car which was crushed along EDSA. Other billboards caused damage to property which as of now is unclear as to who will shoulder the liability.

It is understandable that the outdoor advertisers association would downplay the dangers of oversized billboards. A Mr. Carlo Llave, president of the Outdoor Advertisers Association of the Philippines said, “The population of billboards in Metro Manila is 2,500. Less than 40 fell. If we talk percentages, that’s still a good number”.

I am appalled at the insensitivity and irresponsibility of that statement.

I wonder if Mr. Llave can face the family of Felipe Gumapon, the ill-fated driver who was killed by a billboard, and tell them that the billboard which snuffed the life out of Felipe is just 0.04% of the billboards in Metro Manila, a good number in terms of percentages?

One billboard that falls down and kills one person is one billboard too many. One billboard that causes damage to other people’s property and disruption of daily living is one billboard too many. Talking in percentages only serve to mislead the people and cover up the obvious lack of wisdom on putting up giant billboards.

A PCIJ report in November of 2004 revealed that a single ad account for a giant electronic billboard “can mean revenues of up to P445,000 a month”. A modestly sized billboard (30’ x 50’) in my district located in an inner road of the city costs P30,000 a month. What about those along main thoroughfares such as the North and South Luzon Tollways or EDSA? Perhaps such income of these billboard operators is enough motivation to set aside sensitivity for public safety.

After typhoon Milenyo left the piles of twisted metal that were once billboards, it cannot be denied that giant billboards pose a danger to the public. It is about time that government does something about it. The Metro Manila Development Authority has been wanting to address this concern but is hampered by legal technicalities and existing law.

The MMDA even has a Metro Manila Council Resolution which required advertisers to secure clearance from the MMDA prior to the erection of billboards. But Chairman Bayani Fernando himself said he never issued any clearance because none were applied for. The billboard owners all went direct to the local government units, which readily gave permits.

The proliferation of oversized billboards in Metro Manila cannot go unacted upon especially in the aftermath of typhoon Milenyo. The situation of the MMDA vis-à-vis the local government units gives reason for us to pass a law on billboards.

. There are many proposals that have been forwarded in the wake of typhoon Milenyo, all that is needed is to consolidate all of these and craft legislation that would address the concern.

Suggestions such as prescribing a limit to the sizes of billboards or the establishment of buffer zones around the structures are worthy to be considered. Even the imposition of higher taxes or penalties for violations should be looked into. The outright ban is a bit extreme, although not entirely uncalled for.

While we contemplate on the appropriate measure that should be undertaken, government can initiate immediate steps to address this matter. Billboards which stand on government owned property should be the first to go. Whether to remove them outright or replace them with smaller sized billboards is within the power of government.

One example is the giant billboard erected in the property of the Bureau of Food and Drug in Muntinlupa City. Another is across the said billboard, right beside the building of Pedro Diaz High School, within the school’s compound.

Government needs to act on this now. To say that regulating outdoor advertising is bad for business is to neglect the welfare of the greater majority of citizens. To do nothing after seeing how the gigantic billboards could cause damage to property, injury and loss of life to people and disruption of our way of life is to fall short of our responsibility as public servants.

In view of this, I am calling on the House of Representatives to task the Special Committee on Metro Manila Development to look into the devastation brought about by the toppling of billboards during the visit of typhoon Milenyo, consider the proposed measures to formulate a policy and recommend the legislation needed to be filed to deal with this matter.

Thank you very much.