DAGUPAN CITY – Experts from the academe and professional groups, as well as from the government sector, voiced out their objection to the “Anti-Backfilling Ordinance” passed by the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) which was, however, recently vetoed by Mayor Belen T. Fernandez.

All expressed their views in an open forum session during the scientific meeting held at Star Plaza Hotel on October 3, called by Mayor Belen Fernandez to discuss possible long-term flood and disaster mitigation measures in the city.

Ordinance No. 2147-2018, authored by Councilor Nicanor Aquino, chairman on the committee on Land Use, seeks to regulate backfilling of lots as a result of reclassification under the zoning ordinance of the city and providing penalties for violation thereof.

According to the ordinance, regulation of backfilling of lots as a result of classification under the Zoning Ordinance is an imperative necessity as one of the adverse effects of backfilling is the occurrence of flash floods brought by high tide and torrential rains.

Experts studied and discussed the possible effects of the ordinance, particularly along its scope and requirements clauses, as there was no expert study mentioned in the ordinance that points to that backfilling is the main cause of flooding in the city.

Architect Emmanuel Joe Langit, Technical Consultant from the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) provided a perspective of how the reclassified lots would look like upon compliance of the said ordinance.

This, after Engr. Joey Manuel of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) asked for clarifications of some requirements under Section 3 which state that “The applicant lot owner shall also indicate in his development plan that one meter from the perimeter of the property is intended for the construction of waterway”; and “is also required submit a sketch plan indicating said one meter for egress of waterway.”

According to his study, the required one meter perimeter for waterway in addition to the setback required by the building code “will significantly decrease the remaining size of the buildable area.”

“All lots adjacent to each other will now have a one meter waterway around their perimeters, so you would put a partition between them. Now, they are requiring an interconnection of the waterway, but as an owner, would you allow na may butas yung iyong dingding? For sure, isasara mo yun. So, the waterway will always go out. Permanently, I will have ‘flood’ around my property.” added Architect. Langit.

Furthermore, Langit questioned as to who will assume the cost of the maintenance of the unspecified waterway.

“There was no specification whether the waterway should be opened or closed.  So, assuming that it was open, and I would want it to have a cover. Or if I wanted to leave it open, I would want to have a fence around my property and that’s an additional cost for me as a developer,” said Langit.

He also noted that the size of lots that will be affected were unspecified in the ordinance, thus, leading owners of smaller lots to a disadvantage.

“Kapag maliit yung lote niyo, wala na pong matitira. That’s why we are against this ordinance.” added Langit.

Engr. John Zamora, of the Local Zoning Board of Appeals (LZBA) of Dagupan and Dean of the College of Engineering in the University of Pangasinan (UPang), reiterated the importance of elevating areas, particularly roads which provide access to economic activities and critical disaster preparations.

“That is why we are promoting that the roads critical to this activity should be elevated. If we are going to be elevating these roads, and some will not be elevated, there will be flooding across different places. That is why I personally am not in favor with this ordinance because I agree that it is pro-‘baha’. Since if we elevate the roads, the water will find its level. We need to elevate the roads, and the residences should also follow.”

District Engineer Editha Manuel of the Department of Public Works and Highways dwelt on the topographical history of the city when it was just a marshland situated between bodies of water.

“Our ancestors backfilled the area over the course of time (to give way for development). Noon palang, nagtatambak na sila. Kung hindi natin gagawin yun, mapagiiwanan ang Dagupan City,” added Engr. Manuel.

City Engineer and City and Municipal Engineers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (CMEAP) president Virginia Rosario maintained that the ordinance is in conflict with the National Building Code of the Philippines, as she said: “You cannot supersede a national law with a local law.”

Meanwhile, Architect Editha De Vera of the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) – Dagupan Pangasinan Chapter pointed out that the lack of details, specifications or studies stated in the resolution provides no technical explanation on how it should be approved.

“For example, I was the first one to build my lot and the depth of my spillway is higher. What will happen to adjacent lots that will be building a lower depth of spillway? There’s going to be a big problem. This is not actually a flood solution but there is going to be a disaster. The ordinance should have been studied further and the benefit of the people (should have been taken into account),” added Arch. De Vera.

Meanwhile, City Administrator Atty. Farah Marie Decano discussed the legal technicalities surrounding the ordinance, including its sweeping scope and coverage.

“Ang coverage niya ay malawak. It begs the question, what about those who have been reclassified before? Are they also mandated to have a setback?  Ordinances are usually given prospective application, so this would give the new applicants a more prejudiced situation,” added Atty. Decano.

She also said that the ordinance is an illegal arrogation of the power of the executive powers in addition to adding another layer to the government process and comes in conflict with the national government’s policy of streamlining government processes.

“This appears to be an amendment of the (Zoning) Ordinance, so it should have gone through the consultative process. And these are the processes na hindi dapat basta binabalewala, kasi in-approve ito sa national level. Isang taon itong pinag-aralan sa taas bago ito in-aprubahan. And this ordinance is also going against the spirit of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan which identifies backfilling as a flood intervention measure,” added Atty. Decano.

On the standpoint of health, City Health Officer Ophelia T. Rivera said that the requirement for lot owners to have waterways around the perimeter would present health hazard for Dagupenos.

“We will be having waterways in every individual lot. That would be a health hazard because it will be breeding sites for mosquitoes. This will also be disastrous to our children as the areas will now be accident-prone with all the waterways created.” said Dr. Rivera.

In response, Mayor Fernandez urged the SP members to take into consideration the concerns discussed during the forum.

“I hope that they will come up with an ordinance that is consistent with the vision of the city. Because once we come up with an ordinance that is anti-progress such as the ‘Anti-Backfilling Ordinance’, investors will no longer come to our city. They will be discouraged when the ease of doing business is gone. We will not be making our city competitive in that sense.” said Fernandez. (Verdelle De Vera/CIO)