Eranio, 59, was ferrying a passenger on his taxi when he saw the roiling waters of the creek running along the Mango Ave. (the old name of General Maxilom Ave.) rise in a spout and erupt a geyser of black water on the street before collapsing back into the turbulent waters rushing almost at the same level as the lines of motorists desperate to escape the flash floods last Aug. 4, 2022.

In the three decades he has covered the entire Cebu as a taxi driver, Eranio claims that was the first time he saw the Mango Ave. creek rise in “revenge.” He said that in dry weather, the creek stinks like a canal from the waste dumped into it by construction companies and riverbank settlers.

Eranio remembers that when he drank with buddies at Hapit Una, a row of eateries that once lined the creek up to the 1980s, the creek was in better shape.

“Naningil na ang kinaiyahan (nature is demanding payment for human abuses),” commented Eranio, whose varied experiences with the flash floods hitting metropolitan Cebu include waiting for three hours for the floodwaters to subside so he could cross the first Cebu-Mactan Bridge, made impassable by a deep moat of water from heavy prolonged rain.

Last Aug. 10, the Cebu City Government began implementing its plan to clear structures illegally constructed within the three-meter easement along major rivers in the city.

As reported by Ivan Rey R. Tan in SunStar Cebu on Aug. 7, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama ordered the dismantling of the structures along the waterways to mitigate the flooding and prevent people from living in these high-risk areas.

The flooding and overflowing of waterways have endangered lives, destroyed property and tied up government resources in operations to evacuate and rescue in emergencies settlers living along the waterways.

The Cebu City Government’s mettle to clear the easement will be tested not just because of the number of waterways occupied by informal settlements. Kinalumsan River in Barangay Mambaling is the first target, followed by Lahug, Guadalupe and Bulacao Rivers.

Will the people return to these areas after the furor recedes and the public’s attention is diverted to other concerns?

What the government and the media refer to as “illegal structures” are the homes of citizens who have chosen to live precariously and dangerously for lack of resources and choices.

According to the same SunStar report, Gerardo Carillo, chairman of the Cebu City Risk Reduction and Management Council (CCDRRMC), said that the estimated 200 families displaced by clearing operations at the Kinalumsan River have received cash assistance and temporary shelter at a local public school.

How do we balance the conflicting welfare of displaced settlers and students, with both sharing the finite resources of public schools?

With face-to-face classes resuming and the pandemic necessity for physical distancing complicating the perennial lack of classrooms, the continuing use of public schools for disaster evacuation should not be a long-term solution as it does not serve the best interests of students, teachers, and evacuees.

The clearing operations will displace approximately 14,000 households living in river easement areas in Cebu City. Can the medium-rise building that will be constructed in Barangay Duljo-Fatima accommodate all these displaced families?

While the Cebu City’s plan to create esplanades and promenades along riverbanks is attractive, the real challenge is to educate Cebu’s residents to value, protect and manage the natural waterways that have ironically become the bane of urban existence.

A disaster casualty is the mindset that sees these waterways as inextricably linked in the current and future livability of Cebu. This has to be dredged up from beneath technocrats’ talk and plans for anti-flooding measures that, so far, have unfortunately been short-term and short-lived.