[Flood In The City: Last of Two Parts]

THE presence of informal settlers, budgeting constraints and several lawsuits pertaining to several infrastructure projects were the factors behind the delayed implementation of a P44 billion flood and drainage master plan that could have solved Cebu City’s flooding woes.

This was what officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Central Visayas (DPWH 7) said following the initiatives made by the Cebu City Government to clear the three-meter easement of its major rivers as part of Mayor Michael Rama’s vision to make the city the next Singapore.

With Rama still new on his third non-consecutive term as mayor (he had been elected twice before in 2010 and 2013), officials under his administration are confident that they can relocate all informal settlers currently living along rivers and other waterways in order to implement the flooding and drainage projects necessary to protect the city from future flooding incidents.

READ THE FIRST PART OF THIS SPECIAL REPORT: Flooding: Threat to life,Cebu City’s progress

Engineer Earl Carlo Escanuela of the DPWH 7’s Unified Project Management Office-Flood Control Management Cluster (UPMO-FCMC) told SunStar Cebu on Dec. 10, 2022 that the national government had allocated P44 billion for the implementation of a Metro Cebu Integrated Flood and Drainage Master Plan (MCIFDMP).

The MCIFDMP was made in collaboration with the DPWH and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) in 2017 as a way to implement flood-control interventions and engineering solutions in the local government units (LGU) under Metro Cebu.

Metro Cebu’s LGUs are the three highly urbanized cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu, the component cities of Talisay, Carcar, Naga and Danao, and the municipalities of Minglanilla, San Fernando, Consolacion, Cordova, Liloan and Compostela.

According to Escanuela, the implementation of the MCIFDMP should have started with construction of the drainage projects in 2020, and these are supposed to be completed within a 10-year period.

The MCIFDMP was divided into three clusters: Central Cluster (Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, Talisay City and Cordova), North Cluster (Danao City, Compostela, Liloan and Consolacion), and South Cluster (Minglanilla, Naga City, San Fernando and Carcar City).

Due to its wide coverage and complexity, projects were divided and given to designated District Engineering Offices, DPWH 7 and the UPMO-FCMC for implementation.

In the Central Cluster, the DPWH 7 has more than 20 proposed projects with an estimated cost of P17 billion, mainly for the construction of mains drainage (a network of pipes leading to a main sewer, or to its own private drainage system), diversion channels, cut-off channels, and river improvement projects to mitigate the flooding problems in Cebu City and neighboring LGUs.

Under the MCIFDMP, Escanuela said they have more than 25 proposed projects under the supervision of UPMO-FCMC and 10 proposed projects are situated in Cebu City.

Since 2018, UPMO-FCMC has completed four contract packages, while another one is an ongoing river improvement involving seven waterways—Tipolo River, Subangdaku River, Tejero Creek, Lahug River, Guadalupe River, Kinalumsan River and Bulacao River.

However, he clarified that these were the downstream portions of the mentioned rivers and not the whole stretch.

In the downstream areas, they have implemented river-widening improvement that will accommodate huge flows of water during rains, in addition to the construction of revetment or slope protection works at the edge of the river.

For 2023, Escanuela said UPMO-FCMC is preparing Detailed Engineering Design (DED) studies for the funding of proposed projects in 13 sites, costing around P100 million for the consultative phase.

He added that most of these projects are a continuation of the river improvement projects that have been started, in addition to the widening projects in Pari-an Creek and Butuanon River, and the commencement of the Lahug River Diversion channel, and Subangdaku River Diversion channel.

Other obstacles

Escanuela admitted there were projects in the MCIFDMP that were already behind the implementation schedule due to several factors. Among them was having limited funds.

The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, which started a worldwide economic crisis when it was declared in March 2020, also contributed to the already delayed implementation of the project.

Escanuela added that the DPWH 7 also cannot proceed with the implementation of the project as it also needs to compensate those who will be affected such as the settlers and the private landowners. These also contributed to the delay in the MCIFDMP’s implementation since they also needed to coordinate with the LGU concerned on how to compensate those affected by the project.

In 2018, Escanuela said, the DPWH 7 and the Cebu City Government reached an agreement in which the City will provide relocation sites for the informal settlers living along the rivers, after which DPWH will proceed with its flood-control projects.

With the City’s creation of a task force on flooding, Escanuela added that it is an opportunity for the department to fast-track its projects, since relocating the informal settlers along the river will be hastened by the Cebu City Government.

The DPWH Central Office will have to do its part to move the projects along though, such as by increasing the annual budget allocation for the projects in the master plan.

As of September 2022, only 4.6 percent or some P2 billion of the P44 billion master plan had been funded and implemented so far, Kareen Suarez, secretariat of the Infrastructure Development Committee of the Regional Development Council of Central Visayas, said on Feb. 10, 2023.

Legal troubles

Aside from limited funding and work stoppages attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, the DPWH 7 also added that some segments of the MCIFDMP situated in Cebu City could not be implemented due to civil cases filed in court by private property owners who do not want to abandon their properties.

DPWH 7 Project Maintenance Division chief June dela Cruz said this was what happened to two flood-mitigation projects that they were set to implement in the rivers of Barangay Tejero and in Sitio Highway Tagunol in Barangay Mambaling.

On Nov. 29, 2022, the Cebu City Government and Task Force Gubat sa Baha (War against Flooding) or TFGB chief Roy Cimatu were dismayed that the DPWH 7 had not given updates on two flood-mitigation projects in the rivers of Barangay Tejero and Highway Tagunol. Members of the task force had observed that the projects were seemingly abandoned, subsequently resulting in more flooding in the area during heavy rainfall and heavy traffic during rush hour.

But in a meeting with the task force members at City Hall on Dec. 6, dela Cruz clarified that the projects had not been entirely abandoned, telling them that budgetary constraints and lawsuits halted the river-widening projects.

Dela Cruz said the funding request for payment to affected private lot owners in the Tejero project was not approved by the DPWH Central Office, while the department’s Tagunol project was facing a lawsuit questioning its legality and the right of way.

However, TFGB co-chairman Gerardo Carillo said on Jan. 31 that DPWH should have forced contractors to continue working on the Tagunol project because it is a government project unless the court issues a temporary restraining order against it.

Carillo added that the Cebu City Government will be giving warnings to the DPWH and the agency’s contractor to continue the project because its delay has caused inconvenience to motorists and residents.

Taking back easement zones

Under the Water Code of the Philippines or Presidential Decree (PD) 1067, no structure should be erected inside the easement zones from the edge of the banks of rivers, streams, shores of the sea and lakes.

PD 1067 asserts that there must be three-meter easement zones in the urban areas, 20-meter easements in agricultural areas, and 40-meter easements in the forest areas.

The law states that these zones must be set aside for recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage, hence, it explicitly does not allow any person or entity to stay or build structures of any kind inside the zones.

The government is allowed to construct necessary flood control measures, for which purpose it shall have a legal easement as wide as may be needed along and adjacent to the river bank or outside of the river bed or channel.

On the other hand, the Civil Code of the Philippines states that even in the case of private ownership, the banks of rivers or streams are subject to the easement of public use in the interest of navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage.

Under Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order 7 of 2021 or the Guidelines on the Establishment of Legal Easements along the Seas, Rivers, Lakes, Esteros and Creeks, individuals or entities found to be violating the provisions of these laws, whether private or owned by the government, shall be subjected to possible relocation and demolition.

Humanitarian approach

To recover the three-meter easement zones, Carillo said Mayor Rama’s directive was to deal with the informal settlers using a “humanitarian approach,” meaning the City has to provide relocation sites to the affected informal settlers.

For the business establishments found violating the three-meter easement rule, Carillo said the task force has to enforce the law and advise the management of these establishments to voluntarily demolish their structures sitting on top of the rivers and waterways or erected within the easement zone.

In earlier reports, Rama had announced that there will be no exceptions for the business owners, private lot owners and informal settlers violating the easement zone and the city government has to exercise its power for the common good.

Creating task force

The incident involving a man and his shanty that were swept away in the Kinalumsan River in Barangay Mambaling on Aug. 4, 2022 prompted Rama to form the special task force Gubat sa Baha through Executive Order (EO) 2 on Aug. 19.

Under EO 2, the task force that Rama created will formulate and implement programs addressing the severe flooding and transform the city into a flood-resilient city.

Upon the start of his administration on June 30, 2022, Rama announced that he would focus on making Cebu City a “Singapore-like” city, bringing more developments and economic opportunities to the city.

To achieve his dream, Rama said solving severe flooding in the city had to be expedited until the end of his term in mid-2025.

The Task Force Gubat sa Baha is composed of several key city departments with the assistance of key national agencies. Cimatu, the former environment secretary, was named the task force’s chief.

Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Cimatu had steered the rehabilitation of Marikina River in the National Capital Region and Cagayan River in Cagayan Province, successfully reducing the damage brought by severe flooding in these areas.

Gearing to solve the severe flooding in Cebu City, Cimatu has marching orders to dredge and widen the city’s rivers and waterways as the fastest way to mitigate the flooding woes.

To help him in his tasks, eight city hall officials were designated as “river commanders,” focal persons of the task force in supervising and monitoring the rehabilitation of the city’s major rivers.

The river commanders are Carillo for Bulacao River, Grace Luardo for Kinalumsan River, Dr. Ester Concha for Tagunol Creek, and engineer Rolando Ardosa for Guadalupe River.

Other officials assigned as river commanders are Paul Gotiong for Mahiga Creek, Joelito Baclayon for Lahug River, Raquel Arce for Estero de Parian, and Arlie Guesta for Butuanon River.

The task force will have to solve the decades-long problems of the restoration and rehabilitation of the city’s dead rivers and waterways, clearing of informal settlers living along the rivers, including commercial establishments that violated the easement zones at the edge of the river, and improving of the city’s drainage system and implementing other flood-mitigation projects.

Clearing ops

As to what to prioritize in the clearing operations, Cimatu issued an order last December to clear out first the commercial establishments sitting above the city’s major waterways.

So the TFGB started by issuing the Notice of Voluntary Demolition to two prominent business establishments along the Lahug-Kamputhaw River and Parian Creek, namely White Knight Hotel and Lighthouse Restaurant along Gen. Maxilom Avenue.

In early December, the task force issued the Notice of Voluntary Demolition to the two establishments, telling them to demolish the portions of their establishments that were illegal structures within 10 days.

The 10-day notice lapsed.

Cimatu eventually gave the demolition order on Jan. 12, 2023 because the “two establishments have not significantly cleared their obstructions,” the Cebu City Public Information Office (PIO) reported.

The following day, the task force moved to completely demolish the illegal structures. The retired general personally supervised the demolition.

After all commercial structures sitting on top of the city’s rivers will be cleared, Cimatu said the task force will then proceed to clearing business establishments within the three-meter easement zone.

The last priority in the river-clearing operation will be the houses of informal settlers sitting on top of the rivers and within the easement zones until a relocation site has been identified.

Housing the affected

TFGB co-chairman Carillo told SunStar Cebu that an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 informal settlers live within the three-meter easement zones in the city’s major waterways.

However, the numbers may increase as the task force is still continuing the profiling and tagging of structures erected beside the city’s rivers and the owners of the structures to determine the exact number of informal settlers and commercial establishments that had encroached on the easement zones.

Cebu City has eight major rivers namely Bulacao River, Kinalumsan River, Tagunol Creek, Guadalupe River, Mahiga Creek, Lahug River, Parian Creek and Butuanon River.

Carillo said the city government plans to rehabilitate, revive and develop the majority of the city’s dead rivers.

This is to avoid overbanking the rivers during the rainy season, thus preventing or minimizing the flooding in the city.

Last August, the task force issued 2,000 Notices to Vacate to informal settlers, and more will follow after the profiling and tagging is done.

Carillo said these informal settlers and commercial infrastructures have been the target of blame by the public in times of flooding over the years. Some of the residents and commercial establishments, he said, throw their garbage directly into the waterways.

In the rainy season, the city’s rivers and waterways tend to overflow due to the accumulation of garbage and siltation of the river bed that block the exit of flowing water into the sea.

This has resulted in several structures such as houses and shanties being swept away in the river by floodwater.

Carillo further said the city’s drainage system is clogged due to accumulation of garbage, causing the excess water to overflow to the streets and roads.

To focus on the clearing of these residential structures, Rama named Carillo, on Oct. 10, 2022, to be his Special Assistant on Special Project under the Office of the Mayor, overseeing the relocation of informal settlers and clearing of these structures sitting within the three-meter easement zone of the city’s rivers.

Carillo said part of Rama’s plan to assist the affected informal settlers in the river-clearing operation was for the city government to construct around 200 medium-rise buildings (MRBs) starting in 2023.

“Gipasabot sila nga (They were made to understand that) they have to go and the City will have to relocate them somewhere else. Mao nang nagplano si Mayor Mike aning MRBs o medium-rise buildings aron didto sila i-lugar (That is why Mayor Mike is planning the construction of the MRBs so they will be placed there),” Carillo said.


Rama seeks to solve once and for all the perennial flooding problem of the city within his three-year term. Thus, he ordered expediting the clearing of all structures along the waterways.

These structures belong to informal family settlers (ISFs) and private lot owners that encroached on the city’s waterways.

However, some ISFs have urged the city government and Rama to provide them with relocation sites or socialized housing before removing them from their houses.

Teodorico Navea, secretary-general of cause-oriented group Sanlakas Cebu, told SunStar Cebu that the families living along the river were not against Rama’s plan to rehabilitate the city’s major waterways.

Sanlakas Cebu represents the interests of informal settlers and urban poor families living on the easement zones, and it has urged the Cebu City Government to employ a “humanitarian approach” in dealing with these families.

He said all urban poor families agreed with Rama’s vision of making Cebu City “Singapore-like”; however, the basic rights of the mayor’s constituents must be taken into consideration before demolitions are conducted.

Navea revealed that the group had a fruitful dialogue with Rama last September, in which the mayor promised the urban poor families that there will be no demolition if there is no relocation site.

“Nahadlok pud sila nga magpuyo sa mga danger zone, sa mga waterways, kay kahibalo sila nga peligro na nila ug makadaut sa atung kinaiyahan. Pero wala man sila’y laing kapuy-an,” Navea said.

(They also fear living in the danger zone, along the waterways, because they know that they are at risk and the environment is also put in harm’s way. But they have nowhere else to go.)

He added: “Ug papahuwaon nato sila, i-beautify nato nga kapareho sa Singapore, so be it, pero tagaan nato og pagtagad ang mga ma-apektuhan. Tagaan nato og klaro nga permanent relocation ang mga tawo.”

(If we will relocate them, if we will beautify [the areas near the waterways] like that of Singapore, so be it, but we must take care of the affected families. We must give them permanent relocation sites.)

Constructing MRBs

Rama’s administration under the Division of the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP) has proposed to the City Council a budget of P24 billion out of the City’s P50 billion budget for 2023, to fund the construction of 200 medium-rise buildings in the city. On Dec. 28, 2022, the Cebu City Council approved the budget for 2023, with an allocation of P26.3 billion for the construction of MRBs. The City Council added P1.5 billion for the acquisition of lots for the MRBs.

Carillo said the completion of the 200 MRBs will suffice the socialized housing needs for an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 families that will be affected in the clearing of the easement zones.

The official added that in the first quarter of 2023, the city government plans to start the construction of about 20 MRBs, which will be established in the coastal barangays of Sawang Calero and Inayawan.

The design for these MRBs will likely be the same as that of the P115 million five-story MRB project comprising two buildings in Barangay Lorega San Miguel that was turned over to the city government on June 29, 2022.

The residential buildings with 100 units were built by private developer Cebu Landmasters Inc. on a 1,345-square-meter lot owned by the city government. The proposed monthly lease was set at P1,000 per unit.

For the upcoming MRBs, Carillo told SunStar Cebu that the city government should set an affordable monthly rent for the affected families, prioritizing those beneficiaries that have no capacity to rent a room or house within the city, particularly those classified as urban poor.

He added that once the living status of these beneficiaries has improved after a certain period, they must vacate the housing unit to make way for other qualified beneficiaries.

However, Carillo admitted that the construction of the MRBs will take time; therefore, he suggested to the Task Force Gubat sa Baha to put up a “Container City” as a temporary housing facility for the affected families.

On Nov. 18, 2022, Rama signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) for the construction of about 30,000 new housing units in Cebu City.

With an initial budget of P30.45 billion, the DHSUD, together with key shelter agencies, will facilitate the overall implementation of the housing program, while the city government has to identify the lands and lots within the city that will be available for the construction of new houses.

The city government will also identify the beneficiaries. Rama said he will prioritize the families that will be displaced once the city begins clearing the three-meter easement of rivers and waterways, including the coastal areas.

Initial lots in Barangay Lorega San Miguel and Kamagayan have been identified, while the city government looks into its acquired assets and properties for the implementation of the socialized housing projects.

Each housing unit will cost the government around P1.15 million to construct. But the monthly amortization of the beneficiaries will be minimal because the national government will subsidize the interest rates charged on the housing loans, DHSUD Undersecretary Garry V. de Guzman said during the MOU signing.

In owning the socialized housing unit, the beneficiaries have only to pay around P1,912 per month for a period of 30 years even if six percent interest is the current market rate.

In upgrading a housing unit, the monthly amortization is P2,637, which is payable for 30 years, while the mid-rise and high-rise units will cost the beneficiary only P3,538 per month for 30 years.

Currently, the DHSUD is coordinating with Congress for the proposed budget to be approved.

The project will be part of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s housing program called Pambansang Pabahay Para sa Pilipino: Zero Informal Settlers Families Program for 2028, projecting to construct around one million housing units per year.

Container City

As a temporary housing unit while MRBs are under construction, Carillo said a single container van can accommodate two families. The vans will be put up inside a five-hectare lot in the South Road Properties (SRP).

He said around 400 families can be temporarily housed in the container vans at any given time and once the construction of the MRBs is finished, the city government will transfer these families to the MRBs.

Carillo said the city government is preparing to buy 200 container vans that will be refurbished to serve as temporary housing facilities for the affected families.

The purchase of the vans is undergoing a bidding process, and the winning contractor will be announced by Feb. 28, Carillo said.

“The mayor has offered five hectares there at the SRP where we can put container vans where the families can live temporarily while our MRBs are being built. We have actually started to purchase these container vans already,” Carillo said.

Cimatu agreed to the suggestion of Carillo to establish a “Container City” at the SRP, providing an alternative and temporary solution to the problem of the informal settlers’ relocation site.

Cebu City’s “war” against flooding is a work in progress, and it must march on and complete its goal because containing flooding will reduce the risk to life and property, protect the environment, encourage investment, and safeguard economic and social gains for future generations.