.The government is prepared to "blast" houses and other illegal structures along riverbanks and waterways if inhabitants refuse to transfer to safer areas, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson said yesterday.
Singson said President Benigno S. Aquino III has authorized the use of force to remove obstructions in the tributaries in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, citing the government's "political will" to implement its P352-billion flood control and mitigation program.
He said the government plans to relocate around 190,000 illegal settlers in the water channels as part of its efforts to reduce floods and minimize casualty during stormy weather.
"I just received instructions from the President that if push comes to shove, we will have to blast the houses if they don't leave within a certain period," Singson said in a Palace press briefing after presenting the flood control master plan to the President.
He did not specify if he plans to use explosives in removing the obstructions.
Singson also said they would work with local government units to set a deadline on the relocation of people living near the waterways. The overflowing of Marikina River and other waterways as well as poor garbage disposal were cited among the causes of flooding in Metro Manila and nearby provinces last week.
"I think it has come to a point that we will have to set a deadline when they should be taken out. If you recall, this happened sometime years back during the time of President Ramos. They brought in the military to blast all of the illegal fish pens in the waterways," Singson said.
The government has so far identified 125,000 families living along Metro Manila waterways, 60,000 to 70,000 more in the areas around Laguna Lake, according to Singson. "Now obviously that needs very strong political will to be able to address that," he added.
Singson emphasized that local government units must not allow families from living along waterways within their jurisdiction. Laws on the legal easement from the bank of any river should be strictly implemented, he said.
"The problem is we have seen houses in natural floodplains and other high-risk areas. They should not be there. They have to be removed," he said.
An inter-agency body headed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was already created by the President to address the relocation of the illegal settlers in these danger zones, according to Singson.