If Manila were like Venice, aside from the possibility of gondolas, maybe floods would not be as frequent.
Urban planner Felino Palafox said a century-old plan of modeling esteros in Manila and the metropolitan area which sprung around it after the famous canals of the Italian city could have prevented urban floods--such as that caused by the southwest monsoon rains last week.
"[W]hen Manila was being designed as the country's capital in 1905, the architect, Daniel Burnham hoped that its waterways would be similar to the canals of Venice," Palafox told Yahoo! Southeast Asia in a phone interview.
"Aside from Venice, Burnham also had in mind the River Seine of Paris and the Bay of Naples," he added.
Burnham, who also designed parts of Chicago in the United States, is more known to Filipinos for planning Baguio City, also in 1905.
Palafox said Burnham's plan of Manila involved widening and dredging of the esteros, which even back then had been sprawled over the city, with most of them draining into the Pasig River.
"Not only would it have made Manila more beautiful and provided an additional mode of transport, it would have also worked as a drainage and flood control system," Palafox said.
In a letter accompanying drawings of proposed Manila improvements sent to the Philippine Commission in June 1905, Burnham described esteros as "narrow canals ramifying throughout Manila, with their stagnant water and unsanitary mud banks."
"To develop the full usefulness of the system, certain of the esteros should be filled up and the others widened and dredged to a practical depth; all of them should be provided with masonry banks," Burnham said.
"A complete development of the estero system," he said, also includes interconnecting esteros and improving connections to the Pasig River, Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay, which would "diminish the danger of overflow" in major channels.
Burnham added:"The estero, it should be remembered, is not only an economical vehicle for the transaction of public business; it can become as in Venice, an element of beauty."
Burnham's plan for the esteros was not implemented, however, along with most of his proposed improvements for Manila since former President Manuel Quezon reallocated funds for the project to ramping up irrigation infrastructure in the provinces.
"I won't say prioritizing agriculture was a bad decision but I think the succeeding administrations should have pushed through with the plan for Manila," Palafox said.
In a list of recommendations for disaster prevention in Metro Manila submitted to President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino in July 2010, Palafox echoed Burnham's calls for improved estero systems.
Urbanization has reduced the water-holding capacities' of the Metro's waterways, he said, adding that the increasing amount of rainwater, mud and garbade flowing into these systems has aggravated flood damages.
"The frequent flooding in Metro Manila is a result of mistakes in the past which we have yet to address," Palafox said.