SC sides with developer on ‘flood control’

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Local government units have primary responsibility over flood control and management in their respective jurisdiction, including areas in private subdivisions, according to the ruling of the Supreme Court.

The SC’s First Division made the ruling even as it granted a petition filed by developer Filinvest Land Inc. assailing judgment by the Court of Appeals in a negligence suit initiated by residents of a flood-prone low-cost housing project undertaken by the firm in Las Piñas City.

In a 12-page decision, penned by Associate Justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez, the court cited Section 17 of the Local Government Code on the Basic Services and Facilities Duties where local government units are the ones primarily mandated to put up infrastructure projects, including those for drainage and sewerage, and flood control.

“The local government units shall endeavor… to discharge… such basic services and facilities include, but are not limited to the following: infrastructure facilities intended primarily to service the needs of the residents of the [city] and which are funded out of the [city] funds including but not limited to municipal roads and bridges; school buildings and other facilities for public elementary and secondary schools; clinics, health centers and other health facilities necessary to carry out health services; communal irrigation, small water impounding projects and other similar projects, fish ports; artesian wells, spring development, rainwater collectors and water supply systems; seawalls, dikes, drainage and sewerage; and flood control, traffic signals and road signs, and similar facilities,” the provision states.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Renato Corona and Adolfo Azcuna concurred with the decision, turning down the residents’ claim.

The case stemmed from the complaint filed by a group calling themselves the Flood-Affected Homeowners of Meritville Alliance in Pulang Lupa, Las Piñas. Meritville Townhouse Subdivision is located near the heavily silted Naga River.

Fifty-four of the residents of Meritville started suffering the floods when the area around Meritville was developed and new subdivisions were built with elevations higher, turning it into a catch basin from rains during the wet season and from water coming from the Naga River every time it overflows.

Due to perennial flood, the townhouses suffered severe damages, prompting the residents to demand Filinvest to act on the problem.

Acting on their complaints, Filinvest installed a pumping station with a capacity of 6,000 gallons per minute. It also improved the drainage system. But these measures were not enough. Thus, the National Home Mortgage Finance Corp. declared the affected townhouses “unacceptable collaterals.”

The residents then filed a suit against Filinvest with the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board and asked that the firm be ordered to upgrade the elevation of the affected areas and repair the units. In the alternative, they asked petitioner to transfer them to its other flood-free housing projects, allowing them to “sell-back” their units.

The property developer rejected the demand of the residents, claiming that it already took appropriate measures, such as the installation of a pumping station and the improvement of the drainage, to prevent and control the flooding of Meritville; and that these measures had been approved by the local government of Las Piñas City.

The operation of the said pump was creating disturbing loud noise despite enclosed housing provided by the developer.

In ruling on whether Filinvest had been negligent, the SC said: “Negligence is never presumed but must be proven by whoever alleges it.”

“We hold that negligence cannot be attributed to petitioner,” the Court added, considering that subsequent developments elevated the surrounding areas to a level higher by more than 1 meter than that of Meritville.

“Naturally, the water from these surrounding areas would flow to the lower area which is Meritville. It has to be emphasized that prior to these developments, there was no flooding in the subdivision,” the high court stressed.