Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Metro Manila Billboards - Unsightly Signs of Danger

I delivered a privilege speech last Monday, October 2, the first working day after the typhoon which ravaged Metro Manila:

Mr. Speaker, Colleagues:

As we hold our sessions today, a significant part of our country is still suffering the effects of typhoon Milenyo. The headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer says, “Millions Still Have No Power, Water.” My family and I are included in those millions, as well as a big number of my constituents.

IN 1995, the last time that a typhoon directly hit Metro Manila, the roof of my house was blown away, exposing my home to the ravages of wind and water. This time around, though my roof is still intact, the felled trees, and downed utility posts cut off the basic necessities such as light and water. For several hours after Milenyo had left the Metro, I was even cut off from the outside world due to the blockage of roads leading out of my residence.

The wrath of typhoon Milenyo, which had winds of up to 165 kilometers per hour, surely reminded us of the power of Nature, of which even the technological advances of man have proven to be no match against.

Even with the latest technologies and techniques in construction, infrastructure was still damaged, from houses to utility poles, buildings to billboards. If there is one thing that is similar between locals of Metro Manila and the residents of the provinces usually hit by typhoons, it is that both are helpless against the onslaught of high wind and heavy rain.

But in Metro Manila, what makes strong typhoons more lethal are the various man-made structures that turn into missiles and projectiles that could kill if they hit a person. A piece of GI sheet peeled off from a roof…a piece of lumber…shattered glass…downed power lines….a gigantic outdoor advertising billboard. These pose real dangers to the people already cowering in fear of the typhoon’s wind and rain.

We can already say that Metro Manila is not just a concrete jungle but a billboard jungle as well. With the advent of large format printing, outdoor advertising was taken to new heights, literally and figuratively. There is even one billboard along EDSA which was touted as the largest billboard in the world, complete with a flashy publicity stunt. Another billboard was even used as a launch pad by former NCRPO Chief Vidal Querol when he zip-lined from one side of the Pasig river to the other.

Companies and products which wanted to catch the attention of the public, most especially those using the thoroughfares, took advantage of the ability to print their advertisements on a larger than life scale, even larger than a four story building.

Anyone who has experienced flying out of and into Metro Manila is treated to the competition for dominance of the skyline between the skyscrapers of the mega city and the billboards around the Metro. As the airplanes land in the Manila International and Domestic Airports, one can cannot help but wonder if the billboards along South Superhighway do not distract the pilots or impede their approach.

Some would think that these giant structures are sturdy enough not to pose a danger to the public. But typhoon Milenyo proved to us that the steel trusses of the giant billboards are no match to the power of Nature.

I use the South Superhighway in my daily commute. Everyday I pass that stretch, I wonder how these monstrosities would stand up to the test of the elements and forces of nature.

Now I don’t have to wonder at all. 25 billboards were felled by typhoon Milenyo in the stretch of South Superhighway from Villamor Air Base to Susana Heights alone. 25 giant billboards. Most of it fell in the jurisdiction of Paranaque and Muntinlupa.

One billboard fell across power lines, cutting off electrical service to a wide area, and caused heavy traffic along the service road and South Superhighway itself. Another one, with its tarpaulin advertisement still spread over the frame in spite of the typhoon, fell right on top of a residential community where the houses are of light materials. By the grace of God, the houses were not crushed due to a utility post and a house that was made of cement. Otherwise, it would have been a human tragedy.

Other billboards around Metro Manila were not spared. One billboard even killed an unfortunate driver of a car which was crushed along EDSA. Other billboards caused damage to property which as of now is unclear as to who will shoulder the liability.

It is understandable that the outdoor advertisers association would downplay the dangers of oversized billboards. A Mr. Carlo Llave, president of the Outdoor Advertisers Association of the Philippines said, "The population of billboards in Metro Manila is 2,500. Less than 40 fell. If we talk percentages, that's still a good number".

I am appalled at the insensitivity and irresponsibility of that statement.

I wonder if Mr. Llave can face the family of Felipe Gumapon, the ill-fated driver who was killed by a billboard, and tell them that the billboard which snuffed the life out of Felipe is just 0.04% of the billboards in Metro Manila, a good number in terms of percentages?

One billboard that falls down and kills one person is one billboard too many. One billboard that causes damage to other people’s property and disruption of daily living is one billboard too many. Talking in percentages only serve to mislead the people and cover up the obvious lack of wisdom on putting up giant billboards.

A PCIJ report in November of 2004 revealed that a single ad account for a giant electronic billboard “can mean revenues of up to P445,000 a month”. A modestly sized billboard (30’ x 50’) in my district located in an inner road of the city costs P30,000 a month. What about those along main thoroughfares such as the North and South Luzon Tollways or EDSA? Perhaps such income of these billboard operators is enough motivation to set aside sensitivity for public safety.

After typhoon Milenyo left the piles of twisted metal that were once billboards, it cannot be denied that giant billboards pose a danger to the public. It is about time that government does something about it. The Metro Manila Development Authority has been wanting to address this concern but is hampered by legal technicalities and existing law.

The MMDA even has a Metro Manila Council Resolution which required advertisers to secure clearance from the MMDA prior to the erection of billboards. But Chairman Bayani Fernando himself said he never issued any clearance because none were applied for. The billboard owners all went direct to the local government units, which readily gave permits.

The proliferation of oversized billboards in Metro Manila cannot go unacted upon especially in the aftermath of typhoon Milenyo. The situation of the MMDA vis-à-vis the local government units gives reason for us to pass a law on billboards.

. There are many proposals that have been forwarded in the wake of typhoon Milenyo, all that is needed is to consolidate all of these and craft legislation that would address the concern.

Suggestions such as prescribing a limit to the sizes of billboards or the establishment of buffer zones around the structures are worthy to be considered. Even the imposition of higher taxes or penalties for violations should be looked into. The outright ban is a bit extreme, although not entirely uncalled for.

While we contemplate on the appropriate measure that should be undertaken, government can initiate immediate steps to address this matter. Billboards which stand on government owned property should be the first to go. Whether to remove them outright or replace them with smaller sized billboards is within the power of government.

One example is the giant billboard erected in the property of the Bureau of Food and Drug in Muntinlupa City. Another is across the said billboard, right beside the building of Pedro Diaz High School, within the school’s compound.

Government needs to act on this now. To say that regulating outdoor advertising is bad for business is to neglect the welfare of the greater majority of citizens. To do nothing after seeing how the gigantic billboards could cause damage to property, injury and loss of life to people and disruption of our way of life is to fall short of our responsibility as public servants.

In view of this, I am calling on the House of Representatives to task the Special Committee on Metro Manila Development to look into the devastation brought about by the toppling of billboards during the visit of typhoon Milenyo, consider the proposed measures to formulate a policy and recommend the legislation needed to be filed to deal with this matter.

Thank you very much.

9 comments:

Sef said...

With all due respect, why would you think that an "outright ban" on all billboards "is a bit extreme"?

Ruffy Biazon said...

There is logic and legal basis that billboards form part of freedom speech. AN outright ban will infringe on that right, since billboards are not used exclusively for commercial advertising.

My position is that REGULATION is the appropriate policy to be adopted. One only needs to use creative thinking to achieve the effect of a ban even if the policy is just regulation.

For example, if the government adopts a policy of requiring a "no-structure" buffer zone around a billboard, outdoor advertisers will not be able to erect billboards along EDSA owing to the congested situation along that major route.

Sef said...

In our country, there are only two purposes for billboards, commercial and "political" advertising. The "freedom of speech" is a defense used by those who benefit from billboards. But does it really form part of "freedom of speech"? I am sure Filipinos would not believe it to be so unless you try to convince them it is so. Are you on that side of the fence, then?

Ruffy Biazon said...

What country are you from?

There is basically no difference in the purpose of billboards in your country and mine, although aside from political and commercial advertising, billboards are also used for information (such as directional billboards).

But wouldn;t you agree that political or commercial advertising messages are encompassed by "freedom of speech"? Undeniably, a political billboard is only possible if there is freedom of speech.

While I must admit that I am for freedom of speech, it does not necessarily mean that I am on the side of those who benefit from billboards. My position is not for the financial security of billboard operators but for the welfare, security and safety of the general public.

Sef said...

Of course we understand that directional billboards is not the topic of discussion here.

Believe me, Sir, that "freedom of speech" is one of the defense put up by those who benefit from billboards. And if we use that argument, there could be no place even for regulation! For us ordinary folks we ask: how can this be freedom of speech when it endangers my life? Is this just another excuse for not doing anything? Worse, who will protect us when the person/s supposed to defend us immediately submits to the only defense billboards have?

Saying that you are for freedom of speech and at the same time for the welfare of the people is safe and easy. But it is clear that the people doesn't want to see anymore of these billboards (commercial and political). We do not benefit from these billboards. Do you?

Anonymous said...

why is it that businessman dont understand the risk of putting so many billboards in highways,that may lead as one of the major destruction and accident?

Anonymous said...

Great site, I am bookmarking it!Keep it up!
With the best regards!
Frank

Anonymous said...

hmmm...
sef, i don't think people have the same voice as u do--that they no longer like to see those billboards. u just seemed to exaggerate few people's view on your side.
I tried to check on the meaning of FREEDOM OF SPEECH, other than we always thought Maybe, we must be educated with what the constitution's definition or interpretation of that phrase. I think we always have the narrower definition of FREEDOM OF SPEECH. We always think that it is just for political purposes.
I am not a lawyer, nor a media person. I dont even have a Constitution
class.
I am just trying to see and weight your points and of Cong. RB.
I would just agree with Cong. RB that regulation is necessary for those billboards. They are just everywhere not taking note of possible dangers it could give.
REGULATION on where to place it,
REGULATION of its size
and regulation (please correct my word, I know there must be a better word for this) of its obscenity.
Anyways, though for exclusively commercial purposes,some ads are infomercial.

JG

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