It was just another workday for Felipe Gumapon, a driver working for minimum wages in the chaotic streets of Manila . True, he was driving through the worst typhoon to hit the metropolis in a decade. But in his sixty odd years, he had weathered a number of storms and, by the grace of God, he would survive this one. Besides, there was a family to feed.
As he drove in the Guadalupe area of EDSA, a giant metal billboard, buffeted by Typhoon Melenyo’s winds, came crashing down on on his delivery vehicle. His skull was split open like a peeled, mature coconut. His death could literally be attributed to an advertisement.
The cityscape of metropolitan Manila has been dramatically transformed in recent years by these mammoth ads. Think of a movie set for a tropical, third-world version of “Blade Runner”.
Outdoor advertising is a billion-peso industry in the Philippines. Among those raking in the big bucks are the administrators of a Roman Catholic seminary in Guadalupe, around where poor Mr. Gumapon met his Maker, so to speak. The good fathers are one of the biggest landlords in the area as far as billboards are concerned. But I digress.
The Metro Manila Development Authority was quick to wash its hands of the matter. The MMDA claims that the city government is responsible for ensuring that engineering and licensing requirements for such structures are complied with. The Makati City administration says it should be the national agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways who should look after this. For their part, politicians are predictably milking the issue for all its worth.
The country is awash with laws which could very easily be used to address the problem of killer billboards. There is the National Building Code and national and local laws and regulations on the abatement of public nuisances. But there seems to be no government authority with the credibility or the political will to enforce the law.
In the meantime, we run the daily gauntlet of billboards raining down death and destruction from above.