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49 risky billboards in Cebu

By Jolene Bulambot
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 01:56pm (Mla time) 11/22/2007


CEBU CITY, Philippines - A closer look will be made of 49 billboards in Cebu City which were described as “high risk” structures by the Visayan Electric Company (Veco), whose power lines stand to suffer damage during a typhoon or other calamity.

With a new typhoon codenamed Mina entering the country, City Hall officials announced it would tap a U.S. government storm tracking system instead of relying on the state-owned Pagasa weather bureau.

Councilor Jack Jakosalem said his committee on energy would also lead an inquiry into the state of 49 billboards listed by Veco as critical or high-risk structures, which could fall on 23 KV to 60 KV power lines during a calamity.

Electric power was cut off in about 45 per cent of the Veco service area in Metro Cebu when typhoon Lando struck Monday afternoon.

Six billboards in Cebu and Mandaue cities were blown down by strong winds but other factors like fallen trees, branches and weakened electric polls that snagged electric lines also contributed to the sudden power interruption.

Nobody was injured by the toppled billboards, the first time Cebu City and Mandaue had a series of massive metal scaffolds collapsing in a storm.

Jakosalem said his inquiry aimed to promote public safety. Officials of Mandaue City, where three of the fallen billboards, including a massive unipole are located, said they would make their own inspection of the giant signages.

“Why did this happen when these structures are supposedly built to stand weather disturbances,” said Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna. “Are safety regulations followed? Is the construction really sound?”

After Pagasa Mactan was severely criticized for its “late” forecast of typhoon Lando, a one-day storm that caught the Cebu population off guard, Jakosalem said the city government has decided to set up its own typhoon tracking system instead of relying solely on the government weather bureau.

He said Cebu City Mayor Tomas OsmeƱa has given the green light to use the bulletin of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center of the United States government which has a website showing the location and coordinates of weather disturbances.

This way, City Hall can send timely advisories to the Department of Education for school officials to decide quickly whether to suspend classes and send children home early, he said.

“This (setup) will be for our own consumption. We understand the limitations of Pagasa,” said Jakosalem.

He said City Hall may hire a consultant for science and technology to head the project. The Pag-asa Mactan office is an observation station that relies on analysis and bulletins faxed or emailed from the weather bureau’s central office in Quezon City.

The lack of modern equipment and high-speed communication gear in Mactan has been a recurring source of frustration for its staff, headed by Oscar Tabada. There are reported plans to upgrade Mactan into a regional forecasting center.

The inspection of billboards in Cebu is expected to flush out structures, which are substandard or illegally built.

“This list from Veco is based on their September 2007 survey of billboards in Cebu City. Based on that list, 49 are considered critical or high-risk,” Jakosalem said.

The response does not necessarily mean removing the billboards, Jakosalem said.

“They were not really asking to remove the billboards and transfering them but they have suggested to correct the designs in a way that their main lines won’t be affected.”

He said Veco has been giving this alert list to the Department of Public Works and Highways for more than a year already but no action was taken. With this, Jakosalem said he will ask for DPWH representatives to appear in next Wednesday’s regular session to explain their side.

Marie Nillama, DPWH Central Visayas spokesperson, yesterday said the agency has been removing billboards illegally constructed along sidewalks. She was not privy to the Veco list, however, and declined to give further comment.

Mary Ann Alcordo-Solomon, president of the Outdoor Advertisers Associations of the Philippines (OAAP), welcomed the inquiry, saying illegal billboards were still found in Cebu City and Mandaue City.

“The recent typhoon is an eye opener for all of us. First, to Pag-asa to upgrade their equipment and second to the agencies concerned to conduct an inventory of all billboards. There are still many billboards that were built illegally, with no permits. How come they still thrive?” Solomon said.

Solomon said the 12-member OAAP Cebu City chapter to discuss the issues surfaced by typhoon Lando and how they can address them.

She said the association has been complying with regulatory laws but OAAAP cannot prevent non-members who circumvent rules and policies.

“We can only speak for our association. For the past years, we have been very vigilant and we are even in fact helping concerned agencies. We have always done our part and with what happened, we will do inspection within the week of all our billboards,” she said.

Mandaue City’s inquiry will be done as a joint effort of the City Council committee on public works headed by Councilor Emiliano Rosal and the committee on transportation and communication led by Councilor Beethoven Andaya.

A big billboard near Super Metro Mandaue fell on top of an ice plant at the height of typhoon Lando. A McDonald’s signage also collapsed while a billboard on Plaridel Street fell on a carwash shop.

A Pentax billboard on the United Nations Avenue heading to the Marcelo Fernan Bridge was also badly damaged. With reports Dale G. Israel

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