Left: Engr. Ramon Gitamondoc. Right: Archt. Troy Elizaga

Left: Engr. Ramon Gitamondoc. Right: Archt. Troy Elizaga

Architect Troy Elizaga, a professor of the University of San Carlos, College of Architecture and Fine Arts, wrote on his blog CAFA Life on June 29, 2013 a post entitled “Road To Perdition” that attacked the administrators of the academic institution he is currently employed in. He even called those involved in the road improvement plan and urban planning of the Talamban Campus “ignoramus.” Engr. Ramon Gitamondoc, from the Department of Civil Engineering (CED), replied to Elizaga’s accusations, point by point. Gitamondoc is involved in the structural planning and development of the USC-TC campus.

Archt. Elizaga raised seven points about the ongoing campus site development. You can read the full post here. Afterwards, read the response from Engr. Gitamondoc as posted on the CED Facebook page.

I would like to reply to some of the issues raised herein regarding the ongoing road improvement project within the University of San Carlos, Talamban Campus.

1) “The road that loops from Gate 3 to Gate 1 is being widened to twenty (20) meters to allow for parking along the road.” My reply: Evidently the person writing this comment did not get his facts correctly. The proposed road widening is approximately 18.00 meters wide. This consists of 7.00 meters wide carriage way plus (0.65 m curve and gutter + 0.75 m plant strip + 4.00 m combined bike and pedestrian lane) on each side. Evidently parking on each side of the road is excluded in the design. Common sense will tell us that providing a curve and gutter, a plant strip and a bicycle lane will eliminate parking.

2) “The condemned segment will be filled over and made into an extension of the parking lot of the Church.” My reply: If by “made into an extension of the parking” the writer thinks that the purpose of leveling the ground to that of the level of the current flat open space near the Church is to provide additional parking space then he is again mistaken. Constructing the road in the proposed lay-out will create an island of a hill in between the proposed road and the present asphalted road. Thus the designers thought it better to level to ground in order to maximize the utilization of the space. By this scheme, instead of having 2 small areas separated by an island of a hill we will now have a larger continuous buildable space.

3) “They are cutting down trees indiscriminately.” My reply: I suspect that the writer is more concerned on the effect of his statement to the uninformed reader and not on accuracy. First the trees that will be cut down are mahogany trees which are not rare and are definitely not the most desirable of trees if one intends to grow a forest. Second, the trees which will fall within the side walk area will be preserved. Third, the USC administration plans to plant new trees on the new level surface as is already done in the existing flat area near the Church. It seems to me that the writer has a certain distrust on the commitment on the part of the USC Administration to carry on with its plan for replanting the new flat area. If he is really committed to his advocacy I suggest that he be consistent. Why was there no voice of opposition raised during the construction of the CAFA building, the Engineering Conference Center, the newly constructed Learning Resources Center where we also cut a new road? Did we not also move earth and cut trees in these projects? Why only now? We understood very well the importance of preserving our environment and this writer does not have to give us a lecture on this. We also know that we have to strike a balance between preserving the environment and infrastructure development otherwise the government itself will ceased constructing new roads in the mountain barangays since this will involve a similar engineering activity of earth moving and cutting of trees and in a far larger scale. We shouldn’t make a mountain out of a mole.

4) “They are assigning parking spaces along the road. Unless you’re an ignoramus in the field of urban planning…” My reply: If there is an ignoramus here I think it is this writer who evidently did not do his homework well. Parking spaces along the road was never considered in the road improvement plan.

5) “… they are widening the road to twenty meters. Twenty meters!….Question is: if you’re ignorant then why are you designing roads?” My reply: Standards are usually intended to set the minimum requirements but not the maximum. The engineer, and so does the architect, has to exercise judgment on whether in a particular situation he should strictly stick to the minimum standard or not with due consideration to the desire of the owner. In this particular case, some variations from the standards were made. For example, the width of bicycle lane may usually be 1.50 meters but considering that the slopes are relatively steep the designers decided to increase it to 2.00 meters. Pedestrian sidewalks in subdivisions may usually be around 1.20 m to 1.50 m but the designers decided to increase it to 2.00 meters considering the number of students.

6) “it seems that not all possible solutions have been explored…” My reply: There is a saying that “all things are possible under the sun.” In engineering, just like in architecture, we cannot and do not explore “all” possible solutions for that would be practically impossible. However, we do explore certain possible solutions and this we did in relation to the project. We have considered the suggested route from respected Architects in CAFA but we found out that this will require a very sharp curve on steep slope and will most likely compromise the safety of both the motorists and the pedestrians which is our foremost concern in the planning. I can assure this writer that the selection of the proposed route was not done arbitrarily but was based on sound engineering judgment.

7) “Where will these extra fill materials be placed? Will these be sold out? This is like quarrying for business.” My reply: Rest assured, the USC administration is not into a quarrying business. In the many construction works going on in the USC Talamban Campus the excavated material are either used as fill materials for other projects inside the Campus or some outside contractors are invited to haul these materials at no cost to them. Instead of raising insinuating questions I hope that this writer can produce hard and solid evidence that the USC administration has in the past and in this project made money by quarrying materials inside its lands.

8 ) “This is very sad because they are giving out the message that they do not recognize the competence of the people in the academe.” My reply: This is far from the truth. The truth is that the USC administration has always preferred to tap its own resources and the professionals in the academe. Most, if not all of the buildings inside the Talamban Campus are designed by our own architects. The CAFA building and Engineering Conference Center were designed by Architect Espina and his associates. The Nursing Building and the New Dormitory Buildings were designed by Architect Lara and his associates. The Learning Resource Center was designed by Architect Alcordo and his associates. The General Services Building and the Stadium Projects are handled by Architect Puerto and his associates. The USC-Talamban Campus drainage plan was done by engineers from the Civil Engineering Department and so is the present road improvements. If there are times when the USC administration has engaged the services of outside consultants then that is their prerogative. For my part as structural engineer, I have been involved in the structural design of many buildings of the University but it has never crossed my mind that I should be consulted in each and
every building that USC will build. That is the prerogative of the USC Administration.

Finally, the writer has all the right to voice out his opinion and to file a complain to the proper authorities. I would respect that and I believe that the administration is willing to listen. What I asked of this writer is to carefully check the accuracy of his information before he starts to disseminate the same in public fora like facebook. I believe he is a part of the USC community and whatever bad image that the University gets will necessarily include him as well. At the end of the day, it is not him or us the designers who will finally decide on the proper course of action to take. It would be the USC Administration who will do this and I hope that whatever that is we can find reasons to support its decision.

I have made this response on my own accord freely and voluntarily.

Engr. Ramon Gitamondoc
Dept of Civil Engineering
University of San Carlos

And there’s more from Engr. Gitamondoc.

Once again let me comment on the reply of Troy Elizaga to my reply on his post regarding the ongoing road improvement projects. Troy’s statements are marked TE. My reply will be marked RMG.

TE: I feel that this ignoramus should reply to this, point by point. Before anything else, I agree that I was misinformed by those I considered as reliable sources. I believe that after many exchanges like this, things will eventually clear up.

RMG: Troy should take no offense against me if I called him ignoramus in my previous reply for he was the first one to put this label upon me and my colleagues here in the Civil Engineering Department who were task by the USC Administration to handle the project. He has dared to question our competence without first thoroughly ascertaining the facts and also indirectly questioned the decision of the USC Administration to avail of our expertise. Troy should be more responsible next time before he posts anything especially if he says something against other professionals. Some of our students were able to read his post and this has somehow affected our own credibility before our students. Troy has all the right to air his complain but he should do it along proper channels and exercise prudence lest he destroy someone else’s reputation which is most often than not very difficult to restore. What of the many students who were able to read his post and have told their friends everywhere of the alleged incompetence of their mentors? He seems to project in this response that his intentions are good but I cannot be the judge of that. Troy cannot excuse himself here of being misinformed for anything which he writes and post in his blog will be personally his.

TE: (1) Apparently the road will not be widened to 20m but 18m. Don’t you think that’s still too wide? Anyway, I heard that the engineers and architects are going over the road design (finally) so I will leave it up to them to figure it out, and may we learn from their wisdom.

RMG: At least now Troy is getting his facts correctly but he has not told the whole story. Taken in terms of the total right of way of 18 meters this may seem very wide indeed but as I have explained in my previous reply the main carriage way is only 7.00 meters wide. The remaining width is allotted for curb and gutter (where the future underground power lines and pipe lines will be located). There is also an allowance for a plant strip, bicycle lane and pedestrian lane on each side of the roadway. The USC Administration’s intention was to showcase all these features to the outside community. The example for subdivision roads, which Troy said is only 10 meters wide, is not applicable here. Subdivision roads are usually not made too wide, and in fact many of them are too narrow, because the owner wanted to have more space for the sellable house and lots. Also the density of pedestrians and motorists inside a subdivision is not big. In contrast our situation here in USC Talamban is quite different. Even during class hours we see many students are walking along our roads since the sidewalk, if any, are too narrow thereby exposing them to danger due to passing vehicles. Since Troy is teaching here in Talamban then I don’t have to tell him this. Frankly, we are more concerned with the safety of our students than preserving the trees and this was the paramount consideration in the design.

TE: (2) I agree that putting a parking is not the main reason for leveling the hill. Since they are building a road around the hill, the only alternative is to level it down and made into an extension of the parking. If the road did not pass behind the hill there is no need to level it down at all.

RMG: Yet parking was made by Troy as the main reason for leveling the hill. At least now he knows that this is not so. He could have obtained this knowledge easily directly from us before he labeled us to be ignoramus. I repeat that we have considered the initial roadway lay-out as suggested in the master plan made by the Architects in CAFA and based on engineering considerations regarding horizontal alignment, slope, roadway width, speed of vehicle, safety of motorists and pedestrians we found out that the suggested route is not feasible. There was a suggestion to just let the motorists really slow down but we opted to integrate the safety features into the engineering design rather than leave it to the discipline of the drivers. Putting humps is out of the question as even the respected Architects in CAFA will suggest. The advantage of the proposed route is that the sharp turn will occur at a relatively gentle slope and then the descent from CAFA to the CE Bldg will be straight.

TE: (3) I am not a landscape architect and comments regarding cutting of trees are based on my commitment to my advocacy. If I was wrong, then may I be correctly informed. I don’t know what happened to CAFA Bldg, LRC Bldg, and the supposedly Engg. Bldg. I don’t know what the arrangements are regarding the trees. I must admit I was dismayed. At that time I placed my trust on the administration and those involved. Surely all these great minds know what they are doing. This time, however, that trust wavered. No one seems to be giving information so I voiced my concerns. Just because they’ve been doing it in the past doesn’t mean that we will allow it forever.

RMG: I have mentioned the names of the Architects who designed these buildings and I am confident that if Troy will ask them to enlighten him for sure they will give an answer. My own opinion is that the earth moving and the cutting of trees were an unavoidable consequence of the need to construct new buildings to cater to the needs of the growing student population. The cutting of trees was a collateral damage so to speak. However, this damage is not irreversible as the trees cut are of the more common kind and can be replaced by replanting. Regarding the run-off which will inevitably result from these developments uphill the USC Administration has already partly addressed this contingency by implementing the first phase of the TC drainage plan which was also designed by the engineers from the CE Dept. The USC Admin has spent millions of pesos in the implementation of the drainage plan and I think this shows their commitment to address problems brought about by infrastructure development. Unlike Troy, I have been in this Campus for already 27 years and I have experienced the worst flooding in the Banilad Road right in front of our gate Although the interventions made by USC has not totally solved the problem of flooding but evidently this has mitigated it to a large extent. There are other tributaries of run-off aside from those coming from inside the USC-TC. Presently there is a joint effort of which the USC is spearheading between the LGU and the proximate communities to finally provide a long term solution to flooding in the Banilad Road and the nearby barangays. Troy should ask Engr. Walag of the WRC about this and perhaps post some brighter news in his blog. A lot of people are ready to criticize and complain in what they dislike but very few are willing to praise the accomplishments of other people. Bad news are the ones that usually catch attention while good news are seldom noticed.

TE: (4) Obviously I was misinformed by those I thought were reliable sources, although one of them tells me that he got the information from one of the engineers. Anyway, that doesn’t matter now.

RMG: Obviously Troy got his information from secondary sources and he has swallowed it hook line and sinker and thinking that now he has reliable information he feels he has the right to destroy our reputations by calling us ignoramus and incompetent to do the project. It still matters to me coz Troy here, although he may not be that aware, has damaged our professional reputation and has mislead the readers of his blog on many things about the project, about us, and about the USC administration.

TE: (5) Same reply as no. 1 above.

RMG: Obviously after having been given the explanation and additional details Troy will still want to question what to him is too wide and not to his liking.

TE: (6) I don’t know. I learned from these respectable architects in CAFA that they just recently collaborated on the design, now that the issue has surfaced. Unless we are not thinking of the same “respectable architects”. I learned that Fr. Salas is consulting some landscape architects together with the engineers. That’s very positive.

RMG: The respectable architects I meant are the likes of Architect Maxwell Espina and Architect Michael Espina. The present dialogue is truly very positive and this is not because Troy is putting us and the USC administration in bad light in his blog but because Architect Michael Espina, who is presently the Dean of CAFA, aired his concerns and complaints through the proper channels by writing directly to the USC administration and not posting them on his facebook account. We have made prior meetings with Architect Michael Espina and his associates and have discussed these matters with them before the scheduled meeting with Father Salas. Although this is Father Salas’ decision to open communication lines with the Architects from CAFA yet Troy should also know that as early as the time we received the letter from CAFA Dean we suggested to Father Salas to hold a meeting with them in order to hear their side and we also suggested to the Architects concerned to request a meeting with either Fr Dayag or Fr Salas so that they can personally hear their opinion.

TE: (7) The question was rhetorical. This is not really the issue. It was raised to provoke a response. Thank you for the response. There is no need to gather evidence unless something comes up to question the assurance.

RMG: The question was not only rhetorical but was also insinuating whether Troy intends this or not. Again unless Troy has prima facie evidence that the USC Admin is making money out of the fill materials then he has the right to do this. But putting the USC Admin in bad light by raising what Troy considers as “thought-provoking” questions is to me un-called for. What these questions raised are suspicions and distrust on the mind of the readers who like Troy will not bother to gather the facts before saying anything.

TE: (8) It is great to read all the collaborations mentioned except that the road in question is missing from the list. Anyway, now that there is now a dialogue going on then the issue is moot.

RMG: Prior to the start of the project implementation there were consultations which were done. There was a meeting called by Father Dayag at the Rigney Hall which was attended by the different department heads. Architect Michael Espina also attended that meeting and he voiced out some concerns which we noted and tried to accommodate in our design. But as I have explained after considering all the factors from an engineering perspective we have decided for the proposed route. Once more, let me repeat that the safety of both motorists and pedestrians was our primary concern in the decision. And I think the lives and limbs of people is the most important thing. All else, including architecture, landscape, trees and mountain should serve and be subordinated to the protection of life.

TE: What I post in my blog is my own opinion. I do not represent my department or college. There is no need for me to be scientific. This is a blog. There is no need for me to be wary of misinterpretations because you can never stop people from misinterpreting even if I write carefully researched facts. People will not react if they don’t care.

RMG: When you post something in a public domain you have to make sure that you get your facts straight especially if it involves the reputation of your fellow professionals and the University whom you are employed. If you are opposed to indiscriminately cutting of trees then you should also be against indiscriminate posting in blog. The former destroys trees which can be replaced over time. The latter could destroy other people’s professional reputation which might not be easy to restore. You cannot control other people if they misrepresent the facts but surely you have personal responsibility on what you post. If your purpose is to solicit sympathy from people you should not do this at the expense of someone else’s valued professional reputation.

TE: If I am an ignoramus, it is because the people who are supposed to inform me and the rest of those considered ignoramus of the issue did not do their job.

RMG: Again make no offense if in my reply I have also called you an ignoramus for remember it was you who first labeled us that name. At least for me, you were wholly ignorant or seriously misinformed on many points which you have raised. I believe though that your ignorance is not without personal fault. In these days, a lot of people no longer admit any responsibility for their actions. You might be convinced that there is no longer any right or wrong but only consequences but I would say that there is right and there is wrong and both of these actions have their unavoidable consequences. As personal beings endowed with intellect and freewill we are responsible for our deliberate actions and its consequences.

Engr. Ramon Gitamondoc
Dept of Civil Engineering
University of San Carlos

In the latest blog entitled “Counterpoint” from Archt. Elizaga, he said that he regretted his choice of words. “My only regret is I that have hurt the feelings of some of my mentors, particularly in the engineering, whom I highly respect. I must admit that some words in my blog were not necessary but I got carried away. I tried not to mention names to lessen the impact but that didn’t seem effective.”

You can read the full post below.

Normally it takes me some time to post another blog after just posting one. Sometimes, even if I already have an outline of what to write, I still fail to upload it due to my busy schedule. The last blog I posted about the recent development in the USC campus in Talamban was triggered simply by the fact that there was a time element involved. When I learned that a one-week suspension was in effect and was supposed to end a few days after, I somewhat panicked. There are unresolved issues, there is total lack of information, and there is so very little time. This post, however, is actually planned.

My only information then is what I gathered from people who had talked to those concerned. I needed more information but the time element had to be considered. This is what I mentioned to the student leaders when they organized a meeting the day after I posted my blog. I told them that some people wanted to hear both sides first before making a stand. This is prudence. I praised this way of thinking; but I also told them about the time element. At a certain point in time, the issue becomes irreversible. If the other party had not presented their side, it is already a strategy to take the “neutrals” out of the equation. On the part of the neutrals, the act ceases to be prudent and becomes culpable.

Before I wrote my blog, I had to think hard of the consequences that will follow. As Atty. Oposa said, “In the laws of nature, there is no right or wrong, there are only consequences”. In this case I decided to judge according to consequence.

I knew how people will react. Some people will definitely hate me and might go to some extent to show it. I also expect a lot of friends and co-workers to remain silent and “neutral.” I also expect less support from those around me. It was actually this reaction that compelled me to write despite the hassle it will bring.

I wanted people to react.

I wanted the people who made us ignorant to start informing us of what we should know

I wanted the people who did not consult to start a dialogue.

I wanted the people to know that there are issues that must be addressed.

I wanted the people concerned to be heard or to listen.

True enough, people started giving information, consultations were made, and many people were made aware. People also started asking questions. In fact, I overheard one student ask why we need to save trees. It gave an opportunity to educate others in many fields, not only about the environment. There were also people who lambasted me for writing without knowing all the facts. Others, however, think I did something cool, while those I expected to keep silent really did pretend like there is nothing going on.

I risked being called an ignoramus. Actually, I don’t mind being called one since I am aware that there are many things that I still need to learn. For me, it is scarier to already know everything and yet make the mistakes of an ignoramus.

My only regret is I that have hurt the feelings of some of my mentors, particularly in the engineering, whom I highly respect. I must admit that some words in my blog were not necessary but I got carried away. I tried not to mention names to lessen the impact but that didn’t seem effective. I am confident, though, that they can make something positive out of this.

If only everyone was informed. If only consultations were made.

Fr. Salas, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, had opened the channels of communication. Let’s all hope for a positive outcome. Let’s all work to make our campus one of the best in the country. I am sure that we all share the same good intention.

I hope people don’t expect me to post the final resolutions to the issue. It’s not my task. It would be better if it came from the source itself. (fingers crossed)

Update: According to the University’s paper, the Today’s Carolinian, major proponents of the development plans had already met to address concerns about the ongoing site development.