Mulat Ondoy

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Photo by Regina Layug-Rosero

By Amaris Grace Cabason

Photo by Regina Layug-Rosero

Photo by Regina Layug-Rosero

Marikina has gained the reputation of being one of the cleanest cities in Metro Manila. From the three terms of Mayor Bayani Fernando to the three of his wife Marides, they made this valley the image of “a city in the pink of health,” like their old motto, by building new health centers and hospitals, relocating settlers livingby the river banks to other places in the city, providing bike lanes, fixing roads riddled with potholes, and basically tidying up a city blessed with vast fertile lands that are more than enough to hold its growing population. They also instilled discipline in the citizens by imposing fines or penalties for petty violations like littering and jaywalking. Sweepers can be spotted in the streets all day–picking up candy wrappers, painting the walls, and maintaining the overall cleanliness and orderliness that Marikina has since been known for.

No amount of discipline or street sweeping, however, could have prepared the citizens of Marikina for the onslaught of Ondoy. The deforestation of the Sierra Madre mountains, coupled with the massive amount of rain, led to a level of flooding never before seen by the entire city, submerging bungalows and even reaching the second floor, making the city look like one big brown sea when seen from above. Worse, the water was accompanied by meter-thick layers of earth coming from the mountains, which settled around the city when the water subsided. Adding the number of fatalities to that list, Marikina was definitely the city hit worst by that storm.

Fortunately, rescue boats were able to reach affected residents by Sunday morning. At our house in Provident Villages, a rubber boat from the Olongapo Rescue Team arrived at 6am, when the water was still up to our thighs. On our way to the village gate, I saw people standing on their roofs, forced to climb there by the 15 foot-high water, cars on top of each other or propped on the gates of the houses, trash clingingto walls of chickenwire, and layers and layers of mud everywhere. Although about 75% of the city was left in this state, rescuers were able to extend help to the affected people because the streets were wide enough for them to pass through to give goods and medicines.

Some parts of Metro Manila, however, were not as fortunate. As shared by some informal settlers from Bgy. Nagkaisang Nayon in Quezon City, which is located beside the Tullahan River, the narrow and overcrowded streets prevented rescuers from reaching them. Those who lived beside the creek had to relocate because the ground near the creek was starting to erode, as if the creek was claiming their space. At the height of the storm, most of the bungalows were submerged, and they had to use electric wires like tightropes to cross from one house to another to get to their neighbor’s house that had a third floor. Some of these informal settlers’ houses were only made of light materials like plywood, and so were washed away by the flood, along with their life’s possessions.

On the other side of the Tullahan River were families whose houses were built on the three-meter walkway between the river and the tall wall of a factory. To maximize the limited space, they expanded their houses vertically, also with the use of light materials. These houses were also swept away by the river current, and they could do nothing but sit on the factory wall as they waited for the river to return to its normal size. They received minimal help from the local government, and had to start from scratch when they rebuilt their houses. But despite the danger which living beside the river posed to their lives, they chose to remain in that three-meter space because they had nowhere else to go, no means to buy their own land because of poverty, and most of all, no space to transfer to because Metro Manila is so densely populated that every piece of land is either owned or occupied.

We experience an average of twenty storms per year. Although it is forbidden to build any kind of structure right beside bodies of water because the land is unstable and prone to erosion, many of our brothers from the urban poor sector still choose to stick it out and build houses on these lands. Driven by the lack of other livable space and the need to survive, choosing to reside in river banks puts them at risk whenever the rainy season comes. Their shanties are too flimsy to withstand floods. And without a proper waste disposal system, they throw their waste in the river, polluting our dying (or dead) rivers even more and contributing to the problem of blocked sewages. It is a lose-lose situation both for them and the rest of the community.

September 26, 2009 was a memorable day for the metropolis, and not just for those who were directly affected by the storm. It reminded us of the damage that we have done to nature, the life of excesses that drove us to bleed our earth dry, and what can happen if we do not look for ways to reduce our trash through recycling and the conservation of what is left of the resources of the earth. Although some say that this kind of catastrophe occurs only once every ten years, must we wait until it happens again before we actually participate in saving the earth? How many Ondoys must we go through before we finally take action?

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