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Philippine Plan to Relocate Flood Victims Gets Mixed Reviews

Residents watch volunteers clean an area that was hardly hit by floods in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines, August 12, 2012.
Residents watch volunteers clean an area that was hardly hit by floods in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines, August 12, 2012.
MANILA — The Philippine government is moving forward with plans to relocate tens of thousands of squatters who live along waterways and flood-prone areas in the Manila region, after two weeks of typhoons and monsoon rains in early August caused dangerous flooding. But those slated to move to higher ground are ambivalent about the plan.

Sofia Garque and a group of residents displaced from storm-damaged shanty homes next to a major port along Manila Bay visited their new neighborhood last week.

While she likes that the houses are on higher ground, she is not happy that they are about 40 kilometers away.

Garque sits at the doorway of a neighbor’s tiny cinderblock house on the edge of the water and points at her husband and son. They work on two small boats amid drifting debris and the splintered wood and bamboo ruin that used to be their house. Garque says the two are fishermen.

“They’ll be far from here,” she said. “I think if they go home to the new place it will just be every Sunday. They’ll stay here to do their work and we’ll be over there.”

A round trip from Manila Bay to the new neighborhood could total one third of the $6 they earn on a good day.

The Garques lost their house on stilts when a major storm surge dragged two parked barges to their area, causing them to slam into dozens of houses. No one was injured because residents who are used to massive waves caused by storms fled to a neighborhood evacuation center. This is the second time in less than a year that a huge surge washed away the area.

President Benigno Aquino visited the evacuation center and told residents the government would relocate them for their own safety. This is part of a plan to manage flooding during the rainy season.

Last week, Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson unveiled short-term solutions as part of the master plan. They include rehabilitation of dike structures, clearing the pumping system of Metro Manila and removing structures such as mini-fish farms and dwellings along the rivers, lakes and shore to comply with a law on a required easement from waterways.

“Excess runoff water, sobrang ulan, uma-apaw ng waterways and then sumasaby ng high-tide. That’s the event that we dread,” said Singson.

In a mixture of English and Filipino, Singson said excess runoff, too much rain, overflowing waterways coupled with high waves on the shore are an event the government dreads.

Singson says removing people from flood-prone areas will also fix problems caused by their trash, which had worsened recent floods by blocking estuaries and drains.

At the bay, among the shacks that were not struck by the barges, Mary Grace Gonzales and her family were contending with the non-stop rain. They have 17 hogs in pens among the scrap-wood houses on stilts.

Gonzales and her husband trade hogs, which they can buy for $60 and sell later for about $190. They also sell pork skins and other meat products. On one of the rainiest days that started off with a drizzle, they bought a baby pig.

She says “by the afternoon it came and by evening it was non-stop and our house was completely washed away. It would have been better if we had never bought that pig.”

Before this most recent storm Gonzales and her husband had to stay with extended family and rebuild after two typhoons. She says rebuilding is draining, but she is hesitant to move because she is unsure if the housing authority will allow her family to keep their pigs in their new location.

“It’s all still being worked out. I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Gonzales.

The government expects to move the 150 families in this Manila Bay neighborhood in September.