I was looking at the slideshow photos posted on the Internet of the recent ferry disaster in the Philippines, where hundreds of people are feared dead and trapped within the ill-starred Princess of the Stars owned by Sulpicio Lines. It pains me a lot to hear of tragic news like this. My heart sincerely goes out to the relatives and families of the victims.
In the same slideshow were related photos of the flooded streets of Metro Manila and Iloilo, due to the same typhoon Frank.
Perhaps others would just casually look at those photos and forget about them in an instant. But as for me, the photos bring back a lot of memories.
You see, my entire childhood was practically spent in the municipality of Navotas, where floods are as commonplace as the balut vendors on the street. Our subdivision was built on reclaimed land by some half-brilliant developer, and with each succeeding year the place sank deeper and deeper. It didn’t take too long before the adjacent river overflowed each time there was a high tide, and pretty soon the water level got high enough to enter the houses. Kids from the squatters’ area would splash and frolic in the waters as if it was their personal swimming pool. (Photo credit: Yahoo! News Photos)
Classes start in June, which ironically coincides with the rainy/typhoon season. It was the curse of my life as a student. Everytime it rained hard, the flood waters would come. When I was in elementary I would always bring with me a towel so that I could dry my feet after wading in the waters, just to get to school. The tricycles which I normally rode to take me to school would double their fare, much to my chagrin. So I usually walked instead of paying twice for those opportunistic blood-suckers. But that was okay. It only took me about 15 to 20 minutes to walk to school.
Then it got worse when I started going to college. I had to commute all the way from Navotas to UP Diliman. Everytime it rained hard, the flood waters would come, and the jeepneys would become as scarce as honest officials in the Philippine government. The poor commuters would form kilometers of lines at the jeepney depots, waiting for the few remaining ones that still manage to ply their route. I remember spending hours standing in line in Monumento under the pouring rain while waiting for the Malabon-Monumento jeepneys.
I remember that there were jeepney drivers who would sometimes charge double for the fare, and just drop off passengers at Francis, grumbling that it would be impossible for them to get us all the way to our destination, Punong Hulo (the nearest part of Malabon which was near our place), because the flood was too high.
It is astonishing that whenever flood waters rise, all sorts of people taking advantage of poor commuters would appear. Some of them would make these makeshift “bridges” where people can walk on and not get wet…but at the end of the bridge they would be there, collecting payment like evil trolls. Drivers of all kinds – from jeepneys to pedicabs – would charge exorbitant fares or shortchange their customers by dropping them way off from the agreed destination. One man’s misery is another man’s treasury.
When we moved to Tondo a year later, I realized how much worse things could still get. One time, I experienced walking all the way from Balintawak to Monumento. When I got to Monumento the situation was really bad – all the jeepneys were full and I couldn’t get a ride anywhere. So even though I had to pay a bit more, I took the LRT (Light Rail Transit) to Blumentritt. But I ended up being stranded in the middle of Blumentritt – no jeepneys in sight, not even pedicabs who were willing to go all the way to Balut (not even if you bribed them). The reason was that the flood was too high – the water level was way over my knees high, and on top of that, it was still raining hard. Those who wanted to go home had no choice but to wade in those dark, murky waters. At first I hesitated at the thought of wading in the water, because I’d heard of people getting stuck in uncovered manholes and all that (oh yes, only in the Philippines!). But it was a choice between being stuck there for the rest of the night, soaking wet and cold, or braving the waters for about an hour or two but at least getting home as a reward. I chose the latter. But oh boy, it was a nightmare! From time to time there would be big trucks passing by, which would create these huge waves and would almost make me lose my balance – ay, caramba! It was hard enough as it is to wade in the water. And to think of all those God-forsaken, unnameable things floating in the water…. I tried my best to ignore those and concentrated on getting home…fast.
I got home past midnight, much to the relief of my Dad, who was overly worried all this time about me and my safety. I was wet, cold, and hungry. But I was home. That was all that mattered. And fortunately I didn’t get sick as a result of that experience.
From time to time, a large truck courtesy of some generous barangay captain would also appear in our neighborhood, and would offer free rides from Balut to Blumentritt. Some dude would make the announcement on a megaphone, brandishing the name of our gracious barangay captain who made it all possible (all the better to remember him come election time). My guess is that it was a kind of truck for hauling large containers to the sea port. The top was uncovered and there were railings around. I had gotten in that truck so many times, I lost count. Usually there would be a lot of desperate people like me on board, people who need to get to school or work and couldn’t get a ride because of the flood. We would stand extremely close to one another (read: dikit-dikit, lagkit-lagkit) that we did not even need to hold on to a railing for balance. We just swayed and heaved forward as one mass. Ever seen trucks hauling cattle or pigs? You could say that I now have a fairly good idea how those animals felt like! 😀
These are events in my life which happened some 20 years ago. Looking at the pictures in that slideshow, I could see that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed when it comes to the perennial problem of flooding in Metro Manila. I imagine that those kids who used to splash and play in our neighborhood every time there was a flood might now have kids of their own and may very well be splashing and playing in the flood themselves, just like their parents did.
The ordeal is still there, as real now as it is then, and lots of people are still suffering, year in and year out. Something must be done about this, you could hear people crying time and again.
But just as the floodwaters recede, life somehow goes back to normal, and everything is forgotten. Until next flood season, that is.