Water, Water Everywhere…-A A +A
By Mina Paras
Thursday, August 9, 2012
AND I thought I’d seen everything.
In the latter years of the Sixties, a psychic named Jeanne Dixon predicted that the Philippines would sink under water. One or two years later, a great flood did indeed “sink” Luzon. I was still in college at the UST in Dapitan, by itself a magnet for perennial flooding. It was normal for us to see the water come in the dorm where we lived, which was run by Mang Lilay, the beautiful and gracious mother of Mayor Ed Pamintuan. The ref had been set up on a high platform. We didn’t have enough flooding that we couldn’t go outside anymore.
But then one day the rains came, and came, and came…the entire Metro Manila was “swimming” in flood waters. People were already being ferried by the government trucks to their homes or to bus terminals for those who were province-bound.
My brothers, also in college then, and I had a Volkswagen Brasilia, and we braved the waters, not more than knee-deep, and made our way home to Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga. Little did we realize that the MacArthur Highway (wala pang NLEx) was also UNDER WATER all the way from Manila to Dau and beyond. The sight was terrifying: water, water everywhere (and not a drop to drink, to quote The Ancient Mariner), and no land was in sight! The only things that could be seen were the tops of trees, and maybe a rooftop or two. We were navigating in a veritable sea, following the long line of cars, trucks, buses that trudged through the same invisible road. One thought that we were verily like the Israelites going through the sea that parted to let them pass. The line was unbroken so we followed the vehicle that was before us, all the while praying that we get home in one piece, that our car was going to take us home. To make the long story short, after interminable hours on tenterhooks, we made it to our home in Dau, where, without my brother even turning off the engine, the Brasilia conked out. I was certain that our trusty car had a mind of its own and really just made sure we were home safely. For after that, it never worked again. As in, kaput. It had served us so well, it deserved to die a decent death. It helped too that it was a Volkswagen, the only car which claims that it floats on water.
I’ve experienced other floodings, pre-Undoy. One day in the early Nineties, I left home to get to work. I didn’t know I was going to spend six hours in a crowded, smelly jeepney, through floodwaters that already reached up to the floor of the jeepney , in a trip that in normal days was only 20 minutes. I saw how the other half lived, in entresuelos that were half-inundated with water, even a pig that floated (or maybe held) with all the flotsam and jetsam of life in the deeper reaches of Manila. It was an instructive ride, wherein I learned the poor took their miseries in stride when calamity struck. None of them were tearing their hair out.
And in the time of Undoy, I left Clark on Sept 26, at 10 in the morning, under a sun that was in soft glow. Shining, enough to suggest fair weather although the weather bureau had put out a Signal number 1 in Metro Manila. Guess what? Balintawak became swiftly impassable, just as I passed the last gas station on the NLEx where I could have passed the time. It was raining, I was alone, and could not turn back right away because, the NLEx management at the time, didn’t see fit to open up the orange barriers (that I had thought were cemented ) so people could have made U-turns and gone back where they came from in just a few hours. As I said, I left Clark at 10:00 am, and gone back to Clark exactly 24 hours later, without having reached my original destination.
But through all these ordeals, nothing has frightened me more than the situation now. It is more widespread, more houses with rooftop-high floodwaters. Places, towns, cities which were thought to be safe from severe flooding are now in deep sh*t. The NLEx, built higher than the highest point of the Great Flood of Luzon, has been breached and rendered impassable. Floodwaters were running rampant in the newly-built Mindanao Avenue exit, an alternative entry point to MM where one doesn’t have to pass through Balintawak. The dike in Pampanga has given way, thus adding to the inundation from the unrelenting rains caused not by a storm but by a LPA (low pressure area) that I was told, before the rains started, was bigger than the Philippine area. And so here we are, brought down to our knees, by a Higher Being that gives but also takes away.
My son-in-law John, whose hometown of Sto. Tomas is the worst hit in Pampanga, has been in the thick of rescuing people since Tuesday. The speedboat gathering dust in the garage was put to good use, a lifeline to the stranded in Pampanga. John thinks that this calamity was worse than the Pinatubo eruption.
Until we learn our lesson—and I am afraid, very, very afraid, that it might be too late—and take good care of our planet, manage our trash, truly, truly conserve our resources and nurture our eco systems and plant millions of trees, this kind of watery Armageddon will keep on coming.
Perhaps we should all buy ourselves boats, rubber or whatever. It might be the only means we have of going around. Venetians live that way. If our rivers weren’t so dirty, it would be a major roadway through the province. Those living in forever-flooded places would do well to build houses on stilts, like what they have among the Badjaos. Our ancestors, which built houses on stilts (the Nipa hut), and ‘bahay na bato’ where the ground floor stored sundry things, including, at times, a carroza for processions, had the right idea.
The only unaffected places in Pampanga are the Clark Freeport, Angeles City and Mabalacat City. The government has better develop the Clark airport fast. It’s the only feasible alternative at this point.
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 10, 2012.