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By Dennis D. Estopace | Senior Editor
& Cai U. Ordinario | Reporter
ONE name unites Filipinos in Metro Manila in a common experience and memory of tragedy and triumph: Ondoy.
For those especially in Marikina, it all centers ironically with water, especially that flowing on the 9.74-kilometer Marikina River.
“Eleven barangays out of [the total] 16 [barangays of Marikina] ay nasa ilog [are near the river],” Mayor Marcelino R. Teodoro told the BusinessMirror. “Lahat kami naligo dyan, naglaba; hanggang ’50s after the war [Many of us bathed there, did our laundry on the river; this was until the 1950s, even after World War II].”
That wasn’t the case on September 26, 2009.
“We came to respect the river; many underestimated the flood, how the water rose high so fast,” Marikina Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office head Dave David told the BusinessMirror a week after the upper lip of the river kissed its critical 15-meter level. A siren filled the air, signaling evacuation to designated centers, mostly public schools.
“When that happens, people no longer hesitate or dig in and wait for us, wait for an announcement from somebody from the city government, to act,” David said. “That’s one of the bittersweet lessons of [Typhoon] Ondoy (international name: Ketsana): Avoiding a repeat of a tragedy is a source of great self-motivation.”
ONE of the follies of humanity that David said gripped Filipinos, himself and his parents included, in the early morning of September 26, 2009, was hubris.
They were living in a stone-brick house overlooking Provident Village; a wall separating it from, according to David, what was originally a flood plain area. That wall burst from the pressure of a raging flow of water.
Water from the heavens fell, amounting to a volume far greater than that unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in the United States, according to documents from the Marikina City Planning and Development Office (PDO).
Many were smug, David said, justifying their experience that “every year, may ganung experience [flooding] and alam na namin ’yon; kabisado na namin yung ilog [dahil] dito na kami tumanda. Saka na kami mag-e-evacuate pag nakikita na namin yung tubig dun sa tapat ng bahay namin [We experience flooding every year; we’re used to this, we know how this goes as we know how the river flows. This is where we grew old. We’ll evacuate when we see the water in front of our house].”
He noted that those in Provident Village asked for help only when the water reached the first floor of their house.
And that was already too late as the water rose in seconds.
BARANGAY Nangka resident Virginia Flores (not her real name) said the floodwater was just outside when she began cooking rice. When the “ding” of the rice cooker signaled the staple was ready to be served, the flood water was already ankle deep in her kitchen. Her wood and cement house that time had two floors.
“It was providential that it was a Saturday and all my children and my husband were at home,” the 53-year-old Flores told the BusinessMirror.
Her neighbor Mariana de Guzman (not her real name) narrated in front of her sari-sari store that she, Flores’s family and others sought safety on the roof of the house of a neighbor they call “JoeCon.” De Guzman’s and Flores’s houses are a stone’s throw away from the riverbed where construction of a rampart, a project by the national government, is going on.
They stayed on the roof watching the roofs of their houses surrounded by floodwater.
The Marikina City PDO document said Typhoon Ondoy produced a flood level of 23 meters and inundated 85 percent of the city.
According to David, at that height you can almost touch the water when on the bridge that straddles the river. Nangka was badly hit because, like Provident Village, it was a low-lying area.
The total damage to local businesses affected by Typhoon Ondoy was estimated to hit P179.173 million.
Of the total 15,287 houses in subdivisions affected by Ondoy, about 2,941 were in Nangka, documents from the PDO revealed.
THE moment water burst through the sliding door to the sala, Janine Marie Soliman knew their lives were going to change forever.
“My grandmother started to panic around 10 a.m. She became fearful when the waist-high floodwater pushed our sliding doors, like in that scene from the movie Titanic when water flowed inside the ship,” Soliman told the BusinessMirror.
It has been 10 years since the disaster but she still feels the trauma not only because their home, where they still live today, was submerged in 15 meters of floodwater, but also because they got sick and her grandfather was injured.
A glass shard hit a leg of her grandfather who was returning to the second floor—that time the only space not reached by floodwater—after getting a can of Spam and bottled water.
By the time Soliman’s grandfather was able to stop the bleeding, murky water had reached the second floor. This prompted the Solimans and their four dogs to transfer to a neighbor’s roof where she said they stayed for 12 hours.
When the water receded, the Solimans returned to their home. But because there was a strong smell of gasoline and they did not know how rescuers can get to them, they decided to go outside and wade through the flood.
IT was a near-fatal decision: Janine and her twin sister contracted leptospirosis. They stayed in a hospital for two weeks after Ondoy left the Philippine area of responsibility and ravaged Japan. Apart from their medical expenses, the cost to repair the damage to their new home came to nearly P500,000.
The trauma and the financial costs were significant. Even if they lived comfortably, the financial and psychological costs were staggering simply because the damages were incurred in less than 24 hours. “Masakit sa damdamin at sa bulsa ang Ondoy [Ondoy is painful to the heart and on the purse],” Soliman said.
That has become true for De Guzman, who said her road to restoring her house, acquired through the government’s community home mortgage program, and recovering from the typhoon damage was through borrowing; sadly, even from usurers.
She said it was only two years ago that she was able to pay off all her major creditors. De Guzman is now relying on her micro-retail store’s income to get by.
She told the BusinessMirror a month before the tenth anniversary of Typhoon Ondoy she hopes the day would be remembered for the people they lost.
A PDO document said about 33 casualties were reported due to Ondoy.
TEODORO would not issue a report today because he said he doesn’t have any accomplishments. It is the people who have accomplished many things, he told the BusinessMirror.
“Wala akong accomplishment dahil ang community ang may accomplishment,” Teodoro said. He added that when the siren for the first alarm goes off, the people know what to do, without government telling them so. “Ano pa ire-report ko? Para kumbinsihin ko sila na handa kami? Hindi ko pwedeng kumbinsihin ang taong alam kung ano ang totoo [What else would I report on, to convince the people that we’re ready (for another Ondoy?) I can’t fool people who know the truth].”
The sense of community that was borne out of the tragedy of Ondoy is the real triumph of Marikina, according to Teodoro.
Because in our quest “to protect and provide people during calamity, we realized the need for us to create and establish disaster-resilient communities.”
Centers of evacuation
ACCORDING to Teodoro, the Marikina government instituted family disaster planning.
“We gave each family in the communities and the subdivisions a checklist or guide,” he explained.
The family members discuss the checklist to assess how ready they are in times of disasters: where they would evacuate, how they would communicate and review the checklist, Teodoro added. Each family is also encouraged to have a “go-bag,” a bag with supplies during emergencies, he said.
“Itinuro rin natin kung saan sila maaring dumaan safely papunta sa evacuation centers [We pointed to them the safest path they should take to the evacuation centers],” Tedoro said.
“Sa evacuation centers, naroon ang pamahalaan; may duktor, gamot, tutulugan nang maayos, palaro, film showing and other activities [They would find the government in these evacuation centers. There’s a doctor, medicine, cots, games for the children].”
According to David, there are 22 evacuation centers across the city.
Before Ondoy, they had to persuade people to evacuate, especially if the water goes higher than 16 meters, he said.
“After Ondoy, sila na mismo ang nagkukusang pumunta sa evacuation centers.”
The centers near the river are the first to be filled, he said. One center is the Malanday Elementary School, which David said can accommodate 5,000.
TAKING into account that the local government’s workforce wouldn’t be enough if there’s a need to evacuate the city’s 500,000 population, David said they turned to the communities as force multiplier.
The secret of Marikina is its ability to involve the communities; “the partnership between the local government and the communities.”
“Kung wala ito, hindi namin magagawa nang maayos ang trabaho namin [We wouldn’t be able to efficiently perform our tasks if there’s no involvement by community members].”
David said the DRRM office organized the 243 homeowners association and trained five of their members in first aid and disaster response.
In his opinion, he believes Marikina has significantly improved in terms of disaster management.”
“Our institutional capacity is much, much better given our experience from Ondoy,” Teodoro said. “We have better trained personnel for rescue and for evacuation. We have organized a network of volunteers even outside of Marikina. We have partnered with the province of Palawan as our rescuer.”
The former representative of Marikina (First District] said this is so because during earthquakes cities in Metro Manila wouldn’t be able to help them, “not even the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority,” because they would also be affected. Teodoro said this is one of the lessons “learned from our experience from Ondoy.”
Teodoro added government wouldn’t be the first responder during times of disasters.
According to a document from the PDO, 80 percent of Marikina City’s government-owned vehicles were rendered unserviceable and 60 percent of the city hall’s office equipment were destroyed.
A document titled “Consolidated Data on Marikina’s Recovery Plan” as of November 24, 2009, revealed the estimated costs.
The document said it took an estimated P73.722 million for the immediate repair of city hall, declogging of canals and drainage system, repair of roads, dredging the Marikina River and purchase of new equipment.
The cost for the long-term recovery of inland structures like dikes, division dams and pontoon bridge, and the dredging and disposal of accumulated silt was estimated to cost nearly P39.35 million.
The repair in the short term of a dozen health facilities and 14 public schools was estimated to have a total cost of about P10.227 million.
The total estimated cost for recovery of infrastructure was pegged at nearly P209.195 million.
In terms of recovery of Marikina’s environment (parks and river parks development offices), the estimated total cost was nearly P25.029 million.
The recovery of the social sector—education, social welfare and housing—was estimated to cost nearly P60 million.
The recovery of the operations of the General Services Office was estimated to cost about P80.893 million.
Based on the final report on Typhoon Ondoy by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the extent of assistance provided by the National Government, local government units (LGUs), nongovernment organizations and other government organizations for food and nonfood institutions, early recovery, and shelter amounted to P161.27 million.
Of this amount, the national government spent P115.36 million—assistance extended by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) worth P95.86 million and the Office of Civil Defense-National Disaster Coordinating Council (OCD-NDCC), P22.49 million. The LGUs also spent a significant amount worth P25.17 million.
ACCORDING to David, the least costly but most effective project after Ondoy is the crafting of what Teodoro said are the guidelines or checklist.
He said the protocols for earthquake and flooding are being continuously updated based on experiences from other disasters and near-disasters experienced by the city.
For example, it was last year when they introduced partitions in selected evacuation centers.
Many appreciated that they felt a decency in living and there’s privacy, David said.
His office is also seeking to further enhance camp management.
We want people in evacuation centers to have a hotel experience.
We’re going to pick them up on an agreed point of pick-up, albeit not with a limousine but a truck, David said.
“Pagdating sa evacuation center, magche-check in sila, bibigyan namin sila ng room key, ihahatid sa room assigned at dadalhan namin ng pagkain sa room nila; kasi prepacked na yon [Upon arrival at the center, they would log in and we’ll give them a key and bring them to their assigned room. We’re also bring prepacked food to their room].”
David said by using a mobile application they developed, they could monitor the camp and segregate the demographics.
We would know who are lactating mothers, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, he said, adding they would also know which type of food to serve if people are vegetarians or Muslims.
David said management of camps and the protocol are continuously being updated and shared with other cities.
“The protocol limits the decision-making of the individual because not doing so will give you human error: either tama o mali [right or wrong],” David said. “If the decision-making process is based on the protocol, it limits [the chances of you making a mistake].”
We’re not ready
ACCORDING to Teodoro, they can’t claim to be 100-percent ready for disasters like Typhoon Ondoy.
“We are 100-percent with our coping mechanism; to cope with any eventuality: na kaya nating makabangon ng sama-sama sa panahon at pagkakataon ng sakuna [We can rise together in the event of any disaster],” the mayor said.
Teodoro believes that that is the achievement of Marikina: that “we are resilient not as individuals but as a community.”
He points to the streets outside the showroom of a shoe factory and said the cleanliness and orderliness prove that resiliency.
Even on tertiary roads, you won’t see parked vehicles.
“Hindi dahil nandyan ang mayor o may nanghuhuli kundi bawat isa ginagawa ang kailangang gawin nya [They don’t park vehicles on these roads because I’m there or there’s police but because each Marikeno knows what he or she needs to do].”
David said the problem is not the garbage generated by the city, which clogs the drainage, but those coming from the upland.
Still, their efforts to cleanliness are paying off.
According to David, it took them a month to clean up the whole city after Ondoy. Last year, when it was hit by the southwest monsoon when the water reached nearly 21 meters, it took the city only one week.
“You won’t see a trash can here but we maintain the cleanliness of our city,” he said.
“Because our garbage is our own responsibility; hindi naman obligasyon ng pamahalaan na bigyan ka ng basurahan. Kasi nga basura mo yan, ibulsa mo muna. Duon nagsisimula ang disiplina [It’s not the obligation of government to provide you with a trash can. If its your garbage, put it in your pockets. That’s when self-discipline begins].”
According to Teodoro, he “would have no legacy as a mayor” of a city that struggled and triumphed against nature’s wrath.
“I can proudly say that I lived with my fellow Marikinans. Andito ako nang binaha ang Marikina. Nung binaha ang mga kababayan ko, naranasan ko din [I was here when Ondoy hit and water inundated our city. I experienced what they experienced].”
David echoes his mayor’s belief that Marikina is not ready for disasters.
“We never claim that we’ll be ready. Yes, before Ondoy, that was our claim,” he said, adding that the typhoon a decade ago changed that view.
“What we can say is that we’re always preparing: we always try to find ways how we can improve our current system,” David said. “Continuous improvement is our mantra.”
Meanwhile, the Marikina River is being taken cared of: there’s construction of a riprap, dredging and creating of slopes. A park near the river is being maintained and the water remains calm for one day and rising the next, watched by thousands via a 24-hour closed-circuit television.
De Guzman, Flores and Soliman try to be like the river, still flowing through life with hope that a common experience offered by a name—Ondoy—will no longer only be about a tragedy.