Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The climate is changing--BLOG ACTION DAY

My family (parents, siblings) lived about 12 years ago in Sampaloc district, city of Manila, before we transferred to Quezon City, which is right next to Manila. Manila is the capital of the Philippines, although for a time, Quezon City had that title. My family resided in Sampaloc since the 1950s or even a bit earlier as we were among the first ones to live in our street, which is P. Leoncio St. (later known as E. Quintos St.) at the corner of Simoun St. Like most of the residences in the area, our house was almost all-wood as wood seemed to be the in-thing in construction materials at that time that our two-storey house was built. Actually, we lived not very far away from the boundary of Manila and Quezon cities. But we were also not very far away from the floods that swamped Sampaloc, and almost all of Manila for that matter, even if it rained only moderately. In fact, P. Leoncio and Simoun Streets were the first ones to get flooded followed by surrounding streets like Maria Clara, Laong Laan, Calamba, Kundiman, Antipolo, Metrica, Craig, Washington, etc. Since our house was a corner lot, we always saw how our area would turn into a catchbasin for floods everytime it rained from moderate to hard, and our streets would disappear and seemingly become lakes.

The early years
In the earlier years, my parents said that our streets would have some water during rains but not really deep, and it would quickly subside. But as the years went on, the floods would come more frequently and subside more slowly. I can’t anymore count how many times my siblings and I would have to wade through floods either going out of our house or coming home from school or work. Sometimes when it would be raining, we would first phone home from school or work to check if there was already any flood on the streets. Told that there wasn’t any or that it was only like ankle-deep at that time, we would bravely and hurriedly go home only to find out that we would already have to wade through waist-deep water to reach our home. And these floodwaters were very dark, dirty, and filthy. Garbage would be floating along as we walked on the water. We’d get even more wet when a fast-moving vehicle would suddenly cruise past us, throwing the water at us. Of course, there was always the danger of stepping into an open sewerage hole. Or be electrocuted by some hanging live wire. It was really a pain living in and with flood. And the years of being flooded became even worse with stronger rains and stronger cyclones coming in year after year. During dry season, we had nice streets and neighborhood, with well-paved roads and some plants on the sidewalks. But during rainy season, we could just curse our living on that area. Seeing floods all around us that didn’t subside for hours or a day or two, seeing all that garbage floating in the waters, and watching poor malnourished kids lapping up the waters as a giant swimming pool eventually got to my family’s nerves and we had to move out. We eventually had to sell our dear house full of good memories and transfer to our current residence in Quezon City. That’s why when the recent two strong typhoons hit the Philippines and submerged houses and other properties in many parts of the country, leaving loss of lives, destruction, and a lot of mud and garbage in their trail, I could only sympathize with the flood victims as I know how difficult it is to be caught in that situation. In our case in Sampaloc, the rains that became stronger year by year were met by heavy garbage that clogged drainage and other waterways. Clean-ups by government on the drainage weren’t consistent and systematic, and sometimes we’d had to even request City Hall first before a team would be sent even if it was pretty obvious our area was the first to get flooded during rains. But, of course, we’d have to take account, too, for the worsening situation the practice of many people in throwing garbage almost anywhere, disregarding or perhaps not knowing the ill effects laters. If only the powers-at-be had the political will to really instill discipline among the people and let them know the downside of throwing garbage indiscriminately, perhaps the flooding would have been minimized or at least would have subsided more quickly.

Leaving our home
We left our place in Sampaloc in 1997, and today, the rains still bring the same sad story to the area. And it seems that the floods have gotten even worse because according to some friends of ours who still live there, the government has elevated the streets (by pouring more concrete into the streets) in an effort to avoid floods from massing up. But in elevating the streets, the streets’ drainage however wasn’t touched or repaired. And the elevated streets have caused some houses to become below street level when before they were at the level of the street. Thus, when it rains, more of the floods come right away inside their homes. Talk about short-term or even knee-jerk solutions.

Here in Quezon City, while our exact area of residence doesn’t get flooded, the area around the public market less than a kilometer away also gets flooded during heavy rains. When it’s not raining, the streets around the public market are littered with garbage. A few people do sweep those streets at night, but I could just imagine how much of the garbage during daytime are already blown away to clog the canals and open drainage around the area.

The Clean Air Act
Another lack of political will that I noticed in the government is enforcing the “Clean Air Act” which was enacted in 1999. Included among the prohibitions of this law are smoking inside public places, including public vehicles; and smoke-belching by vehicles. Everyday, there are rampant violations of this law. For instance, while some establishments do follow the no-smoking rule and have designated smoking areas, some people still violate and do their smoking in no-smoking areas. Walking in the streets is still a nightmare not just because of undisciplined drivers but because of that pollution that many vehicles emit. Now and then, smoke-belching tests are conducted on the spot on the streets by the authorities but again these aren’t consistently done. Many irresponsible drivers are still moving around with their “dirty” vehicles.

In its Declaration of Principles, the Clean Air Act promises a lot: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. The State shall promote and protect the global environment to attain sustainable development while recognizing the primary responsibility of local government units to deal with environmental problems. The State recognizes that the responsibility of cleaning the habitat and environment is primarily area-based. Finally, the State recognizes that a clean and healthy environment is for the good of all and should therefore be the concern of all.”

In practice, in daily living, 10 years after the enactment of the law, we all still have to struggle and contend with the polluted air around us.

Action needed now
Problems with floods, garbage, pollution, unclean surroundings, these problems have been with us for years, with hardly any sustained and concrete action to counter them. And I haven’t even yet talked about deforestation, illegal mining, illegal fishing, and a host of other environmentally damaging practices that go unabated and are even worsening. And we feel the ill effects of all these as we the people live in a sensitive ecosystem that a pain or problem in one part of that system will surely affect and will also cause pain or a problem in other parts. These problems may not just be happening to my country the Philippines, but then that makes the situation even worse because all countries also form, I believe, an ecosystem among themselves that should be guarded and delicately balanced. The Philippines and all other countries, after all, have only one Earth to call home. And when we don’t take care of our surroundings and our environment, the bad effects of what we do will only come crashing back to us, as it is already starting to happen now. It’s indeed time to act now, not tomorrow, not just for government but also for the people themselves, the citizens as we should all be responsible for taking care of our country, our countries, our world.

In the Philippines, I’ve heard that the Congress now has committees that have to do with the environment. In the House of Representatives, there’s the Committee on Ecology. In the Senate, there’s the Committee on Climate Change. Hurrah for that. I hope the work of the committee members of these two bodies will be consistent and productive, and also supported by their colleagues in the House and Senate. I hope that the committees' work will not weakened or lost amid different interests among the Congress Representatives and Senators, especially with the upcoming national elections in the Philippines in May 2010. May the work of Congress be able to lead and inspire the citizenry to greater action now for the environment.

This post was written in support of Blog Action Day,
Photo of chaotic flood situation in Marikina City, Philippines, during the recent typhoon Ketsana (local name Ondoy), from

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