‘Habagat’ evacuees hit pork scammers

Paterno Esmaquel II
Residents in San Mateo, Rizal blame corruption for their bittersweet 'annual reunions' – in evacuation centers

EVACUEES AGAIN. Up to 900 affected residents, including children, troop to evacuation centers in Barangay Banaba in San Mateo, Rizal due to torrential rain. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

RIZAL, Philippines – Sprawled on her mat, 66-year-old Virginia Badilla joined over 900 other evacuees in Barangay Banaba in San Mateo, Rizal after rain forced them to flee their homes Sunday evening, August 18.

Badilla, who lives alone, said she left her house as soon as the flood reached her thigh. “Natatakot akong mabaha dahil hindi ako marunong lumangoy,” she told Rappler on Monday afternoon, August 19. (I’m afraid of flood because I don’t know how to swim.)

Young and old, evacuees like her brought as much food and clothing as they can, to last them until Wednesday, August 21. That is when the state weather bureau expects tropical storm Maring, which worsened the monsoon rain or “habagat” in Manila and neighboring areas, to leave the Philippines.

READ: 150,000 flood victims across Luzon

Badilla carried one other thought with her while evacuating to a basketball court. On one hand, she said, residents like her suffer the worst conditions in evacuation centers. On the other hand, what about corrupt politicians and their cohorts? The pork barrel scam allegedly led by fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles occupied Badilla’s thoughts.

Hindi tama ‘yon. Imbis na itutulong, hindi naman ibibigay sa tao… Pagkatapos ang taumbayan naghihirap dito sa basketbulan,” Badilla said. (That’s not right. It’s meant to help people, but it’s not given to people… Then you see people suffering in this basketball court.)

The alleged pork barrel scam, after all, involves multi-billion pesos in misused funds supposedly intended for development projects. That’s more than enough to fund the P272.5-million projects to improve and decongest the nearby Marikina River.  

READ: Bong, JPE, Jinggoy ‘suki’ to Napoles NGOs

Bittersweet ‘annual reunion’

Evacuees like Rosenda Infante, 76 years old, have a simpler ambition: for the government to give them safer homes.

LAUGHING BUT SAD. Rosenda Infante, who has 40 grandchildren (not all in photo), wants a home safer from flooding. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

Infante wasn’t familiar with the pork barrel scam at first, but when oriented about it, she also showed dismay.

Kung ibinigay ba sa amin ‘yon, eh ‘di wala nang problema. Eh ‘di kahit paano, makakagawa na kami ng bahay, at saka hindi na kami titira sa tabi ng ilog,” Infante said. (If that’s given to us, then we wouldn’t have much of a problem. Then at least, we can build our own houses, and we wouldn’t have to live by the river.)

Despite this, Infante said evacuees like her have accepted their fate.

She laughed with her friends about their annual “reunions,” which began in 2009, when tropical storm Ondoy caused unprecedented flooding in Metro Manila and surrounding areas, including Rizal. The last time they evacuated was in 2012, when monsoon rain also inundated the metropolis.

Taun-taon ho talaga. Piyesta ho rito taun-taon,” a smiling Infante said. (It’s really every year. It’s a feast here every year.)

Up to 21,000 other Banaba residents share the current evacuees’ fears. Their barangay captain, Renato Sulit, told Rappler that around 15,000 of them evacuated when Ondoy struck in 2009.

Infante herself admits it’s a sad situation, but what else can evacuees do? Their bittersweet reunion, in the end, demands government action. – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.