Hope never sinks in flooded Bulacan

Iya Gozum

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Hope never sinks in flooded Bulacan

People wade through a flooded road, due to monsoon rains and the recent typhoon Doksuri, in Balagtas, Bulacan province, Philippines, July 29, 2023. Photo by Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Some Bulacan residents have grown accustomed to a life where floods are the norm and typhoon forecasts are cues when to place household items on higher ground

BULACAN, Philippines – Raquel Enriquez, 34 and mother of three, sits on the Hangga Bridge connecting the Bulacan towns of Paombong and Hagonoy.

In front of her are her goods for sale: halaan, asuhos, and tahong. She wears a gray cardigan and a yellow cap, her only cover from the slight rain that’s been pouring all Tuesday morning, August 1.

Despite the dismal weather, she has to sell her goods. Otherwise, she said, they wouldn’t have money to buy rice.

Because of the steady rainfall, her house in Barangay Sta. Elena, Hagonoy was already submerged by flood. Raquel talked about this with nervous laughter. Her family had to transfer to her sister’s place in the meantime.

With Raquel on Hangga Bridge were her uncle and his wife who were selling crabs. Raquel’s aunt said the flood was triggered partly by the steady rainfall and the release of water from the dams as well.

Residents would mention dams like an afterthought to the monsoon season and high tide, the main reasons they see why Bulacan towns get submerged in floods. “‘Yung dam,” (the dam) they would say.

The entire province of Bulacan was placed under a state of calamity on Monday, July 31, after Typhoon Egay affected more than 200,000 families in the province. More than 5,000 families have evacuated.

CARRY ON. Raquel Enriquez continues to sell goods on Hangga Bridge, Bulacan, despite the rain. Photo from Rappler

Just past Hangga Bridge is Luarta Street of Brgy. San Agustin. Boats bump into each other in this narrow street where tricycles usually ply when the weather is nice. The boats were filled with scratches on the surface, worn out by years of service.

Flooding is normal here, said Alejandro Vergara, a resident in San Agustin. Valera ferries one of the boats on the street. He wore a thin, white jacket, a black cap. His sling bag was wrapped in blue plastic.

Valera carefully walked through the flood littered with floating trash, pulling his boatload of passengers. He would shout timely warnings whenever their umbrella would brush low-hanging electric wires.

Neighbors jut their heads outside the windows from the second floor of their house. A sari-sari store remained open for customers despite half the shop being immersed in the flood.

Vergara said the water was bigger than usual these days because a strong typhoon, the habagat, and high tide simultaneously occurred.

Asked if it ever crossed their minds to move out, Vergara said, “Okay pa naman po ‘yung bahay namin.” (Our house is still okay.) From the street, though, one could see the gate of his house now almost submerged by the flood.

An elementary school near Luarta was converted into an evacuation center. Out on the streets, children and teenagers played with rubber flotation devices. In their wet market, swamped in flood, it was business as usual. Market vendors, their stalls half-submerged in brackish water, covered the raw fish and chicken they were selling with plastic. A barber shop nearby was also open.

FERRY. Alejandro Valera, a resident of Hagonoy, Bulacan, ferries passengers on a boat when the floods are high. Photo from Rappler

Less than an hour’s travel from San Agustin, Hagonoy, is Sapang Bayan of Calumpit. In this barangay, a narrow strip of cement rises above the water and slices through the river where houses were built around. There was a rope which residents could use as a handrail when walking on this strip especially when the river current was fast and strong.

Boats are also used here for those who don’t want to wade through the floods.

Maita Santiago, a Sapang Bayan resident, had been living in this area ever since she got married 15 years ago. Her house has three levels. To reach her house, one needed to cross a wooden plank that connected their neighbor’s roof to their balcony.

When Tropical Storm Ondoy hit in 2009, the flood went up to their second floor.

Santiago is wary of local politics but she said she is waiting for what their new mayor, who is a woman, will do. She is partial, she said, because she believes in “women power.”

Santiago said people were already accustomed to this situation and had learned through the years how to read the water. Typhoon forecasts help residents schedule when they will transfer their items from the first to the second floor.

“[‘Y]ung iba ‘yung may mga baby, talagang tinatawid na sa bayan kung may mga kamag-anak sila sa mga ‘di binabaha,” she said. (Those with babies go to the town to stay with relatives living in flood-free areas.)

Even if 15 years of residence in Sapang Bayan would attest otherwise, Santiago remained filled with hope that things could change. “Malaki [ang] pag-asa ko…” she said. “Hindi man ganoon na lagi ng ine-expect mo pero mayroon.” (I have big hopes. Change might not be the same as what you’d expect, but there will always be something.)

While there are no huge changes though, Santiago said people could always rely on each other. A call for help from another district, sitio, or farms, would always get an answer. “Kasi ganoon naman tayo,” Santiago said. “Ang Pilipino naman…’pag kailangan mo na ng tulong nandyan na ‘yan.”

(We’re like that. Filipinos, when you need them, are always there.) – Rappler.com

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Hope never sinks in flooded Bulacan

Hope never sinks in flooded Bulacan

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.