By Aie Balagtas See (The Philippine Star)
MANILA, Philippines – Since the monsoon rains flooded Metro Manila earlier this month, 57-year-old Tomas Terriabras of Putatan, Muntinlupa would wake up early everyday to check on his new vehicle – a makeshift raft tethered by the front gate of his house.
Mang Tom would religiously check if the strings on the water containers and floaters tied to a piece of plywood with a wooden kiddie chair on top are secure.
Mang Tom would paddle or pull the raft until it reaches a dry area where his five children can take a jeep or bus to go to work.
The Terriabras family rents a two-story apartment in Lakeview 2 subdivision in Barangay Putatan, one of eight lakeshore barangays in Muntinlupa inundated by floods when Laguna Lake overflowed due to the weeklong torrential rains.
Floodwaters displaced more than 4,000 families. Some families evacuated, a few abandoned their houses.
Mang Tom opted to stay and adapted to a life in an inundated barangay.
“It’s quite difficult but we cannot leave. There are plenty of ‘good’ people around,” said Mang Tom in jest, referring to burglars.
City disaster manager Jet Pabilonia said it may take three months before the water recedes completely.
Pabilonia said houses built 500 meters from the lake were submerged in floodwaters when the silted lake recorded a 14-meter elevation, surpassing the “normal highest water level” of 12.5 meters.
“It means water occupied areas that were not normally reached by the lake. Unfortunately, there are plenty of settlements there, both legal and illegal,” he said.
He said the first time water reached that level was in 2009 when tropical storm “Ondoy” poured a month’s worth of rain in six hours.
The city government said it does not approve of people living at the lakeshore. But he said 85 percent are legal homeowners, whom they cannot just force to relocate.
“We are just preparing for their medical needs. Last week, we have already ordered the distribution of medicine for flu and leptospirosis,” Pabilonia said.
The city government also bought bamboo poles, which residents use to build bridges.
Muntinlupa City public information chief Omar Acosta said many residents prefer to stay on not only for fear their houses would be burglarized but also because they could not leave the houses where they were born and raised.
Acosta said many of the houses were an inheritance from parents.
The second floor of their house is where residents now cook, wash clothes and take a bath. The roofs, meanwhile, have been transformed into living rooms.
From the second floor windows, residents would call on ambulant vendors to buy street food like fish balls, puto and binatog.
Vendors have also found ways to sell their wares. The rice cake vendor, for one, puts his goods in a large basin so it will float as he wades in the flood.
Lakeshore residents also enjoy fishing. Sixty-five-year-old Jose Cruz of San Guillermo street said he could catch fish outside his home. – With Bum Tenorio