Here We Go Again

I don’t know where you are in the morning of August 7. But I can assure you one thing: that I cannot forget that day.

It was raining for weeks. I hardly saw the sun in two weeks. It made me hate myself for buying expensive makeup products with high SPFs when I could hardly see the sun. I also hate the feeling of hating something I really love. I love the rain. I am madly in love with it. But now, I was madly in love with it. My passion that burns for it in my heart was extinguished by it. I shall never forget how the heaven cried for weeks but most especially on the morning of August 7. It wailed like a girl who was left by a girl who was left by a boy she truly loves without any answer to the questions in her heart. No words could comfort that rain. It would pause for two minutes then resume dousing the earth.

But it wasn’t the rain that made August 7, 2012 unforgettable. It was when we wake up because by a very loud siren. The creek would overflow again. Our parents went to our room and instructed us to pack some clothes because we need to evacuate soon. My uncle and auntie who lives in West Fairview were outside our door and was about to fetch us. We immediately pack some clothes and some things we needed for school and work, place them to whatever bag we could find and put them to our vehicles. But it was one of the most frightening moments in my life ever because for the very first time ever, I felt that I was running for my life. In a matter of minutes, you could feel the water rise from beneath your feet to sinking it entirely. You know that the water is not coming only from the rain but also from another force. With the creek starting to overflow and the rain refusing to stop that morning, you know that you are being trapped. Worst, you can see other people run for their lives especially the squatters who live nearby the creek. They went in our subdivision bringing their little belongings and some of their pigs they raise for extra income. Soon after that, we left bringing nothing but two of our vehicles plus some clothes. Unfortunately for my mother, my father forgot her things. My brother did not pack anything at all because he believes that Ondoy will never happen again.

How I wish my brother was right that day.

All of us hardly slept but I was specifically more tired. In forty-eight hours, I hardly had any sleep. Maybe I had about four-hour worth of sleep collectively. I was studying for my exam that was due on Monday evening but when we were in school that afternoon, the class was suspended. We were driven to safety but we were restless. As soon as we arrived in our uncle’s place, I immediately switched it to news. A lot of bad news was in it like how the dams and rivers overflow with so much water and how so much people run for their lives bringing nothing with them but the clothes they are wearing. I went on-line to twitter and saw tweets and retweets by people asking for help to rescue them or their loved ones who are trapped in their houses. Later, the power went off. My parents advised me to sleep because there is pretty much nothing to do. But I hardly caught any wink. The rain was falling nonstop. There is hardly any wind as it is not a typhoon. It was merely a habagat or a southwest monsoon. However, the monsoon did not just bring any ordinary type of rain. It bought us rainfall which lashed and battered to sinking the whole Metro Manila and the nearby provinces. That day was specifically slow. You cannot do anything but wait. You have some reading materials for school but you can’t comprehend a word written in it. Later, we tried praying the rosary but the rain showed no signs of stopping.

Later, my brother received texts from his classmate who lives in our subdivision, too. She gives him updates how she sees the water rise in their house. The peak was, “five steps more until it reach our second floor.” We know one thing is certain: our house probably suffered more or less the same damage. We have no choice but to accept such sad and unfortunate fact but we prayed that hopefully, it won’t reach our second floor. When Ondoy hit us back in September 26, 2009, the flood water reached up to my neck in our second floor. Not only did we lose practically everything but for one week, we have nothing dry to wear and lived the entire week using clothes from relief goods or donations by friends and relatives.

The next day, the sun wasn’t shining but at least the rain stopped. When I woke up, I found out that my parents and our house helper were already at our home. I woke up my brother and sister and we went to our home. It did not really depress us. I mean, it would have depressed us but the damage it had caused was nowhere near Ondoy. Also, there is no more flood water and no debris accumulated in front of our house. About one foot more and it would have reached the ceiling of the first floor. Thank God, it didn’t. Also, almost all our prized possessions were on the second floor. Because of that, I didn’t complain on cleaning. I was actually I was cleaning.

My parents said that they will be staying in our house of the night even if everything was still a big mess downstairs and brought me and my siblings back to my uncle’s house. Everything went well but the rain emerged again in the afternoon. It was strong, similar to that of August 7. Later, that night, though, we were surprised that my parents turn up to our uncle’s house. The water rose again that night and Mom said she was like in the movie Titanic. It was a little late when they realized that water started entering the house again so when they tried to open the gate, the strong current of the flood water was fighting them back. It was very forceful and unstoppable. When they managed to get out, they tried on holding into whatever they can in order for the current not to take them. The next day, we found out that the water inside our house reached waist-deep. But we have to start cleaning again.

It’s not the repeat of the cleaning part which hurts us. It is the fact that makes us think that are we going to get used to this? Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho said in the Alchemist, “What happens once will never happen again. But what happens twice will surely happen a third time. “Can we live like this over and over again? We think not. Worse, is what if there would be another northwest monsoon or Ondoy that would bring more rain and sink the whole house? Worst thing, is what if we were trapped inside?

We are starting to look for a new home. This is not an easy decision. We moved here shortly after I turned four years old and now I am twenty-four. For twenty years, this house experienced our joys, our pains and witnessed the strength that we have as a family. Some of our neighbors did not return again to their homes after the monsoon and I understand. Once is enough. Two is way too much.

The times had truly changed. Before, our house was able to withstand killer typhoons like Milenyo or the triple threat of Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong. La Mesa Dam kept on overflowing through the years but we were safe and sound at home. But I cannot say that for the present time. In my humble opinion, the reason why it now floods occasionally in our place is that whenever the water was release from the dam and it takes the scraps of materials from the makeshift houses of the squatters, it piles up an become an obstruction somewhere and hinder the free flowing of the river. Also, our surroundings lacked trees that absorb the rain water.

There is a solution to this problem: Political Will. Months after the occurrence of Ondoy, people from the government started asking the squatters living near the creek to leave that place and they will be settled in their own house and lot in Rodriguez, Rizal. The squatters refused and after a while, there is no more action from the government. In Filipino, nagkalimutan na lang. Now, weeks after that mega-monsoon here are the government people again asking the squatters to leave and be relocated elsewhere. Had they possessed political will in the first place, I’m sure this monsoon flooding could have been prevented. I want to see real action now. Real relocation of the squatters and informal settlers. Real long-term flood control plan and infrastructures. Real political will. No more band-aid  and provisional solution. No more instant noodles and canned goods solution. Now that the sun is rising again, it’s time to work on our long-term solution. Let us not wait for the tragedy to happen again for the third time.

And in the end, maybe we all don’t need to lose our precious homes anymore.

Clandestine Woe. This picturesque photo was taken by UST’s Quadricentennial Photographer, Paul Quiambao. It depicts a beautiful, tranquil scene at first sight but in fact is the UST Chapel and Main Bulding surrendering to the great flood caused by the monsoon rains. I was beyond words and emotions when I first saw this. This must never happen again.
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