Thursday, December 10, 2009

For pastor, film evokes torture memories

By Clarice Colting-Pulumbarit, Karen Lapitan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 09, 2009

AS SCENES of Iza Calzado and Allen Dizon being tortured flashed on-screen, Pastor Berlin Guerrero could not help remembering his own experience in the hands of his abductors, believed to be members of the military.

“Even when I watch ordinary movies, when the protagonist is captured or subjected to pain, memories flash back,” he said.

Guerrero spoke in front of students and teachers of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños on Dec. 3 when “Dukot,” which stars Calzado and Dizon, was shown. The film is about abductions and human rights violations said to be perpetrated by the military in the country.


A pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Guerrero vividly recalls the torture he suffered shortly after he was abducted on May 27, 2007, after saying Mass in Biñan town in Laguna.

For 24 hours, he was clubbed on the back with a large bottle containing mineral water, his hands shackled. Intermittently, a plastic bag covering his head was tightened until he could no longer breathe. He passed out twice.

His captors pulled and played with his nipples, taunting him that his wife and daughter were also taken and would be punished similarly.

Despite the ordeal, Guerrero said the torture was mild compared to the mutilation that others had suffered. (In “Dukot,” the abducted activists were electrocuted, raped and killed.)

Still, he said, it did not lessen the inhumanity of the crime “when freedom and rights are removed from a person and he is hidden from justice, this is already torture to the person and his family.”

More than his bruises, the psychological punishment lingers.

“When I am subjected to similar settings, such as when I go to the dentist and it is hard to breathe, I recall the torture. The thought that it could happen again also remains, as well as fear for myself, my family and the church I belong to. Seeing fear in the eyes of your loved ones is worse than the physical pain,” he said.

When Guerrero was surfaced, he was jailed in Cavite until Sept. 11, 2008, when the Court of Appeals dismissed the murder case filed against him.

Justice has not yet been served, he said. His captors have remained free and unpunished as investigations were no longer pursued.

Guerrero is trying to overcome the fear—he is still a church pastor and works with other victims of human rights violations in Southern Tagalog to attain justice.

At least three other UCCP pastors have been abducted and two have been summarily executed in the region.


Guerrero points at President Macapagal-Arroyo as the source of the human rights violations, and believes that she is running for office to evade responsibility. “It is clear who the perpetrators are, as evidenced in the Maguindanao massacre where the murderers are men in uniform and those in power.”

The mass killings in Maguindanao on Nov. 23 constitute only a small portion of the total number of cases committed against human rights in the country.

“Private armies and warlords do not exist in Mindanao alone. Even Gloria [Macapagal-Arroyo] has this tendency to use the police and military as her own private armies,” Guerrero said.

Dizon, the actor, was also present during the screening. The movie’s theme, he said, should be adopted by mainstream producers as part of industry efforts to promote social consciousness among viewers.

This, however, would be a difficult step though it could serve as a tool for safeguarding human rights—an issue that is highly relevant today, he said.

“I hope every Filipino would have a chance to watch this movie,” he said, adding that the production made him understand social issues, especially human rights.

Guerrero lauded the movie as aptly depicting the abductions and human rights violations happening in the country today.

Throughout the screening, the student viewers let out exclamations of shock and rooted for the protagonists when they were nearing escape or being found by their parents.

Ginalyn Laurenciano, a first year student, said she got carried away and cried. “I was shocked at what is being done to activists. What the parents in the movie said is true—if they broke any law, they should be sent to court, not abducted.”

Rayan Brozula, a fourth year student and secretary general of The National Union of Students of the Philippines-Southern Tagalog, said he remembered Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, two fellow UP students who were also abducted and not yet surfaced.

UPLB student activists, he said, were also being harassed and tagged as communists.

One teacher said the film was both “disturbing” and “enlightening.” The abductions really happen, she said, citing the disappearance of Empeño and Cadapan as an undeniable fact.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Evacuees may spend Christmas season in tents

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 29, 2009

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA — Lorna Labadia, 35, was sorting plastic bottles and metal scraps, which she would sell to a junk shop, hoping to augment her husband’s income so they could have something for their three children this Christmas.

Labadia was in front of a white tent as she was also looking after her daughter, who has been sickly since they were forced to transfer inside a tent since Tropical Storm “Ondoy” struck late September.

Hers is among the almost 200 families still stuck inside tents in Barangay Tadlac who are prepared to spend Christmas inside their respective tents.

Labadia said her home has been flooded since September so they did not have any choice but to live inside the borrowed tent. But, she said, her children had been complaining of the heat during the day, while it was usually extremely cold at night.

“We just have to adjust since we don’t have any choice. Even our relatives’ homes are still flooded up to now,” said Labadia, whose house was still flooded up to her knees.

Labadia’s family shares the tent with some relatives. Seven persons live inside their tent.

“We felt very desperate at the start, but we could not do something about it, so we chose to continue living our lives,” said Labadia, whose husband also works in a nearby junk shop.

She said they wanted to go home already but were worried of their children’s health.

She said the flood water had a foul smell already. “If we need to spend our Christmas here, there’s nothing we can do.”

Labadia’s house is located near Laguna lake and water rises with heavy rains.

Lita Hernandez, 75, another resident of Barangay Tadlac said her nine grandchildren had also been complaining of the extreme heat inside their tent.

“I would just tell them that we would return home soon,” but, she said, it might really take some more weeks.

Hernandez said their home still had water inside so there was still no chance to move in.

She said the flood water was still almost knee-high when they visited their area a few days ago.

Village chief Marvin Bautista said the residents could use the tents until the flood had subsided.

The tents were lent by some nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in September.

Emergency classes

Teachers of the Tadlac Elementary School, meanwhile, were still struggling to help their students adjust to the situation.

The school was also gravely flooded last September where flood water was waist-high.

Last October, a large tent was put up to accommodate most of the students, but it was washed out by Typhoon “Santi.”

Now, classes of Grades 1 to 4 are held inside a chapel, while those of Grades 5 and 6 are held inside a private subdivision’s vacant clubhouse.

School principal Sylvia Encabo said she hoped that classes would be normal again by January. Karen Lapitan, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Friday, November 27, 2009

From an old house to a new restaurant

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon

Posted date: November 26, 2009

PAGSANJAN, LAGUNA— For love of food, a man and his wife here turned their ancestral house into a restaurant, using heirloom such as sets of silverware and plates to serve customers.

“At first, we wanted a small and simple business because we both love food,” says Anna Cabrega, the town’s current council secretary.

Her husband Ronald has been in the food industry for 12 years, and has cooked for a number of popular restaurants.

In 2006, the couple started serving snacks for residents of Pagsanjan right on their Rizal Street property, which they soon called Calle Arco.

The restaurant is located near the famous Pagsanjan Arc at the town’s entrance, hence, the name of the establishment.

Soon, demand pushed the couple to turn their small enterprise into a serious restaurant venture.

“We never thought Calle Arco would become famous,” she says.

Asked on what made their food business a success, Anna cited that it could be their family’s love for entertaining guests.

“Love for food is a given factor, but the difference lies in how you treat customers. In our case, we treat them as if they are visitors to our home,” says Anna. “That habit of entertaining guests was actually derived from my grandmother who owned this house. She loved cooking for guests.”

When the Cabregas started out, they used the utensils that Anna’s grandmother stored in the house.

Even the tables and chairs were not new when Calle Arco opened as a 20-seater restaurant.

The couple also improved on the menu over the years. From mere snacks and pasta dishes, the Cabregas now serve breakfast, lunch and dinner fares.

Calle Arco is popular for its Sinigang na Baka na may Langka. She says that the dish is the one enticing more people to eat at their place.

Later, Calle Arco’s reputation crossed the town’s boundaries.

“Our past and returning clients are doing their part. They would recommend our restaurant to [other people],” says Anna, who remains gratified with the feedback they get from tourists.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Laguna de Bay takes center stage

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 18, 2009

SCIENTISTS usually list causes and solutions—mostly in highly technical terms—when dealing with the swollen Laguna de Bay, but two university professors are trying to make people understand the issue better through theater.

Professors Dennis Gupa and Emmanuel Dumlao of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) came up with a theater production that aimed to spread awareness of the lake’s history and current situation.
In particular, they wanted to explain to high school and elementary students in Los Baños what went wrong with the Laguna lake.

“Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo ang Tawag Dito” was presented at the
UPLB College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) auditorium on Oct. 17 by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), in cooperation with the CAS.
The play was based on poems about stories of the lakeshore people, written by Dumlao, a literature professor and Palanca awardee for poetry. Dumlao personally went to the areas affected by the recent typhoons to hear the stories and to understand what happened.

The lines of the poems were the actual lines thrown by the characters.
“We wanted to give the lake its character,” said Gupa, a humanities professor, who directed the play. “It’s like personifying the lake.”
The lines mainly explained the reasons Tropical Storm “Ondoy” stole many lives and property on Sept. 26:

“Pitik lang nang pitik, pare.
Sige lang, kasi wala kang pake.
Upos ng sigarilyo? Pitik lang.
Balat ng kendi? Pitik lang.”

(Just flick and flick, pare.
It’s OK, because you don’t care.
Cigarette butt? Just flick.
Candy wrapper? Just flick.)

“Tapon lang nang tapon, pare.
Sige lang, kasi wala kang pake.
Plastic at goma? Tapon lang.
Styro at bakal? Tapon lang.
Kasi wala kang pake!”

(Just throw and throw, pare.
It’s OK, because you don’t care.
Plastic and rubber? Just throw.
Styro and metal? Just throw.
Because you don’t care!)

“Pero, pare, huwag mong kalimutan
pag nagpasalamat sa ’yo ang ulan,
Lahat mong ipinitik, lahat mong itinapon.
Lahat ibabalik sa iyo ng alon.
Ibabalik sa ’yo ng alon.
Kasi wala kang pake.”

(But, pare, don’t forget
when the rain thanks you,
Everything you flicked, everything you threw.
Everything will be brought back to you by the waves.
Will be brought back to you by the waves.
Because you don’t care.)

Dumlao and Gupa wanted to show to the students the simple activities that people often do to harm the environment.

The lines were lifted from one of Dumlao’s poems, “Dahil Wala Kang Pake,” referring to the inconsiderate and irresponsible acts that affect the state of the lake and the environment in general.
Another poem, “Kung Pababayaan Natin,” highlighted sustainable development while criticizing a kind of progress that compromises the environment.

“Ano’ng halaga ng pag-unlad
kung sinasalanta ang komunidad?
Anong halaga ng kayamanan
kung kinikitil ang buhay?”

(What’s the price of progress
if the community is devastated?
What’s the value of treasures
when lives are lost?)

With only wooden benches and pillows held by masked characters, the play offered an atypical plot. “Those are normally found in our homes, and they give a certain connection to the audience,” Dumlao said.
There were no main characters or cameo roles. In most of the scenes, the characters held black pillows that spelled out the lake’s different pollutants. Sometimes, the pillows were thrown to the floor as the lake.

What happened in the Laguna lake should not be treated as a deluge but a consequence of one’s greediness, Dumlao said.

Gupa and Dumlao said they introduced a different approach to prick the conscience of the audience without being too boring. “We intended it to be a bit horrific,” Gupa said in explaining the masks and the musical scoring.

He said people had known the problem for many years, “but we need repetition to help people understand what we want to convey.”

Perfect timing

According to him, the theater production was conceptualized through the LLDA even before Ondoy came. The first target, Gupa said, was Muntinlupa.

“We were busy rehearsing the play when Ondoy hit many towns and cities around the lake, and we felt it was a perfect timing to tell people how much the lake has suffered,” Gupa said.

Gerry Carandang, public information unit head of LLDA, said the amount of water in the lake doubled after the storm, and its condition worsened because of the clogged floodways.

The Laguna lake is surrounded by six provinces and 12 cities, the majority of which are still submerged in water.

Dumlao told the students not to rely on anyone, especially politicians, in saving the lake. “They may be here during relief operations, bringing packs of relief goods with their names and photos on it. But they’re doing that not to save the lake, but for the coming elections,” he said.

Dumlao and Gupa planned to stage more productions for an environmental cause. “A lifetime is not enough for this kind of campaign, but we’re willing to do more so we can help,” Gupa said.


Delia Bandoy, a high school teacher at the Laguna State Polytechnic University (LSPU), said the play helped them explain to their students the reasons behind the flooding.

“We’re grateful that the LLDA chose our students to be part of the audience. Even us (teachers) were enlightened,” she said.
The LSPU is one of the schools in Laguna that were gravely affected by the swelling of the Laguna lake. Most of its students now hold classes in tents.

“Educating the youth about what is happening in the environment is a very tedious task. Capturing their interest should be the primary consideration. Thus, we came up with the idea of feeding them the information in a very creative and unconventional way,” said LLDA general manager Edgardo Manda.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thousands missed lunch to view Pacquiao fight

Inquirer Southern Luzon

MANILA, Philippines -- Thousands of Marinduqueños braved the searing heat of the sun and hunger just to watch Manny Pacquiao's fight.

Eager Pacquiao fans even trooped to the plaza in Sta. Cruz town as early as 7 a.m. just to have the best seats. The free viewing of the fight was sponsored by a local politician.

By 10 a.m., around 2,000 fans converged in the plaza. Despite the heat and hunger, most of the excited fans refused to budge from their seats to take lunch.

Jose Ramos, 57, from the neaighboring Torrijos town, said he went to the plaza early to get hold of a promotional VCD of previous Pacquiao fights given away for free for the early viewers.

Edmar Rey, an avid Pacquiao fan, remarked that as soon as Pacquiao floored Cotto in the middle rounds, he knew that the fight was over.

The fight was shown live for free in the town plazas of all the six towns of Marinduque.

In Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro, viewers mocked Cotto as a "runner," not a boxer.

“Cotto is not a boxer but a runner,” said Inzo Maula, an enterpreneur from Bulalacao town in Oriental Mindoro.

The live coverage of Pacquiao's fight was sponsored by politicians in the province.

At the provincial jail, all inmates, estimated at 300, were focused on the fight.

There were shouting and hugging when Manny won, said prison guard Willy Chan.

In Los Baños, Laguna, the streets were almost totally cleared even hours before the start of the bout as the residents here were glued to the telecast.

Businessman Ping Garcia, who watched the fight via live streaming, said, “Discipline, dedication and talent did it for Pacman.

Dwight Jason Ronan, 22, said the fight was not as exciting as Pacquiao’s previous fights.

He added he wanted to see more action and drama on the fight.

University of the Philippines student Jehboy Bagalihog, 20, said he did not care much about this fight.“I don’t see its impact on our lives. What can we get after that win?”

Bagalihog said some people might have died out of sheer excitement.

In Cabuyao town, also in Laguna, the crowd cheered for Pacquiao since the national anthem opened Sunday's boxing match and jeered at Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto's bloodied face every time it was flashed on the screen.

“Magaling (Great)! This is one of the best fights I've seen, the other one was his fight against (Ricky) Hatton. Either way, what's important is he won,” said Victor Villano, 58, who has been following Pacquiao's fights.

“Pacquiao and even Aling Dionisia (Pacquiao's mother), will be richer,” said Elvie Bibal.

A live feed of the Pacquiao-Cotto fight was shown at the St. Vincent Academy, Barangay Mamatid, Cabuyao, Laguna.

It drew hundreds of residents to the school's gymnasium, even those from the flooded areas of the town.

Dr. Claire Reyta, who was with the Laguna Chapter of Red Cross conducting a bloodletting activity, said she only watched boxing when Pacquiao hit the ring.

In Cavite, resident Xyzie Ybanes, 50, said about a thousand watched the live screening of the Pacquiao-Cotto fight at the rooftop of the town market in Noveleta.

Local politicians sponsored the screening of the fight.

In Sta. Cruz, Laguna, the presence of relief goods in the covered court in Barangay Poblacion prevented the regular free screening of the bout, said town Mayor Ariel Magcalas.

He said they usually put up television sets at the four corners of the court but were not able to do so because the space was occupied by relief goods, including sacks of rice kept for distribution to the typhoon victims.

Nineteen thousand families were affected by Ondoy and Santi in September and October with several villages remaining under floodwater, said Magcalas.

The mayor, however, believed that even in such a dire situation, residents would still find ways to view the boxing match.

He said there was free screening of the Pacquiao-Cotto fight at the Arjem cockpit arena in Barangay Bubukal, but this one was sponsored by Laguna 4th district Rep. Egay San Luis.

Naga City Legal Officer Angel Ojastro III: “Pacquiao did not defeat Cotto, he destroyed him. As stated by Shane Mosley, Pacquiao is the Bruce Lee of boxing. He is revolutionizing boxing the way Bruce Lee revolutionized [other forms] of martial arts. Pacquiao has changed fundamental concepts of boxing.”

Fr. Wilmer Joseph Tria, priest, Archdiocese of Caceres: “It reflects Philippine elections: bet, watch, go home. No real participation, no genuine democracy.”

Fr. Norberto Eyuli, director, Socio-Pastoral Action Center, Archdiocese of Daet: “Win or lose Pacquiao, it's our pride.”

Kristoffer Sychay, coffee shop owner, Beanbag Coffee Naga: “It's a prelude to the much anticipated Pacquiao-Mayweather fight of the decade.”

John Concepcion, spokesperson Karapatan-Bicol: “I want Pacquiao to win. He's the pride of the Filipinos. What I would not want is for traditional politicians to use him (Pacquiao) to advance their interests, especially those who belong to the Arroyo administration.”

Reports from Gerald Gene Querubin, Donna Virola, Karen Lapitan, Maricar Cinco and Jonas Cabiles Soltes, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Laguna café also brews artists

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 18:52:00 11/07/2009

Filed Under: Restaurants & catering, Entrepreneurship

PAETE, LAGUNA, Philippines—Using the remains of demolished homes and buildings from nearby towns, a dentist here has put up a coffee shop, aimed to develop and promote local artistry.

Art aficionado Dr. Noli Valdecantos, 47, opened Kape Kesada on December 26, 2004 after attending a series of art exhibitions in Metro Manila that made him realize that Paete artists also deserve wider opportunities.

Located along J.V. Quesada street in Paete town, Kape Kesada is also known to brew local artists other than aromatic concoctions.

Asked on how he managed to combine his love for science and the arts, he said “when you are born in Paete, you are born an artist.”

He said his interest in art started when he was still a kid, mainly due to the artistic environment where he grew up, realizing that there’s no conflict when combining science and art.

No blueprint

The structure of Kape Kesada is in itself a work of art from accumulated old materials. From the walls to the lavatory, the coffee shop used recycled materials Valdecantos got from nearby towns and provinces.

“[Kape Kesada] is like a puzzle. No plan was formally made on how the structure should look like. I just gathered some useful recycled materials from demolished structures,” said Valdecantos, who spent almost two years in completing the whole structure.

The stone bricks of Kape Kesada were from an old church, the windows’ capiz parts were given by some Paete residents, while the wood he used were from demolished homes in Pila town and the provinces of Rizal and Quezon.

Haven for artists

Kape Kesada paved the way toward many opportunities for many home-grown artists.

The Paete Artists Guild was established along the process that supports local artists who want their talent to be exposed. Visual artists and singers primarily make up this group.

According to Valdecantos, Kape Kesada serves as the official venue for the artists’ exhibits and acoustic nights.

“After being given exposure here, we also help them through our contacts to have a more sustainable career,” he added.

As Kape Kesada serves as an exhibit area for Paete artists, customers can view and decide what to buy while sipping their cups of coffee. Art works of featured artists are also sold here.

“Most exhibitions in Manila are plainly viewing of paintings and other art works, but we offer more by allowing customers to feel more relaxed while drinking coffee,” Valdecantos claimed.

The coffee shop and art gallery offers a rustic and relaxing ambiance that has attracted many coffee and art lovers not only from Laguna but also from the metropolis as well.

Ambassadors of Spain and France are just two of the high profile personalities enticed by this coffee shop-art gallery.

Valdecantos thinks that local artistry must be preserved and promoted as this is what Paete is known for. “Paete artists have this huge potential, but they just don’t know how to get enough exposure,” while encouraging more young artists to develop their artistic sides.

“This is the pathway for artistic thought and its works,” he added, while emphasizing how proud he is to be from Paete.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brownouts, floods continue in southern Luzon areas

Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 18:14:00 11/03/2009

Filed Under: Electricity Production & Distribution, Disasters (general)

MANILA, Philippines -- Several parts of Southern Tagalog continue to endure brownout and floods while the number of casualties has risen days after sweeping typhoon Santi (international name: Mirinae) packed strong winds in the region.

In its latest report Tuesday, the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC) recorded a total of 17 deaths. Two persons remain missing.

Laguna accounted for 11 deaths with the recovery of another victim identified as Fidel Reyes, 26, in a river in Calamba City late Monday, said the RDCC.

Quezon and Cavite reported one death each; Rizal recorded two deaths; while in Batangas, the bodies of a father and a son who perished after a bridge collapsed were retrieved on Monday.

Anthony Espedido, 51, from Pagsanjan and Anthony Candelaria from Liliw in Laguna, however, remained missing

Meanwhile, several towns are still enduring a power outage since Saturday.

Power supply has not been restored in the towns of Alaminos, Magdalena, Liliw, Victoria, and San Pablo City in Laguna; Candelaria, Sariaya, and Tayabas in Quezon; and in Jalajala and Pililla in Rizal.

The flood reaching five feet high remained in Pagsanjan while water remained at knee to waist level in some villages in Los Baños, Mabitac and Liliw in Laguna.

The Department of Public Works and Highways-Calabarzon put the damage to infrastructure at P133 million, after the bridges of Colong-colong and Matingain in Lemery, and the “Bridge of Promise” in Batangas City, collapsed due to the flashfloods.

In Majayjay town in Laguna, the San Isidro bridge remained closed to traffic.

It also estimated a P1.8-million worth of damage in the collapse of bridges in Quezon.

In the Bicol Region, the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council in Camarines Norte, which was hard hit by typhoon Santi, reported a death toll of 11 as of Tuesday. Causes of death included drowning, extreme cold (hypothermia), and being hit by falling trees. Reports from Maricar P. Cinco, Karen Lapitan, Jonas Cabiles Soltes and Marrah Erika Lesaba, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Thursday, October 22, 2009

3,000 stuck in evacuation centers

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:33:00 10/22/2009

Filed Under: Lebanon evacuation, Ondoy

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—Three weeks after the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy,” at least 3,000 people are still packed in evacuation centers and can’t return to their homes.

A report of the municipal office action center said six shelters are still filled with evacuees.

A total of 736 families are still displaced.

In Barangay Tadlac, 410 families are either in a private lot of a subdivision or at the old barangay hall, the report said.

The initial evacuation center, the Tadlac Elementary School, cannot serve its purpose, as it has been flooded since Laguna Lake swallowed some parts of the village.

Tents temporarily serve as the homes of the evacuees.

The report said 4,345 homes are still submerged in water, some of which are now abandoned.

Officers of the municipal office are still distributing relief goods.

The Laguna Lake Development Authority has earlier reported that the water would subside in three to five more months. Karen Lapitan, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Weighing the costs of dredging the lake

By Clarice Colting-Pulumbarit, Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:48:00 10/14/2009

Filed Under: Ondoy, Health, Weather, Environmental Issues

MANILA, Philippines-Environmental science and agricultural engineering experts believe dredging can solve the rising water level of Laguna Lake but consequences must be weighed.

Dr. Macrina Zafaralla, a professor of environmental science at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB), said although she has espoused the dredging of the lake since the 1970s, recent literature has shown that if lake water is disturbed, all toxic and nontoxic sediments at the bottom of the lake would also be disturbed, posing a health hazard.

For land and water resources expert Dr. Victor Ella of the Institute of Agricultural Engineering-UPLB, dredging can lower the lake’s water level at a faster pace but it should be part of a comprehensive plan that includes the management of watersheds surrounding it.

Heavy metals

Zafaralla has been conducting studies regarding the state of the Laguna Lake based on its ecosystem since the 1970s.

She was also part of the team that formed a millennium assessment on the lake in 2005.

“If we disturb all the sediments that had been deposited in the lake for years, even the nontoxic sediments may be transformed into something harmful,” she said.

Possible effects of dredging include the reduction of fish catch, release of noxious odor, and more of the heavy metals present in the lake may be dissolved and released in overlaying water.

“Dredging can make heavy metals available and may be absorbed by algae, algae is eaten by fish, fish is eaten by man. It can be transferred to man and could pose a danger to health,” Zafaralla said.

Heavy metals that have been known in previous studies to be present in the lake are mercury, cadmium and lead which are harmful to humans and can even be cancerous, she said.

“We don’t know the extent of the damage and for how long it will be because it will be a virgin experience for us, but all parts of the lake ecosystem will be affected,” she said.

Zafaralla cited a study of the dredging of a lake in China that changed the water chemistry and composition of algae growing in the lake.

Another study showed that dredging may alleviate the problem only for a time but would return if the entry of pollutants in the lake are not controlled.

Public information

“I espouse dredging but the public will have to be informed of possible consequences,” she said.

Zafaralla said she had also voiced out during a conference on the Laguna Lake before Tropical Storm “Ondoy” struck that people should be informed of how many percent of the time their place would be inundated.

“Government agencies would have already drawn a topography map of which areas around the lake are easily inundated and would be the first to be inundated. There is available data, it should be published,” she said.

“The government should inform people—every municipality should have a map showing the probability of inundation depending on the amount of rainfall.”

A study Zafaralla did in 1977 showed water hyacinth growth in the lake.

Water hyacinth anchors itself to soil, and when it dies, it contributes to natural reclamation of the lakeshore thus, growth shows which areas are bound to get shallower first.


In the map showing results, areas with high hyacinth growth could be seen at the Marikina, Rizal and Laguna’s fourth district side which includes the towns of Sta. Cruz and Pakil.

She noted that these were among the areas hardest hit by the overflowing lake during Ondoy.

Ella noted that overflowing of the lake was due to extreme rainfall but also believed it was a contribution of different factors: direct runoff downhill aggravated by deforestation and loss of land cover.

“Overflow is partly the effect of long-term deposition of sediments that is why the lake has become very shallow.”

He said dredging is a good strategy to remove sedimentation and increase the water capacity of the lake but is concerned about its feasibility because it will take a long time.

“Without dredging, outflow of lake water is only through evaporation because there is very minimal seepage of water into the soil. With evaporation, water outflow would only reach 10 mm/day depending on prevailing weather conditions.”

Ella emphasized the importance of land cover and how much it helps despite a large amount of rainfall.

“Through interception of rain, it reduces impact and erosion. Vegetation also increases evapotranspiration which reduces moisture content of soil and increases infiltration capacity of soil. It delays runoff and retards flow of water downhill. Land cover also improves soil aggregation due to increased organic matter content of soil, and this soil will not easily be eroded.”

Comprehensive solution

Ella said dredging should not be a band-aid solution, after which sedimentation and erosion would return.

“The solution should be long-term and comprehensive, both involving watershed and lake management. There should be an over-all agency that will implement an integrated management of the two.”

He added that there were also problems with land-use planning—faulty drainage systems, silted waterways, and residential areas (subdivisions) built onto floodplains.

Ella noted that the concept of a spillway was also a good engineering solution—a connection between Laguna Lake and Manila Bay to serve as a conduit to evacuate excess water from Laguna Lake.

He suggested the creation of a hydrologic model for watersheds surrounding the lake to be able to see and predict the effects of land use change and climate change on runoff and sediments. A hydrologic model is a computer simulation model that mathematically represents the various hydrolic processes like runoff, evapotranspiration, infiltration, percolation, steamflow, baseflow, groundwater flow, erosion, etc., that take place in a watershed in response to rainfall.


Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) general manager Edgardo Manda said they were still in the process of planning the long-term dredging of Laguna Lake.

He clarified, however, that the agency plans to dredge the Napindan Channel first as it would help subside the flood around areas near the lake.

He said the dredging should be done regularly.

“LLDA will be responsible for the scientific aspect of the lake’s dredging, but the actual dredging will be done with the help of DPWH (Department of Pubic Works and Highways),” Manda said.

LLDA was still looking to fund the long-term dredging, he added.

He said dredging seemed to be one of the best ways of preventing excessive flooding.

“As for the heavy metal contents found in the lake, the proper disposal will also be part of our plan. People do not have to worry about the health hazards of such as we will carefully plan its disposal,” Manda said.

He said the agency’s experts were looking into the best ways to handle those harmful contents of the lake.

Aside from the sediments accumulated in the lake, the problem of illegal settling should also be addressed, according to Manda, adding that the people living near the lake add up to the problems of clogging the channels where water should freely flow.

“But it’s the solution on illegal settling that should be monitored by the local government units,” he said.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boatmen help by selling their boats cheap

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:14:00 10/12/2009

Filed Under: Ondoy, Flood, Disasters (general)

PAGSANJAN, Laguna, Philippines—Some boatmen here have sacrificed their source of income to help the residents affected by the flood in Laguna.

Robert Amonela, board member of the United Boatmen Association of Pagsanjan, said many of their members opted to sell their boats at much lower price.

Pagsanjan is popular for its falls.

Each boat ride to shoot the rapids costs P1,000, which goes to the municipal government. A boatman would get only P300.

“Some of us are now idle since there are no tourists coming here [in Pagsanjan]. That is the same reason some were pushed to sell their boats,” Amonela said.

“This is actually our form of help to Laguna residents whose homes are flooded up to now,” he said.

Amonela said the boats were sold at an average of P5,000, which is far beyond the ideal price. He said second hand boats cost P8,000 to P12,000, and brand new ones normally cost P25,000.

He said Pagsanjan boatmen were not making money out of the floods in Laguna. “Boats were sold to individuals who wanted to make a business out of them.”

Boats were sent to nearby flooded towns such as Siniloan, Paete, Sta. Cruz, and Victoria.

Boat rides among flooded towns in Laguna range from P20 to P40.

Karen Lapitan, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Loss of land to lake sinking in among execs

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: October 09, 2009

SAN PEDRO, LAGUNA, Philippines—The flood that has kept many towns of Laguna under water is making local chief executives realize that they are losing portions of the land to Laguna Lake.

“I think this will last longer,” San Pedro Mayor Calixto Cataquiz said.

As a temporary solution, Cataquiz said his office was transferring evacuees from the Central Elementary School to three buildings in the town to allow classes to resume.

But even after the flood subsides, “illegal settlers will now have to leave the shorelines,” he said because it would no longer be safe for people to live there.

He said the municipal government was requesting 5,000 housing units from the National Housing Authority to serve as permanent relocation shelters for displaced families.

At least 3,000 families in the town were displaced by the flood, of which about 300 are squatters.

Lumban Mayor Wilfredo Paraiso said most of the displaced people in his town were farm workers who lost crops when about 300 hectares of farmland were flooded.

He said his office was planning to impose a total log ban and a ban on the use of plastic materials as these clog waterways.

Luckier town

Unlike other towns, the flood that hit Sta. Maria following Tropical Storm “Ondoy” has receded, said Mayor Josie Cuento.

However, she said about 10 hectares of agricultural land were damaged by the deluge and at least 355 homes need to be rebuilt.

The municipal government is set to embark on tree planting to prevent landslides, which left several of the town’s roads mired in mud.

Mabitac Mayor Gerardo Fader is appealing to government agencies and private groups to help him revive the town, a fifth class municipality with a large portion of the population relying on agriculture.

“Both farm workers and fishermen were affected,” he said.

“Most of the farm workers do not actually own the land they till, and now, they have no source of income,” the mayor said.

In Pangil, large portions of three villages are still submerged in waist-deep flood, said Mayor Juanita Manzana.

“The flooded areas facing the lake are almost uninhabitable now. The residents are now in evacuation centers or relatives’ homes,” she said.

Lumban Mayor Wilfredo Paraiso said at least 1,400 families that rely on farming and fishing were displaced in the town.

On alert

The Laguna Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) is not taking chances against the possible rise of the lake that might again wreak havoc on already-flooded villages and municipalities as more typhoons and rains come.

Valentin Guidote, provincial planning officer and deputy coordinator of the PDCC, said people would have to be educated on environmental destruction and climate change.

Guidote reminded evacuees and residents to respond immediately and heed calls to evacuate.

“We are instructing people to build their own bamboo life savers, which are more durable than the rubber boats, to keep them afloat during floods.”

Expert’s view

The flooding could be largely due to the massive concreting of land areas as a result of rapid urbanization, the head of the country’s volcano and earthquake monitoring agency said.

“Land in Manila is almost wholly covered with concrete roads and pavements,” said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

He said water from heavy rains has nowhere to go “so that it takes more time for floods to subside.”

He said a rise in sea level, even if just millimeters, would have drastic effects.

One of these, he said, is soil sinking as a result of more water being depleted from ground sources than water being absorbed. Maricar Cinco, Karen Lapitan and Romulo Ponte with a report from Ray Nasol, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Floods to force developers to back off; land values dip

By Karen Lapitan, Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon

Posted date: October 08, 2009

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA—The lingering flood that inundated 18 towns and two cities in the province of Laguna may scare investors and developers from venturing into real estate businesses in the province.

This is the view of Noel Veracruz, provincial assessor whose office is located in Sta. Cruz, the capital town.

“One effect (of the flooding) is that it may instill a slight fear on the developers. They will now become more choosy (of the area) if it is flood-prone or not,” he said.

This is aside from the statement from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that its flood and geo-hazard map shows that riverbanks, lakeshore areas, creeks, floodways and river mouths are not suitable for settlements.

Nilo Tamoria, head of the DENR-Calabarzon, said efforts were being undertaken by the DENR’s Mines and GeoSciences Bureau to inform the local government units about this.

“Developers usually buy land at a cheap cost so they could sell it off at a higher price. But let’s say they are now to choose between the price of P500 per square meter and P800 per sq. m. for a lot, they may now opt to buy the latter so long as it is not in a flood-prone area,” Veracruz said.

The flood, which submerged lakeshore communities of Laguna, has lingered following the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana).

3 more months

The Laguna Lake Development Authority earlier said the deluge could persist for three more months, given the high water level of the Laguna Lake.

The value of land in Laguna ranges from up to P25,000 per square meter in highly urbanized areas like the town of Biñan to as low as P30 per sq. m. in agricultural lands and areas farther from urban centers, said Rachel Magcalas of the local assessment operations office.

About 40 percent of the total land area of the province, composed mostly of towns in the third and fourth districts, is classified as agricultural.

Asked if the office was expecting land values to depreciate, Magcalas said: “Not exactly, as most of these areas are not really like those of Ayala land. What will happen is that its value (before the flooding) may remain as such but will not appreciate anymore.”

She said that when the flood shall have receded, people would fix or renovate their houses or buildings, adding value to the property. “So it will not really depreciate,” she said.

The affected areas surrounding Laguna Lake are classified as residential, which are valued at between P150 per sq. m. and P200 per sq. m.

More cautious

“If you are to buy a property, you will now be more cautious if it is prone to flooding. The demand now (in these areas) will decrease,” Magcalas said.

On Sept. 28, the Bureau of Local Government Finance in the Calabarzon region (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) advised the provincial and municipal assessors and treasurers to conduct an immediate ocular inspection and reassessment of the storm-stricken areas for recomputation of real property taxes.

In the case of Laguna, Magcalas said the flooding had hampered her office in conducting a reassessment.

She said adjustments on taxes, particularly those paid in full for the year, would also be applied after the reassessment.

Affected residents could also take advantage of the real estate tax penalty and interest condonation program that the provincial government started in July. The program will end this year.

Real estate values in Los Baños are likely to suffer due to Ondoy, according to Marcelo Alcachupas, the municipal assessor.

Alcachupas said at least seven of the 14 barangays in the town were gravely affected as the floodwater had not subsided.

He added that this alone could affect the value of the properties, most especially residential ones.

Alcachupas predicted that in three to four months, many residents would sell their properties on rates that could be lower than the prevailing levels.

“It’s up to the discretion of property owners but most likely, there would be a sudden cut in existing rates,” he said.

Within Los Baños, 60 percent of the land is not taxable, he said.

The assessor said the flooding would also affect the tax collection of the municipal office because most of the affected villages were residential areas.

The government collects two percent of the declared value of a real estate.

“After the calamity, there could be more delinquent real estate taxpayers,” Alcachupas said.

He added that the residents might just end up selling some properties once the flood had subsided but might find it difficult to find buyers.

In Barangays Mayondon and Malinta, where the floodwater is still waist-high, the value of residential properties could drop even after a few months, according to Alcachupas.

The prevailing average rate in Barangay Malinta is P1,000 per sq. m., while it is P1,500 per sq. m. in Mayondon.

Barangay Batong Malake, which has the highest prevailing rate that reaches up to P15,000 per sq. m., was spared from the flood.

Selling at rock-bottom prices

Alcachupas himself is planning to sell two pieces of property in Barangay Malinta.

He owns a 542-sq. m. lot that he would soon sell for P1 million even if the ideal price is P1.5 million under the prevailing rates.

He said he would sell his 672-sq. m. house and lot property for P1.5 million instead of P2.5 million. “I have no choice but to sell it at rock-bottom price,” Alcachupas said.

He bought the two properties more than a decade ago.

He already lost around P300,000 worth of property inside his home in Barangay Malinta, including a car which was damaged after the Laguna Lake overflowed.

Alcachupas is now renting an apartment in Barangay Batong Malake, a village far from the flooded areas in Los Baños.

“Our [family’s] safety should come first,” he said.

Nowhere to go

Bec Salazar of Barangay Mayondon, another flooded village in Los Baños town, has no definite plans yet about leaving her bungalow, an inherited property from her parents.

“We have nowhere to go,” she said. Her family is temporarily staying at a relative’s house in a nearby village.

Asked if she would consider selling the family’s 300-sq. m. property, she said, “I am not sure if anyone would be interested to buy it, in the first place.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bayanijuan folk grateful for safe haven

By Karen Lapitan, Sunshine Lichauco de Leon
Philippine Daily Inquirer Inquirer Southern Luzon

Posted date: October 06, 2009

CALAUAN, LAGUNA—Former vendor Tess Ortinero, 59, wondered where she would be now—whether she would even still be alive—if she were still living along a Manila estero the night Tropical Storm “Ondoy” came.

That thought also ran through the mind of Corazon Aguillon, 49.

Ortinero, Aguillon and their families used to live at Estero de Paco. In June, they were among the first 271 families relocated to Bayanijuan sa Calauan, the resettlement site of the Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig (KBPIP) river rehabilitation project.

The 107-hectare property, co-managed by ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) and the National Housing Authority (NHA), is where people who had been struggling to survive against stark odds are building a new community.

“If we stayed in Paco, I’m not sure we could have survived Ondoy,” Ortinero told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Monday. She said she heard their former place had been swamped by roof-high floods.

“Here, Ondoy was almost not felt,” she said. The relocation site had escaped flooding.

“We are grateful we moved here. I can’t imagine where we would be now if we chose to stay there,” said Aguillon, a mother of four.

Some residents of the new community are into poultry, others into gardening. A handful have put up sari-sari stores.

Reviving a river

The project is part of the efforts to bring the Pasig River back to life.

The main strategy of KBPIP, with the help of the environment department, is to put up Clean River Zones near the Pasig and its tributaries.

The project’s first goal is to have the 5,000 informal settlers at Estero de Paco relocated to Calauan within five years. The 3-km stretch to be cleared runs from the tenement houses on Quirino Avenue, through Paco market and ends at the entrance to the Pasig.

Since the informal settlers directly contribute to the river’s pollution (studies show each individual removed from the area means removal of half a kilo per day of waste), cleaning the river must start with the transfer of these families.

“Tributaries are like arteries in the human body. If they are blocked, the body can’t function well,” KBPIP president Gina Lopez said.

Life of drugs

For 17-year-old Shaolin, living along the estero was synonymous to a life of daily drug use and petty crime. Addicted to sniffing rugby since age 6, he never attended school.

Since moving to Calauan, he has quit taking drugs. He runs errands, helps with manual labor, takes part in night patrols.

“It is the first time I feel loved and accepted. I want to help make this place beautiful and orderly,” Shaolin said.

On Estero de Paco, 10 families lived in makeshift structures on a 20-sq.m. lot. Family members took turns sleeping for lack of space.

The river was used as toilet, shower and garbage dump. The trash was so thick you would never know a river lay underneath. Children could walk on it as if it were a landfill.

Woe to babies if they fell in the river. It would be virtually impossible to find them.

There was also the unbearable stench. Death and disease were commonplace.

Peace of mind

Hermi, who lived along the estero for 15 years, said: “Before, I was scared all the time. Now I have peace of mind that my children will not fall into the river or get hit by the speeding cars.”

Cheryl, a mother, said: “My children used to play inside the house because I was afraid the water in the estero would rise and they would fall in. Now they can run freely.”

Thelma, a grandmother, said: “The children do not get sick anymore. They used to always have lumps, colds and fever that never went away.”

New life

At the Bayanijuan, each family moved into a newly painted house (30-sq.m. room with a bathroom) on a 40-sq.m. lot. They were given a welcome kit of groceries from Nestlé, hygienic supplies and a sack of rice from Unilever.

An orientation explained to them the importance of hygiene, as well as the opportunities and rules of their new environment.

Lopez said: “We tell them it’s a clean slate for all of them, and whatever they did before does not matter. But it’s bayanihan. There are rules and we have to work together. We will help them but they must also learn to help themselves.”

Derived from the term “bayanihan” or “everyone working together,” the name of the community is a play on the words “bayani” (hero) and “Juan” (for “Every Filipino”).

In Bayanijuan, everyone, it seems, is a hero.

New skills

In exchange for community work, each adult gets a salary for the first two months. Then they are taught new skills.

“You need to take care of them so they don’t go back,” Lopez said.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has organized a livelihood training program teaching carpentry, electrical repair and painting.

Trainees have been fixing the ceiling of a day-care center which, thanks to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, will open in December.

Upon receiving their TESDA certificates, the newly skilled workers may apply for work in Ayala Land’s nearby Sta. Rosa development project.

A Dubai-based company offers work to those who speak English. English classes will also soon be offered to the residents.

Protecting the environment

Out-of-school youths make frames and lamps from recycled paper under a project called Bags for Life.

Surrounded by agricultural land, residents are taught how to care for the environment.

With seeds donated by the Army and the agriculture department, many grow organic short rotation crops, such as corn and cassava.

There are plans to build a central sewage system and to start a vermiculture project. Samuel Ortinero, 40, has organized the composting of trash.

He said: “Waking up to nature makes you feel closer to God ... We are inspired by the values being taught here.”

Everyone helps

Other plans include building a children’s playground and a basketball court.

The resettlement has been made possible through partnerships of government agencies, the military, the private sector, individuals and nongovernment groups.

The project started during the Estrada presidency but was left unfinished with his ouster. When KBPIP was named co-manager of the project, its NHA partner turned over 700 unfinished houses.

With the help of Globe Asiatique and Habitat for Humanity, the windows and floors were fixed and the renovated homes were given to the first 271 families.

More funds are needed to build more houses.

Hope named Juanita

Corporate sponsorship for housing is key. San Miguel Corp.’s P21-million donation last month will ensure that 300 more families from Paco can have new homes.

Asked why they picked this project, SMC president Ramon Ang said: “It was the sincerity and passion of Gina Lopez that did it ... We saw a wonderful opportunity to help people and clean up the river.”

Two months ago, the first baby was born in Bayanijuan. Named Juanita, she sleeps in a basket crib in her parents’ new home.

Juanita’s coming signifies hope for the river, its people, and what can happen if you believe in the possibility of change.