Philippines: Laguna Lake residents weather the storm
13 November 2012

Laguna Lake residents have suffered a succession of storms since mid-August 2012, and the storm season is not yet over. (Louie Bacomo/JRS)
The government provided 70,000 pesos [1,667 US dollars] to rebuild a house, but we had no safe land safe to build on.
Laguna Lake, 13 November 2012 — Communities around Laguna Lake, just east of the capital, Manila, are still suffering from the aftermath of flooding from a succession of tropical storms, the latest of which, Typhoon Ofel, hit the country late last month.

"I can hear the waves crashing into the walls of our house [at night]", Helen, a 53-year old grandmother and long-time resident of Laguna, said while standing in the kitchen where lake water still splashed on her feet.

Norrie, Helen's husband, has already taken off the wooden kitchen wall to save the plywood from damage. During strong winds and rains caused by Typhoon Ofel, Helen takes her six-year old granddaughter to stay with relatives living on dryer ground.

Peoples' safety and livelihoods are continually threatened by the absence of relocation plans, insufficient support services and increasing poverty.

According to a news report by United Press International on 29 October, Typhoon Ofel left 27 people dead and 19 others injured, while displacing more than 11,000 throughout the Philippines. The Mimaropa, Calabarzon and Visayas regions were hit the hardest.

Rain, bad for business. The onslaught of natural disasters continues to wipe out investments made by people in infrastructure and materials, heightening vulnerabilities.

Jernee and Aiza make papier-mâché products for a living, earning a daily wage of 140 Philippine pesos, nearly 3.5 US dollars. Once a thriving export-industry in Laguna, papier-mâché is being ruined by the dampness of the rainy season.

Fishing, the traditional livelihood in the area, also offers few opportunities during this time as the waves are too strong to go out on the open waters, according to local people.

As one of the poorest areas in the municipality, Cabulusan residents rely heavily on farming, fishing and papier-mâché all of which have nosedived as a result of the storms.

While Laguna Lake used to be a primary source of fish, but for one local village barangay, or chief, the industry is waning.

"It now takes too long to grow fishes in cages. I have not harvested in the last two months", he said.

Other families have to take out loans to keep their businesses running. Household heads – such as single mother or four, Edna Florano – feel they have no other choice, but to go into debt.

"Otherwise we will have nothing to eat", she told Jesuit Refugee Service staff in the Philippines.

Relocation stalled. Of the more than 330,000 people living the area surrounding Laguna Lake, approximately 1,000 struggle in similar circumstances. Communities in 16 provinces on Luzon Island were in the process of relocating after the Southwest Monsoon struck last August, according to a report by the Philippine state body, the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

While the local barangay has proposed a relocation site to the municipal government, payment negotiations for the private land have been stalled.

Jernee and Aiza Agnes, a young couple with two small children, returned home a week ago to find that after two months, the water has only receded about 10 metres from where it was during the August floods that destroyed more than 14,000 houses, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.

"[Three months] was too long to stay in someone else's house", said Jernee, explaining why they returned.

Not over yet. The typhoon season will last until the end of this month, and with an annual average of 20 tropical cyclones, people only recover one storm to get hit by the next.

"I can't clean the mud off my floor because another storm might flood my house again", said one resident.

Typhoon Ofel comes three years after Typhoon Ketsana— the second most devastating typhoon in the region in recent decades— hit communities in Cabulusan, Panguil, leaving more than 740 people dead and a billion US dollars in damages.

Florida Sahagun, a widow, recalled "waves as high as coconut trees" from Ketsana that destroyed the upper section of her house. She is now repairing her mud-encrusted house from the August 2012 floods to make it liveable again.

Chona Unabia, another flood survivor in Panguil, had her house destroyed by Kestana and now wishes to be relocated.

"The government provided 70,000 pesos [1,667 US dollars] to rebuild a house, but we had no safe land safe to build on", she said.

The family continues to face the onslaught of typhoons that come their way each year.

Those who have returned to their homes after two months of flooding are once again preparing to evacuate. On 29 October, during the JRS team visit,  the government issued storm signal one – a warning to the disaster response teams in all municipalities to be on standby alert.

When will people feel safe again?

Louie Bacomo, JRS Asia Pacific Regional Programme Officer

*The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is working with the Social Action Center (SAC) network of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)-Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to assist families in the municipalities of Pakil and Panguil in the province of Laguna with food items and livelihood grants for early recovery.




Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 69 868 468