MANILA, September 3, 2003  (STAR) By Rainier Allan Ronda - Classes in several areas in Metro Manila were suspended yesterday afternoon due to heavy rains that left streets flooded and thousands of students stranded.

While no public storm warning was raised over Manila area, the weather bureau said Typhoon "Onyok" had enhanced the southwest monsoon, dumping heavy rains on the capital and the western sections of the country.

In Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Malabon and San Juan, classes in elementary and high school were already suspended in the morning. But in major schools in the University Belt, classes were suspended just as students arrived in school.

Hundreds of students expressed frustration with the late announcement of the class suspension by the Department of Education (DepEd), saying an earlier one would have spared them the hardship of getting rides and trudging through the flooded streets of Metro Manila.

Radio reports said that as early as 9 a.m., several routes to school were no longer passable to vehicles. These include España street in Manila all the way to Trabaho market, E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, Mayapis, Don Bosco to Makati Cinema Square in Makati City, Letre in the boundary of Navotas and Caloocan, Tumana Bridge in Marikina City, and nine other areas in Caloocan City as well as most parts of the Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzuela (CAMANAVA) area.

Waters reached waist-deep levels in several areas, causing traffic jams.

Education Undersecretary Ramon Bacani said that in other areas of the country, the decision to suspend classes should come from their respective local government units, the DepEd regional offices or even from individual schools themselves.

Manila Mayor Lito Atienza said that the confusion over the suspension of classes yesterday could have been avoided if the decision rests with the mayors under a decentralized decision-making process.

Decisions that affect local government units, from the suspension of classes due to bad weather to development initiatives, should be made by local chief executives, Atienza said.

He added that in his capacity as president of the Metro Manila Mayors’ League, he will ask for a meeting with DepEd officials to set up a more effective procedure for the suspension of classes in the metropolis in case of inclement weather.

As of 2 p.m., at least 36 areas were reported submerged in flood but the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Metro base said that floodwater quickly subsided in most of these areas.

However, at least seven barangays in Quezon City were advised to prepare some of their residents for possible evacuation after water in the La Mesa Dam reached critical levels at around 10:30 a.m.

The Quezon City Department of Public Order and Safety (DPOS) alerted barangays North Fairview, Gulod, Sta. Lucia, Bagong Silang, Kaligayahan, San Bartolome and Nagkakaisang Nayon as well as residents living along the Tullahan River and creeks.

Daniel Baui, Manila Waters head controller, said flooding is expected if the water in the dam continues to rise. From 80.15 meters, the dam’s water level reached 80.34 meters shortly after 2 p.m. The water in the dam will be released when it reaches 81.5 meters.

Manuel Sabalsa, chief of the DPOS, said despite continuous rains there were no major floodings reported in the city. This was in part due to the Operation Plan Sagip Batis, a massive cleanup of creeks, rivers and waters in Quezon City implemented early this year by Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando.

The city government and the MMDA hauled tons of debris which accumulated for years in the waterways. Belmonte also ordered a tight watch on the rivers and creeks after the cleanup drive to insure that garbage will not be dumped there again. — With Nikko Dizon, Sheila Crisostomo, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Pia Lee Brago, Perseus Echeminada, Jerry Botial, AP, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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