[PHOTO -MARIKINA NIGHTMARE An aerial shot of the swollen Marikina River taken on Wednesday and released by the Department of National Defense. More than a million people in and around Metro Manila battled deadly floods as monsoon rains poured endlessly for days trapping both slum dwellers and the wealthy on rooftops in neck-deep waters. AFP/DND]

MANILA, AUGUST 11, 2012 (INQUIRER)  By Jeannette I. Andrade, Kristine L. Alave - As the skies cleared and the sun shone for the first time in days, the weather bureau on Thursday lifted the heavy rainfall warning in Metro Manila.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said it was expecting a gradual improvement in the weather toward the weekend as the “habagat” (southwest monsoon) continued to weaken.

For good measure, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle issued an “oratio imperata,” a special prayer for protection from the threat of calamities.

Tagle asked the faithful to implore God to stop the rains that had flooded and paralyzed Metro Manila the past several days.

The monsoon rains, which dumped about 300 mm (12 inches)—or three times the daily average—from late Monday to Tuesday, were the heaviest in three years, Pagasa said.

Characteristic of monsoon

It said thunderstorms would continually bring intermittent rains over Luzon from late afternoon to dawn.

Weather forecaster Fernando Cada said intermittent rains, a characteristic of the monsoon, were previously enhanced by a shallow low pressure area as well as by Typhoon “Gener” and Tropical Storm “Haikui,” which dumped a large volume of rain on large swathes of Luzon over the past two weeks.

“There is currently no weather system that could enhance the southwest monsoon. But we have observed rain clouds on the Doppler radar and satellite images over the West Philippine Sea that have not dissipated despite dumping rains in Central Luzon, Metro Manila and portions of southern Luzon,” Cada said.

He explained that the rain clouds normally would have dissipated but they had not expected it would bring bursts of downpour over some areas in Luzon.

While generally good weather is expected over the weekend, conditions in the country would gradually improve except in Luzon particularly in the Ilocos provinces, La Union, Pangasinan, Zambales, Pampanga, Bataan and Bulacan where moderate to occasional frequent rains were expected.

Cada said residents in Zambales and Pampanga should be on alert for lahar flows because of the rains.

He said floods and landslides in low-lying areas and river channels were possible so residents were advised to take precautionary measures.

At around 12:20 p.m. Thursday the Pagasa lifted the heavy rainfall warning over Metro Manila after light to moderate rainfall (1 mm to 7 mm per hour) was observed from 10 a.m. to noon.

The weather bureau, however, said that residents in Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas cities were still advised to expect the possible occurrence of thunderstorms, which might bring moderate to heavy rain.

Beseeching God

In a statement, Tagle requested Catholics to “pray kneeling down the following Oratio Imperata in our Masses (after the Post Communion Prayer), Holy Hours, celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and the praying of the rosary.”

Tagle’s prayer, which beseeches God to stop the heavy rains, also carries a message: It reminds Filipinos that the abuses they heaped on the environment was responsible for the disaster.

Tagle’s prayer, called “Oratio Imperata for the Deliverance from Calamities,” read: “We have not been good stewards of Nature. We have confused Your command to subdue the earth. The environment is made to suffer our wrongdoing, and now we reap the harvest of our abuse and indifference.”

Classes still suspended

Msgr. Joselito Asis, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said there was a need for prayer to give people strength and comfort as they rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the disasters spawned by a storm and heavy rains the past weeks.

Classes in all levels in public schools in Manila, however, are still suspended Friday as the city’s major thoroughfares are still flooded, but work in City Hall will resume, Mayor Alfredo Lim said.

Lim said Lagusnilad, the underpass in front of City Hall that was filled with at least 16 feet of water Thursday, would be passable Friday.

The Recto Avenue underpass, where water was estimated to reach 20 feet, will be open to motorists in two or three days, the mayor said.

Lim said the city was placed in a state of calamity to allow barangay leaders access to calamity funds.

Still in disbelief

As the sun began to peek Thursday, Crisell Beltran was still in disbelief at how so much damage was left behind.

“Was there really no storm, with this kind of flooding?” asked the barangay captain of Bagong Silangan in Quezon City.

Told that it was indeed a nameless monsoon that dumped rains since Monday night, Beltran quipped: “Then what a traitor it was.”

She had her hands full since Tuesday, with thousands of persons who fled from perilous floods.

Some low-lying areas of the community, like Sitio Clemencia, Gawad Kalinga and Tagumpay, were still submerged in muddy waters.

Floods in those areas reached more than 15 feet, Beltran said. With reports from Nancy C. Carvajal and Julie M. Aurelio

Philippine floods a man-made disaster—experts By Mynardo Macaraig Agence France-Presse

[PHOTO -Shanties built along the bank of the river are submerged under flood water as a river overflows in suburban Cainta City, east of Manila, Philippines, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. A government report released in 2009 called for 2.7 million people in shantytowns to be moved from “danger zones” alongside riverbanks, lakes and sewers. But squatter communities in danger zones have in fact grown since 2009. AP /PAT ROQUE ]

MANILA, Philippines—Deadly floods that have swamped nearly all of the Philippine capital are less a natural disaster and more the result of poor planning, lax enforcement and political self-interest, experts say.

Damaged watersheds, massive squatter colonies living in danger zones and the neglect of drainage systems are some of the factors that have made the chaotic city of 15 million people much more vulnerable to enormous floods.

Urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel said the Philippines had enough technical know-how and could find the necessary financing to solve the problem, but there was no vision or political will.

“It’s a lack of appreciation for the benefits of long-term plans. It’s a vicious cycle when the planning, the policies and enforcement are not very well synchronized,” said Einseidel, who was Manila’s planning chief in1979-89.

“I haven’t heard of a local government, a town or city that has a comprehensive drainage masterplan.”

Eighty percent of Manila was this week covered in waters that in some parts were nearly two meters (six feet and six inches) deep, after more than a normal August’s worth of rain was dumped on the city in 48 hours.

Twenty people have died and two million others have been affected, according to the government.

The deluge was similar to one in 2009, a disaster that claimed more than 460 lives and prompted pledges from government leaders to make the city more resistant to floods.

A government report released then called for 2.7 million people in shantytowns to be moved from “danger zones” alongside riverbanks, lakes and sewers.

Squatters, attracted by economic opportunities in the city, often build shanties on river banks, storm drains and canals, dumping garbage and impeding the flow of waterways.

The plan would have affected one in five Manila residents and taken 10 years and P130 billion ($3.11 billion) to implement.

But squatter communities in danger zones have in fact grown since 2009.

“With the increasing number of people occupying danger zones, it is inevitable there are a lot people who are endangered when these things happen,” Einseidel said.

He blamed the phenomenon on poor enforcement of regulations banning building along creeks and floodways, with local politicians often wanting to keep squatters in their communities to secure their votes at election time.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Manila, vital forested areas have been destroyed to make way for housing developments catering to growing middle and upper classes, according to architect Paulo Alcazaren.

Alcazeren, who is also an urban planner, said the patchwork political structure of Manila had made things even harder.

The capital is actually made up of 16 cities and towns, each with its own government, and they often carry out infrastructure programs – such as man-made and natural drainage protection – without coordination.

“Individual cities can never solve the problem. They can only mitigate. If you want to govern properly, you must re-draw or overlay existing political boundaries,” he said.

Solutions to the flooding will require massive efforts such as re-planting in natural drainage basins, building low-cost housing for the squatters and clearing man-made drainage systems, the experts said.

“It will cost billions of pesos but we lose billions anyway every time it floods,” Alcazeren said.

Meanwhile, with Environment Secretary Ramon Paje warning that intense rains like those this week will become the “new normal” due to climate change, there have been concerns about the city’s ability to lure and keep foreign investors.

However, American Chamber of Commerce president Rhicke Jennings said Manila remained an attractive destination.

“Companies will continue to invest in the Philippines for all its positive qualities,” he said, citing well-trained Filipino staff and pointing out there were key parts of the city with good infrastructure that did not badly flood.

Jennings highlighted the rise of the outsourcing sector in the Philippines as evidence that foreigners would not abandon the country because of floods.

Companies such as JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Accenture have all set up backroom operations in recent years, mostly in slick new parts of Manila where infrastructure is state-of-the-art and which did not flood this week.

From virtually nothing a decade ago, 600,000 people are now employed in the outsourcing sector and the industy is expecting that number to more than double by 2016 as more foreign firms move in.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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