[PHOTO AT LEFT - SEA OF TRASH: Manila City Hall workers remove tons of garbage from Manila Bay which piled up along the Roxas Boulevard breakwater after typhoon ‘Marce’ brought heavy rains and floods to many parts of the country last Wednesday. Photo By Willy Perez ]

MANILA,  August 27, 2004 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - The flashfloods that inundated Metro Manila in the wake of typhoon "Marce" and the onset of typhoon "Chaba" have prodded President Arroyo to pursue her plan to decongest the metropolis as outlined in her 10-point priority agenda.

The President saw an opportunity in the "calamity aftermath" to put into action the government’s program to decongest Metro Manila — particularly by relocating squatters who have put up shanties along canals and other floodway channels.

Mrs. Arroyo made the statement a day after she and Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando conducted an unscheduled inspection of the Pandacan pumping station Wednesday after floods spawned by inclement weather submerged many low-lying parts of the metropolis.

The President saw for herself the huge mass of garbage that washed out to the Pasig River.

Storm drains around Metro Manila were clogged by garbage, causing the floods that displaced hundreds of families, most of them squatters, stranded commuters and triggered landslides in San Mateo, Rizal.

"I sympathize with the families of the victims of this disaster and I commend the national government agencies, the MMDA and the local government units for their swift and effective response to alleviate the situation," she said.

"Nevertheless, the flooding that hit Metro Manila only strengthens our resolve to decongest the metropolis and relocate those families dwelling in flashflood danger zones to safer ground, aside from improving our anti-flood measures and drainage systems," she added.

The President said in a statement that "calamity can combine with crisis and we will meet these challenges with political will and solidarity. These efforts are already in place and shall be sustained by the teamwork of the national and local governments."

Schools and government offices in Metro Manila stayed closed as emergency workers mopped up after two days of typhoon-induced bad weather that officials said left up to 12 people dead or missing.

Nearly 16,000 people remained at government-run evacuation centers a day after soldiers in helicopters, boats and amphibious trucks plucked them from flooded residential areas in Metro Manila, the Office of Civil Defense at Camp Aguinado said.

It listed five dead from drowning and landslides in Metro Manila and in the northern part of the country and said three other people are missing. Police meanwhile listed four other dead in a road accident in the rain-lashed Ilocos Sur.

As the floods abated, the President kept government offices in Metro Manila closed except for emergency services, while Education Secretary Florencio Abad suspended classes in all levels.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Sciences Administration (PAGASA) said southwest monsoons that were enhanced by typhoon Marce had dumped heavy rain across the northern half of the country since Wednesday.

According to the latest PAGASA report, Merce was located at 710 kilometers northwest of Batanes island at 2 p.m. yesterday with maximum sustained center winds of 65 kilometers per hour and gustiness of up to 80 kph. It is slowly moving west.

Typhoon Chaba was located 1,410 km east-northeast of Batanes with maximum sustained center winds of 190 kph and gustiness of up to 230 kph. It is moving north-northwest at 15 kph.

The southwest monsoon is affecting Luzon and the Western Visayas.

PAGASA said Luzon will experience occasional rains, which will become more frequent over Western Luzon. The Western Visayas will experience cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms.

The rest of the country will be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rainshowers and thunderstorms.

Moderate to strong winds blowing from the southwest will prevail over Luzon and the Visayas and coastal waters in these areas will be moderate to high. Elsewhere, the winds will be light to moderate blowing from the southwest with slight to moderate seas. — With Felix de los Santos, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved