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Sleepless in flooded Manila

Light rain in the early morning is a welcome treat for Carmelite Father Gilbert Billena every time he goes home to the southern Philippines. However, perfect mornings in his parish in Manila are rare, especially during the rainy season in this tropical country.
Monsoon rains are terrifying during the rainy season, said the priest, especially with the seemingly endless downpours causing widespread flooding in the country’s capital.
Since July, Father Billena has placed his parish on “disaster preparedness alert.”
Before daybreak on August 11, the priest sat in front of a window on the top floor of his convent with a two-way radio in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He was resting after an all night mission to rescue poor residents in low-lying areas of his parish that were inundated after a nearby river overflowed.
“Every time the water level rises, families are forced to flee to temporary shelters,” Father Billena observed.
Heavy downpours and widespread flooding have already affected over a million people in Metro Manila and nearby regions.
Church leaders have joined civil authorities in aiding displaced families. 
The National Secretariat for Social Action/Caritas has assured the public that its centres in affected dioceses will serve as temporary shelters.
Father Billena, however, warned that food would eventually run low because the flooding is expected to return in coming days because of more rain.
“The situation is getting worse every year,” he said. “Our experience here tells us that our environment is really deteriorating,” he added.
The Kalikasan Peoples’ Network for the Environment noted that severe flooding in the Philippine capital and nearby areas is aggravated by the destruction of the ecosystem.
Clemente Bautista, the group’s coordinator, said that flooding has become “a normal event” in many low-lying city centres like Manila.
The environmental advocate said the country’s forests capacity by to hold and gradually release water downstream was diminishing.
“Projects that convert and use large parts of forested regions into commercial and industrial purposes add to the degradation of the environment,” he said.
These development projects include mining, industrial logging, the mono-cropping industry destroy the “natural balance of the ecosystem,” Bautista said.
He said flooding would likely worsen in the coming days because of the building of dams that disrupt the natural flow of water from the mountains. There at least seven dams whose waters naturally flow toward the Philippine capital. 
“Imagine if these dams release water simultaneously, the result will be devastating,” Bautista pointed out. 
Tribal groups in the mountains north of Manila have repeatedly voiced opposition to the planned construction of two more dams which they said would displace communities and submerge cities and towns.
Redemptorist Father Teody Holgado, spokesperson of a network of tribal rights advocates, said the proposed dams will add to the destruction of the environment.
“These dams are like train wrecks waiting to happen,” he said.
Peasant leader, Nestor Cortez, in the northern province of Tarlac, said that while the dam projects would benefit the business sector “it will destroy the lives of thousands of tribal people.”
For now, the rainy season means sleepless nights for Father Billena and his impoverished parishioners.
“Sleepless nights mean more cups of coffee for me,” said the priest in jest. “It is really bad for my health,” he said. 
“But why should I worry about myself if people die because of floods that could have been avoided?” Mark Saludes/UCAN

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