Sitio Pariahan in Bulakan, Bulacan
Sitio Pariahan in Barangay Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan is once a lively coastal village, now submerged in Manila Bay water, displacing hundreds of residents. The floodwater surrounding Sitio Pariahan may be a scene familiar with Filipinos who are living in flood-prone areas. The difference is that the flooding in Sitio Pariahan has become permanent, and never again subsided.
Residents would use to walk in their community school, basketball court, chapel and residential houses. Today, most of the structures are in ruins. The only way to get around this village is by boat. What remains functional are houses of around 30 families, built on bamboo stilts, who chose to stay and live with the water.
Sitio Pariahan, Barangay Taliptip Map
Sitio Pariahan is part of Barangay Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan. Bulakan is located about 30 kilometers from Manila. Further south of Barangay Taliptip are stretches of coastal areas of Navotas and Malabon, both already a part of Metro Manila.
Zoom in on the "Abandoned Santa Cruz Chapel" and you’ll find a cluster of structures in the middle of the bay. That is what remains of Sitio Pariahan today.
Our Boat Ride to Sitio Pariahan
It takes around 40 minutes by pump boat to reach Sitio Pariahan from Barangay Taliptip. We rented a boat just past the bridge in Bagumbayan St. We passed through vast fishponds for most of the boat ride and occasional mangroves on our way to Sitio Pariahan.
After 30-ish minutes into a seemingly boring boat ride, our dozing cameras went on alert again as soon as we spotted a cluster of bamboo stilt shacks. Seeing the houses on stilts had me going back to the scenes of Kampong Phluk in Cambodia, though the story in this so-called floating village is quite different from Sitio Pariahan. (Read about Kampong Phluk in Cambodia here.)
Our boatman also pointed to us the elementary school, a large salt storage area and the community's abandoned Sta Cruz Chapel. Apart from fishing, the coastal village of Sitio Pariahan also once flourished in salt-making.
To Leave or To Stay?
There used to be around a hundred houses in Sitio Pariahan. When the village was permanently inundated, residents were forced to move inland in surrounding barangays.
A few families, however, chose to adapt to the change in environment and refused to leave their homes. They raised their houses in stilts and continued to survive through fishing. They sell their catch in the public market or bring them to the fish port of Obando, the town next to Bulakan.
Children who remained living here patiently go to school located inland through a boat ride.
Why is Sitio Pariahan Sinking?
Why did Sitio Pariahan suffer this fate? There is no single answer to this question. Read on below to learn what residents and the scientific community have to say.
According to locals, Sitio Pariahan became irreversibly flooded after Typhoon Mina pounded the Philippines in August 2011. As if the place isn’t battered yet by heavy rains, another Typhoon named Pedring, devastated the Philippines just a month after. Both typhoons brought torrential rains that submerged many parts of Metro Manila.
On the other hand, other locals would attribute the sinking episode to the various reclamation projects along Manila Bay coast. One of the nearest to Sitio Pariahan is the reclamation project in Malabon, Metro Manila during the 1980s, where fishponds were filled for residential and commercial settlement.
The scientific community, spearheaded by the University of the Philippines – Marine Science Institute (UP- MSI) and the National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS), had a different view. Backed up by years of study since 1997, experts had expressed alarm at the rate Metro Manila is sinking. Some parts of the nearby Bulacan and Pampanga provinces have the same disturbing situation.
Experts say that land subsidence or the sinking of land is the major cause of worsening floods in low-lying areas even without rains. Excessive groundwater extraction from deep wells is the primary cause why land subsides at a rate as fast as 4 to 5 cm per year. That’s about ¼ of a meter or almost 10 inches in 5 years!
The operation of fishponds is one of the largest consumer of groundwater in coastal communities in Bulacan, places known for abundant fish supply. Even the local water districts in Bulacan source their supply from groundwater, compounding to the problem on overextraction.
While the new Bulacan Bulk Water project aims to supplement water supply in Bulacan by sourcing from surface water, the local water districts would still continue extracting water from the ground.
For most people, it is easy to blame climate change for the worsening flooding. And why not? It is a global issue that a lot of people are now increasingly aware of. However, experts say that sea level rise due to global warming is only about 2 mm per year, as compared to the 4-5 cm per year land subsidence.
Hence, in order to mitigate this problem, efforts must be focused on solving what is causing 80-90% of the problem. At any rate, the combination of these two factors would still aggravate the flooding problem.
The Looming New Manila International Airport
Now, here’s another aspect to the sinking Sitio Pariahan story. Within Barangay Taliptip where Sitio Pariahan is located, a 2,500 hectare international airport project by the San Miguel Corporation is currently being pursued. The reclamation project will be located along Manila Bay.
Locals are threatened over the potential adverse impacts of the reclamation project. Considering that their place is already flood-prone and that they source their livelihood from the water resources, they worry about the effects of the project in their livelihood and the flooding situation. In fact, one of the sitios, as cited here, today is already irreversibly flooded.
Benefits for the locals and the nation
First, let us look at the bright side. Should the project come to fruition, it will ease out the airport congestion in the existing Manila airport. It will provide employment opportunities for the locals and will ease traffic congestion around the Manila airport roads.
Threats to locals and the environment
However, as with all human activities, we also need to look at the potential negative effects of the proposed airport so that appropriate management measures should be taken. Will the mangroves spread out across Barangay Taliptip’s waters be affected?
Mangroves serve as habitat for small fishes, crabs, shrimps and shellfish which the locals harvest for a living. Mangroves also filter pollutants from surface water and protect against strong waves. They are also home to waterfowls and other bird species that thrive in mangroves.
Where will the 2,500 hectare facility which will be occupied by employees and 100 million passengers per year abstract water from? How will the threat of water competition be handled? What about possible bird strikes?
I haven’t seen or heard about the New Manila International Airport’s Environmental Impact Assessment Statement so these questions remain open-ended for now.
Today, the remaining houses and protruding abandoned structures in Sitio Pariahan present good photographic opportunities for photography enthusiasts. But beyond personal interests, ground subsidence continue to be an urgent problem that needs serious attention.
The solution isn’t simple. Good policies, technology intervention based on sound scientific and engineering philosophies, and active community involvement all play a role in this situation.
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