The 2012 Manila Flood

Back in 2009, Typhoon Ketsana, known locally in the Philippines as ‘Ondoy’, dropped a lot of water on Manila in a short amount of time and caused extensive flooding.  I remember there was a lot of public concern outside of the Philippines for the well-being of the people, not just in the Philippines but in the other countries affected.  A lot of sympathy was shown.  I think there were even international donations sent to the Philippines.

Manila Flooding 1

Manila is just recovering from another bout of flooding.  Over the last week or so, Manila and surrounding provinces were covered by flood waters, affecting about 2.4 million and killing 65 (as of writing) in what was described as the worst flooding since Ondoy.  I only found out because I’m still subscribed to the US Embassy newsletter for the embassy in Manila, and the offices were shut down for quite a few days because of heavy flooding on Roxas Boulevard.

I was struck by the contrast between this flood and the last, when almost everyone seemed to know what was going on.  It could be that I was biased, of course, since I was in Asia at the time and news probably tends to give more coverage to local big events, but my wife, who is from the Philippines, didn’t even know there was any flooding until long after it started.  I knew first, because of the embassy newsletter.  I assumed she knew.  I assumed she’d seen it in the news, but I guess it just wasn’t in the news.

I was wondering why there is so much less coverage this time.  I think there are two reasons: it doesn’t sell and no one cares.  With the action in Syria and the Olympics, who has time to talk about flooding in a third world country?  It’s not like the massive flooding in 2009 that affected multiple countries.  And of course, there’s the feeling that Filipinos just didn’t learn.

The flooding was caused the first time around through a lack of proper drainage and littering.  There was so much garbage in the streets, in the rivers, jammed into the drains and drainage ditches that the water couldn’t pass through adequately, making a bad situation a lot worse, so now that Manila is flooding again, you can’t help but feel that they didn’t learn their lesson from last time.  When I say that no one cares, I don’t mean that no one is concerned about the hardships that people face in that sort of situation; I mean that people find it harder to pity people who are suffering from self-inflicted tragedies.

Filipina girl crouches on cement pillar to avoid flood waters
Filipina child crouches on cement pillar to avoid flood waters.

And there are tragedies.  A few years ago I visited my sister-in-law’s house for her daughter’s birthday and I remembering thinking how lovely the house was.  Now it looks like this:

Flooded kitchen at a home in Pasig City
Flooded kitchen at a home in Pasig City

It’s going to take a lot for people to rebuild their lives and their homes again.  Where does a person even begin in their cleanup efforts?  I can’t imagine how much work it’ll be for people to fix their houses and businesses again.  Hopefully, this time, the hardships suffered will make people think harder before dropping trash on the ground, and make them push harder for their government to take real steps toward improving drainage in and around the city.

Not that this is anything but sort of related, but I thought the image below is worth sharing.  I found it on a bulletin board, claiming it’s from the recent flooding in the Philippines.

Under the Sea
Filipina dressed as Ariel, making the best of recent street flooding. “Under the sea… under the sea…”

New Horizon Hotel in Manila, Philippines

On my recent return to the US from the Philippines, I had to find a hotel in Manila to stay in for the night because it’s impractical to commute from Antipolo to make a 7:30 AM flight.  Even if there was public transit at that time of the morning, it definitely wouldn’t be safe, especially when carrying a bunch of bags, so I booked a room at New Horizons hotel in Manila.

New Horizons Deluxe Suite

New Horizons Deluxe Suite

New Horizons Deluxe Suite

New Horizons Deluxe Suite

New Horizons Deluxe Suite

This hallway goes to the bedroom, which I forgot to take a photo of.  It is about the same size as the living room area as seen in the 3rd photo.

My wife and I have stayed in New Horizons before in 2008 so it was a natural choice.  We enjoyed the service on our last visit, so we wanted to go back again.  The first time we were there we got the Deluxe Suite which was as big or bigger than some apartments we’ve lived in.  The rate was really good on that too, only 85 USD* per night.  This time, though, we were only going to be in the hotel for about 14 hours, so it just didn’t make sense to go all out on a spacious room.  Instead, we got their ‘Superior’ room, which is the smallest one and goes for 60 USD* per night.  Even though it’s their smallest, it was still really spacious.  It was way better than what I’d expected.

I reserved a room online and made the required 10% deposit.  When we checked in I was a bit surprised but the girl at the desk knew that I’d stayed there in 2008.  When you check in, you pay up front rather than after.  I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hotel where you pay after.  Instead of offering me my change, the girl asked if it would be alright to hold the balance at the desk until we left, to be used against any items we took from the mini bar.  I didn’t care too much and we did wind up raiding the mini bar.  The drinks in there are actually well priced and they were really cold.

New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

Don’t mind my underwear.  I swear I wasn’t naked while taking these photos!

New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

Cigarette smoke ruins so many good photos…

New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

The bathroom in this room is set up the same way as the bathroom in the Deluxe Suite.  It’s spacious, comfortable and the water runs warm, but not really hot.

As you can see from the last photo above, we had our cat with us.  It’s not normally allowed, but I worked out an exception with the manager prior to booking by asking politely and agreeing to pay any damages she might cause.  We kept an eye on her and she was a good girl.  Thankfully she didn’t go nuts on that fake leather couch.

My cat exploring a New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

My cat exploring a New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

My cat exploring a New Horizon Hotel Superior room.

Like I said, the room was comfortable.  The air conditioning got good and cold.  The room service was decent and well priced and the cable TV was fun.  If you’re considering staying at this place, it’s well worth it, and it’s close to an MRT line.  You can walk out of the hotel and be in the train station in about 15 minutes, counting the time it takes to get your ticket.  It’s a few short stops from Megamall and there are restaurants all around it.  Despite being right along EDSA (a highway) the rooms are quiet at night.  Broadband Internet was optional for the room as well.

They did us a good favor by letting us have Marble there overnight and the place is nice anyway, so we’ll definitely be using them again in the future.  I’m planning on making more trips to the Philippines to visit my wife until she’s ready to follow me to the US.

Click here to visit New Horizons’ web site.

*Note: The rates are showing up at 5 dollars more than they were when I checked them last week.  I’m not sure if that’s a permanent increase or not, but it may have something to do with the fact that they’re in the process of renovating the rooms.  The room we stayed in this time wasn’t renovated yet.

The PNB Financial Center

When we moved to the Philippines, one of our cat carriers was damaged during the flight.  After quite a bit of e-mailing back and forth I convinced Philippine Airlines to cover the cost of the carrier.  The catch was that I had to go all the way to the PNB Financial Center which is near the Mall of Asia in Manila.  It takes about two and a half to three hours to get there from where I’m staying in Antipolo.  It might be a quicker trip if I had a personal vehicle, but I was and still am relying on public transportation, for now.

The building was a lot more impressive than I thought it would be.  I expected to walk into a standard office building with a lobby and some elevators and then go up to some musty offices.  The building had musty offices alright, but the architecture was really amazing.  The eery part is that the place was mostly deserted.  It’s not surprising, considering how it’s in such an out of the way place, but at one point it must have been a bustling center of activity.  Maybe before the advent of ATMs?

PNB Financial Center, Manila

PNB Financial Center, Manila

There is a huge room with a semi-circle of counters that at one time must have served as teller stations for people making over-the-counter transactions at the bank.  The mezzanine has rows of offices, which is where the PAL cashiers are.

PNB Financial Center, Manila

PNB Financial Center, Manila

The balcony and courtyard areas of the building were closed off, but I could look through the windows and see statues and benches.  It would have been nice if I’d been able to look around out there.

Relief Carving at PNB Financial Center, Manila

On the way out of the building, I noticed the relief carvings mounted on the walls of the lobby.  They each had a different scene.  If I remember right they depicted different periods of Philippines history.  I should have taken photos of the other ones, but I was worried the guard would stop me and then make me delete the photos I’d already taken.  I have no idea if photos are allowed in there.

The building has the quiet, empty feeling of a tomb, but has potential.  I think it’d make a great building for a museum, art gallery, or exhibition hall for small events.

My wife mentioned that at one point that area had all been part of a bay and had been modified for use through land reclamation.  It’s no wonder Manila floods.  Part of it is below sea level and the other part is barely above it, as reclaimed land.  Land reclamation is still an impressive thing, though.

The iPad 3G is for sale in Manila, but WTF?

While we were out in Manila last night at Megamall we wandered into the electronics area to find some speakers for my laptop.  Some of the ‘specially priced’ movies we’ve been picking up have low volume so we needed something to give it a bit of a boost.  While we were there we saw this in the window:


The iPad3G is a pretty neat item.  I personally have no desire to get one.  I still think of it as nothing more than a giant iPod Touch.  Plus, it doesn’t really match up with life in the Philippines.  Walking around with something like that in your hand would make you an impressive… target.  Ya.  People would see that and that incident where the guy got his fingers ripped off while his iPad was being stolen would seem tame by comparison.

Anyway, what prompted me to take the photo was the price tag.  The iPad isn’t being sold here officially, that I know of anyway, so the hand-imported ones are selling for higher than what they should.  The price on that iPad is 59,950 PHP, or approximately 1,290 USD.  Electronics in the Philippines typically carry a higher price tag.  I think they’re highly taxed by the government, but this is just over the top.

The next ‘toy’ that I shell out money for will probably be the iPhone 5 next year, if even that.  I’ve had to rearrange my priorities since coming here and I can think of plenty of other things I could spend that money on.  My trusty iPhone 3G will just have to keep chugging along for a few more years.

Squatters in Manila

Something I noticed on my first visit to the Philippines two years ago was that people seem to live anywhere there’s room enough to set up shelter.  I thought that there must be no sort of zoning regulations or building codes, both of which would prevent this sort of thing in the US.  I still don’t know if there are building codes and zoning regulations in the Philippines, but I know why there are houses everywhere.  People just do what they want to do and because so many of them do it, it’s too costly for the government to try to stop it; they just ignore it instead.  This has led to a class of people who are locally called ‘squatters’, at least in English.

Squatters are people who don’t own the land they’re living on.  They have no legal agreement, tenancy or title, or anything of the sort.  They just see an area that looks like a good spot for a house (or in some cases just a ramshackle shelter) and they start building with whatever they have the means to afford or acquire.

No area is off-limits to squatters, in their own minds at least.  If there’s a 10 feet of ledge along the top of a sharp ridge by the road, they’ll build on it.  If there’s a space under a bridge, they’ll build on it.  If there’s an empty lot near a major mall that’s not being patrolled regularly, they’ll build on it.

What you wind up with, at least in Manila itself, is something that looks like this:


I don’t remember the name of the area where I took this photo.  It’s where two major train lines intersect and you pass between them using a covered walkway.  One of the protective grills was missing so it gave me the perfect spot to take a photo.  The squatters homes are made of pretty much anything they can find and put to use.

The most bizarre thing about squatters is that they have electricity.  Some of them even have air conditioners and they usually have running water too.  In the interests of earning money, the utility companies in Manila have done installations to provide them with their basic needs, further legitimizing their claims to their homes, and the land they sit on.  Imagine being a politician and trying to shut down all of the areas like this in Manila.  Imagine the public outcry over the ‘inhumanity’ of it.  So, despite the fact that these people don’t own the land, it’s not likely they’ll be removed any time soon.