Residents start to return to their flooded houses in Metro Manila (Photo by Joe Torres)
The government is prepared to forcibly evict residents in slums along Manila’s Pasig river, where it says houses are blocking the flow of rainwater and have contributed to the city’s severe floods.
"I just received instructions from the president that if push comes to shove, we will have to blast those houses," Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said Monday.
The government plans to remove 10,000 to 20,000 urban poor settlers every year from areas with a high risk of flooding, according to Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. The first priority will be some 30,000 settlers living near waterways.
Officials say relocation will begin in the next few months. There are currently an estimated 5 million landless urban poor settlers in Manila.
The country's biggest labor federation criticized the government's plan, saying it will "incite and threaten the working poor to take action against the government in defense of their well-being."
Families living in high-risk areas are "working mothers and working fathers who were forced to eke out a living in the metropolis because of poverty," said Gerard Seno, president of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.
Seno said the centralization and rapid urbanization of the metropolis attracts thousands of people from rural areas. He said the government should instead provide decent, accessible, safe and affordable housing for informal settlers.
Meanwhile, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on Monday ordered field units to conduct preemptive evacuation in parts of Luzon and the Visayas as tropical storm "Helen" approached Manila on Tuesday.
The death toll from last week's heavy rain and flooding rose to 95, the agency said Monday. At least four people remained missing.
Heavy rains have continued to affect 761,189 families or 3.5 million people across the country. Some 341,915 people are staying in evacuation centers.
Damage to property has risen to 2.263 billion pesos (US$54 million), including 1.624 billion pesos in agricultural losses.
Manila battered by floods again