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Climate change

The Philippines: Abandoned

The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by sea level rise. This will be costly, yet no help is forthcoming from the big industrialised nations – who disproportionately contributed to the changing climate which is causing the sea to rise.

von Jacque Manabat

In the capital, Manila, the sea level has risen by more than 80 centimetres over the last few decades. In Legazpi City, the increase is 30 centimetres and in southern Davao Bay it’s 24 centimetres.

The rising seas affect almost the whole population, because most Filipinos live by the water: the country is made up of 7,000 islands, with a total coastline spanning some 36,000 kilometres. The islands are flat, and the bays reach far inland. This makes them more vulnerable to rising sea levels. “In addition, we get tropical typhoons. If we do not take fast-paced measures, our agriculture and our food are at risk“, says Analiza Solis, an expert on the Philippine climate.

According to a 2012 study by the Asian Development Bank, the Philippines is one of the five countries most affected by climate change in the world. The coastal inhabitants in the east are most affected, as the prevailing wind pushes water up into the island’s bays.

The fifth world climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that sea level rise will accelerate. This will have devastating consequences for the Philippines. Higher water levels in the bays will mean that typhoons do more damage, and already around 20 of the tropical storms rage across the country every year.

According to a study by the environmental protection organization WWF, more than 13 million Filipinos will have to be relocated from the coastal areas. Even now, the floodwaters are reaching areas that have never been flooded before. The most affected are poorer Filipinos, who often live in condominiums which collapse even in light storms.

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms on record, struck the Philippines in 2013. Haiyan destroyed rice stocks. Boats and fishing facilities were devastated. Many people had no access to food, and an estimated 6 million people in the Visayas region were displaced.

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Major climatic changes also affect the animal world. The Tubbataha reef on the island of Palawan is a valuable habitat for seabirds. But the island is slowly disappearing – since it was first measured in 2004 it has shrunk from 1.5 to 1.1 hectares.

The United Nations World Climate Council says that sea level rise could disrupt crop growth, and flood cornfields which could spread Dengue fever through the standing water. But to this day, the Philippines have no response against the threats to humans and animals. They have no resources to protect against these dangers. And the international community is doing little to help the first victims of climate change.

 

“We have not seen money from rich countries to help us adapt. We cannot go on. This is not life when we have to run away from storms, “says Naderev Saño, who represents the Philippines at the international UN conferences on climate change. Every destructive tropical storm costs his country two percent of the gross domestic product, and another two percent has to be put into reconstruction afterwards.

For a developing country like the Philippines, with almost 100 million citizens spread over thousands of islands, it is an unsolvable challenge to relocate those that will be worst affected. Storms are already transforming public schools into evacuation centers, which provide shelter to hundreds of displaced families. When the floodwaters subside, they return to the coasts to re-start their existence. They say they need to find food — and have no choice.

© Noel Celis / AFP

Climate change

A village on the edge of the world is disappearing

In the Philippines, sea level rise – relative to the height of the land – is greater than in any other region of the world, according to our data. This means that the frequent typhoons inflict even more damage, and threaten people like Pepe and Soledad Cabasag.

von Jacque Manabat

In the calm before a storm, fisherman Pepe Cabasag nailed boards to his old house. Made of wood and aluminium, he wanted to protect his house and himself from the approaching typhoon. Hours later, the storm arrived – whipping wind gusting through the village of Caroan. The village is in the northern Philippines, in the province of Cagayan.
Cabasag is deaf and visually impaired, so he could neither see nor hear the monstrous storm ravaging the village. But he could feel how strong the wind was when it knocked him off balance. His wife Soledad dragged him inside. The two crossed themselves and crawled into their bed, praying that the typhoon would not destroy their little house. They were praying all night. The typhoon raged for hours, with howling gusts and torrential rain smashing the picturesque village. Water leaked from the ceiling of their house, the roof in tatters.
It was windy in the morning. They crawled out of the remains of their hut, collected what they could still find, and set about repairing it.

Three typhoons hit their community every year, on average. “Sa awa ng Diyos, andito pa kami!” says Soledad: Because of the grace of God we have survived. Pepe is a fisherman in Gonzaga Cagayan, in the northeast of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. He catches oysters to sell at the local market. The sea feeds them; providing them with fish, crabs and prawns. But now it has become an enemy.
The majority of the 40 kilometre-long coastline of the region is located on the Babuyan Sea Ridge. Nature is heavenly here. There are 139 acres of beach, 69 acres of mangrove forests and 348 acres of coral reefs. The province of Cagayan is also one of the regions most affected by monsoon rain and storms. According to the Philippine Institute of Geology, these coastal residents are constantly threatened by floods, erosions and landslides. Sometimes one typhoon is followed immediately by another. In the summer of 2015 the north of the Philippines, including the province of Cagayan, was hit by three typhoons. They brought destruction and flooding.

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After every storm, the inhabitants have a Sisyphean task – they have to repair the damaged houses before another one strikes. Because they can’t relocate, they rebuild on the same bit of land where the storm tore up their house. At least, they do if the land is still there. More than ten hectares have been lost to the sea; around 100 concrete houses, nipa huts and small buildings that were standing ten years ago are no longer visible, sunk by the rising sea.
One of the lost buildings was the Brgy Caroan Elementary School, where teacher Roselyn Campano was once a student. She remembers that the school was more than a kilometre from the coast. Today its disappeared into the water. “The sea has eroded it,” says Campano. She is now teaching at another elementary school and is afraid for the youth in her village.
Campano takes pictures after every storm that hits the residential areas. She has watched an average of five houses every year get washed into the sea. “My favorite motif is the sunset. I have tears in my eyes when I think that our village will soon be eradicated from the map forever,” she says.

Gonzaga’s mayor, Marilyn Pentecostes, says, “We hope that Congress and the government will help protect our people, for example with a dam.” The rising sea level is one man-made threat. The other was shown by an American study in which scientists predicted that areas in the North of the Philippines, where magnetite and black sand are mined, will continue to sink and in 30 to 70 years will be totally submerged.

Rising seas and sinking land: The people of Cagayan face a double threat.

© unsplash.com / Charles Deluvio

Sea-level rising

Manila: A capital is sinking

In the last 50 years the sea level has increased more than 80 centimetres, according to our map. In ten or twenty years coastal areas around the city, home to millions of people, will be permanently underwater, according to research by the University of the Philippines

von Jacque Manabat

One of the most densely populated and fastest growing economic centres in the world, in 2015 the population was estimated to be around 13
million people by the Philippine Statistical Office. „As the land around Manila Bay sinks and the sea level rises, the flooding is spreading not
only in the city, but also in the surrounding provinces“, said Greg Bankoff, an Asia expert at Auckland University in New Zealand. Inprevious downpours the main streets of Manila have flooded.

Before the 1960s the sea level around Manila did not significantly increase, but from then on it rose steadily at a rate five times faster than the rest of the world. By 2050 it is estimated the sea will have risen by another 50 centimetres. In the worst case scenario the sea will  penetrate into metropolitan areas near coastal cities like Manila, Pasay, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Navotas, and even into the coastal
provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Cavite. If there is a tsunami, the larger water mass and higher sea levels will mean the
potential for destruction will be far greater.

Now, after each heavy rainfall, several areas of the capital flood. The traffic grinds to a standstill and people wade through chest-high water.
Homemade rafts are paddled through the streets. The inhabitants seem to have become strangely used to the flooding, which usually subsides by the following day.

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But during huge tropical storms the flooding does not subside so quickly. In 2009 Typhoon Ketsana caused floods that were almost seven
metres high. More than 80 per cent of Manila was under water, displacing around 300,000 people.

manila_typhon_junge_en.jpg

Mike Clarke / AFP

The sea level rise which began in the 1960’s coincided with the industrialisation of the Philippines. The President at that time, Ferdinand Marcos, focused on infrastructure projects for rapidly growing cities – and the built environment was changing too. According to
research by NAMRIA, the national mapping service, industrialisation exposed the country’s inhabitants to floods. In the capital, where skyscrapers rose rapidly, houses and office buildings were built in flood prone areas, and are particularly vulnerable to the rising sea
today. A study by the World Bank describes how the ground is still sinking, even though the Government stopped pumping up groundwater for infrastructure projects decades ago. If the Government does not protect the coastline in the future, wading through waist-deep floods during Manila’s rainy season will become normal, scientists warn.

A typical night in Manila claims more than a Dozen victims. How does this affect journalists and citizens?© Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN Reporter

Climate change

“I’ll be heading back to the Philippines. This time though, hell is a bit hotter.“

In the Philippines, President Duterte is killing thousands. Jacque Manabat is a journalist for the biggest Filipino TV station, ABS-CBN. At the moment, she is working for correctiv.org in Berlin. How does it feel to go back to the Philippines as a journalist?

read more 12 minutes

von Jacque Manabat

Through her acts of public service, Sienna came in contact with the members of a local humanitarian group. When they invited them on a month-long trip to Philippines, she jumped at once.”

I’ve run through the gates of hell.”

Dan Brown, Inferno.

Dan Brown once described my country as the gates of hell. Although I was bit taken aback, it certainly has some truth to it. In a few months, I’ll be heading back home. This time though, hell is a bit hotter.

Graveyard shift

The seven-hour difference means I often talk with colleagues working the graveyard shift. From these conversations, and the news online, it seems that the war on drugs has escalated. Our investigative team at the ABS-CBN broadcasting network tallied drug-related deaths to 2,695 – just May 10, after the presidential elections, to December 10.

I, too, was assigned the graveyard shift. The smell of blood mixed with the humid air became too familiar to me. One to two murders a night in the metropolis was average. The police call them “salvage victims.” They weren’t salvaged, but I believe they were victims: Some had their hands tied behind their backs, others with bodies taped and fit into a sack. No matter how the families of these victims cry out for help and ask for justice, they knew that their experiences were simply another story to be told.

That was over four years ago.

This year, I believe my colleagues covering the night beat have a much greater tolerance to corpses. The number of killings rose to an unprecedented level after President Rodrigo Duterte openly vowed to kill 100,000 criminals during his final campaign rally:

“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

In an average night in July, around 30 people were gunned down by unidentified men or killed during a buy-bust operation. The statistics recently dwindled to around 14 a night in the metropolis. Each has a unique story to tell.

The graveyard shift journalists, telling these stories, go through rigorous stress debriefings. Some of them admit that they fear for their lives. “I believe that the killers are just around whenever we are in the location of a crime scene. I just feel it.”

Jacque Manabat

Jacque Manabat.

Privat.

I cannot imagine the trauma that has become part of their daily grind – all the blood, gore, tragedy and outrage. These things eat into parts of your soul.

“Our day starts when their lives end”

This signage is posted at the door of the homicide division of the capital.

Before the police and the local government units were our primary sources for night shift stories. Now the police is giving my colleagues the cold shoulder, they told me.

In one particular instance, a citizen used his cellphone camera to film how a man pleaded for his life inside a shanty in the capital. The police ignored his pleas and killed him.

The police started to decline interviews and refused to provide information about the incidents. This makes journalists’ jobs more difficult. And makes it harder for the public to understand what is really happening.

It’s alarming how some netizens respond to the crime stories we air. Some people say that these victims deserve to die and laud the government for killing the alleged “drug addicts.”

Our country’s extrajudicial killings have caught the attention of the world.

I have repeatedly been approached by some of my colleagues in Berlin asking for clarification on what is happening in the Philippines. They read about the rise in killings and the rising skepticism towards journalists. I realized how hard it is to explain that some people feel safe with, or maybe even because of, these killings of alleged drug dealers and users. They believe killing these people will lower the crime rate.

President Duterte has been portrayed as the Filipino Adolf Hitler by critics. Duterte himself compared his war on illegal drugs to the Holocaust.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least Germany had Hitler. The Philippines would have…“ he said, pointing to himself.

Weaponizing social media with fake news

Public discussions, especially those on social media, are becoming uglier and uglier in the Philippines.

This was felt strongly during the presidential elections campaign. Before I left the Philippines, I received private messages from faceless accounts. The individuals writing these messages accused me of being a journalist paid to hurl dirt at our newly-elected president, either on behalf of the past administration or the opposition.

Comments like “you are brainless” or “I hope you get raped” hurt, but I ignored them and continued doing my job. I aired a story on how some of the government agencies address corruption successfully and I was told: “You suck up.”

I can handle that, but what I hate the most is the circulation of fake news.

It’s so frustrating and depressing how the community perceives them to be true. No matter how often journalists dispute these fake news stories, people continue to be blind supporters. They re-post these stories until they reach over 10,000 shares on Facebook

One of the government politicians even posted a fake photo of a raped girl in a field and accused journalists of turning a blind eye to this horrible incident. Using reverse search image shows that the story originated in Brazil and not in the Philippines. But staunch supporters continue to distrust the press and follow these fake accounts.

Fake news has somewhat tarnished our authority as the fourth estate.

Some have expressed disgust over the media industry, saying that fake news stories are more credible than the rigorously researched stories we air.

Drogenhändler Karton Philippinen Jacque

Found close to a dead body: „I’m a drug pusher. Don’t become someone like me.“

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN Reporter

In 2016, fanatics and fake news spread like wildfire. Journalists became the targets for blind followers.

Veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona also experienced threats from fanatics. The worst was months ago, she recalls. One person threatened that he would trace Varona down to feast on her and was told: “Let’s see where your activist courage will get you.”

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Al Jazeera journalist Jamela Alindogan and international freelance journalist Gretchen Malalad have also received death threats from netizens when they aired stories on the war on drugs.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) urged colleagues to report all threats directed at journalists, so that it will be properly documented and action can be taken.

For some journalists, chronicling history with all these setbacks may cause fear. But these threats and fake news stories motivate me even more to change the nation – one story at a time.

The second most dangerous country in the world

All of these social media threats become more alarming once you look into the recent history of the Philippines.

The Philippines is listed as the second most dangerous country for journalists, with 146 killings in the past 25 years, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

More than forty years ago, when our nation was placed under former President Marcos’ dictatorship, the press were among the first to be silenced. Outspoken activists were also kidnapped, tortured and killed. The company where I work, ABS-CBN, was shut down.

Seven years ago, 58 people were gruesomely murdered in the southern part of the Philippines. Thirty-two of them were journalists.

The press was in convoy to the provincial capital to cover the filing of candidacy for the town’s governorship when the convoy was attacked. When people arrived at the scene, they saw bullet-ridden bodies sprawled around the vehicles. Others were thrown into a mass grave. The government allegedly used a digger to bury some of the bodies.

Foto Todeskarte Philippinen Jacque

Found close to a murderer, a small piece of paper and a picture. Probably the directions leading to one of the victims.

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN Reporter

Until today, the victims have been denied justice.

Now with President Duterte leading the country, he has continued inciting hate towards journalists.

In one of his early press conferences, Duterte said: “Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempt from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”

He added that many of the slain journalists accepted bribes or were corrupt, and they may have “done something wrong.”

Sometimes the President’s speeches can be confusing. He says something, but means something else. The next day, a team of spokesperson clarified his statements. After that the public blamed the press for “misinformation” and “misunderstanding.”

NUJP said in a statement: “As journalists, it is our duty to report events as faithfully as we can. To blame us for the consequences of what those we cover utter or do is tantamount to asking us to abrogate our duties and be silent. This we cannot and will never do.”

Should I be neutral as a journalist?

Being part of the mainstream media is a lot of pressure. People expect you to be neutral; others despise you if you are open about your opinions.

But I believe that journalists must speak out amid conditions of outrage. We have to be fair, not blind. Journalists should never pick any fights with citizens on the web. It makes no sense to be petty and mean like the „trolls“ are. If need be, we should block them.

As I head back to the Philippines, I plan to stay vocal online and continue pursuing my passion of airing stories.

This is my only way to be of service to Filipinos – as my company slogan puts it.

I’m still free and safe

With the rise of the trolls, the perception of the press changed.

Some of my friends, who are not working in journalism, tell me: “It must be hard to be a journalist nowadays with all the threats. Why did you become one?”

It is tempting to stay here in Europe and escape what is happening back home. The label „first world country“ implies that they are two steps ahead of us, but we are so far behind. Sometimes I don’t feel the freedom of speech, because I am afraid of being threatened, online and offline.

But when I listen to journalists who survived the reign of our former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, their stories motivate me to go back home and be the journalist that I am.

Journalist Inday Espina-Varona’s explanation hit me the hardest: “From time to time, Filipino journalists have faced great risks and actual threats. I was a young journalist in the last years of Martial Law. I know how it feels to be scared – and how to carry on. I feel free, but only because I will myself to be free. I know very well the time might come when this freedom will be threatened from all sides. I will fight the way we did during the time of dictatorship, even if it means going underground. The important thing is never to fall silent.”

This is the reality I have to face when I get back. I am coming home, Philippines.


Jacque Manabatis a senior journalist in the biggest broadcasting network in the Philippines, ABS-CBN News. She has been in the media industry for more ten years. At the moment, Jacque is a fellow of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in the Berlin office of correctiv.org. The writer’s views do not reflect those of ABS-CBN Corporation or of its News Division. You can find Jacque on Twitter. The pictures have been shot by Anjo Bagaoisan, a reporter at ABS-CBN. You can find more of his pictures and stories on his blog.