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Climate change and rising sea levels in the Philippines devour a village at Manila Bay

The municipality of Obando in the province of Bulacan sits at the shoreline of Manila Bay, if there was a shoreline left. The community of fisherman there always enjoyed life around the bay, protected by water dikes; but now the flood gates at the dikes can no longer hold back the sea water.

MANILA BAY, Philippines – The best view to watch the sunset near Luzon in the Philippines remains Manila Bay. The views in Manila City or Pasay City remain breathtaking. However, the waters of Manila Bay are changing. Now, climate change and rising sea levels endanger residents along the coastline.

Sea water now covers the shorelines of Roxas Boulevard where sand used to be. Ships and large boats come closer and closer to shore. Homes remain most impacted by rising sea levels. Residents living at the BASECO compound now experience flooding regularly due to the strong high tides during dry season.

The residents who live where the Pasig River meets the waters from Manila Bay say it worsened last year. The sea wall protecting the compound no longer protects them when big waves crash against the wall.

Manila Bay covers more than just the Metro Manila area. The municipality of Obando in the province of Bulacan also sits at the shoreline of Manila Bay. However, there is little shoreline left. The community of fisherman at Obando always enjoyed life around the bay. They remained protected by water from well-developed dike. Now, the flood gates at the dikes can no longer hold back the sea water.

One gate already collapsed. Residents try their best to keep water from coming into their homes, but they usually fail. In June 2022, a few days before their regular festival, news spread of the flooding. The festival includes a parade of boats along the Muzon River. This year, the river was swallowed by the sea.

People who live in Obando, as young as their late 30s, remember walking on wetlands. Those wetlands separated the river from the bay. They have since disappeared. The dikes such as Salambao have submerged and cannot protect the barangays or small villages. Concrete homes on stilts that stand above sea water replace older bamboo and wood homes. The older homes collapse under the onslaught.

Additional background on climate change in the Philippines

Manila Bay connects oceans around the South China Sea. The bay gave birth to Manila and the Philippines. It became a gateway to socio-economic development during the Spanish Colonization and now serves many industries. Manila Bay is dominated by the fishing and shipping industries as a natural harbor. The strategically located Port of Manila serves the metropolitan and neighboring regions. The provinces and municipalities around it take advantage of the natural resource.

Dr. Marcelino Villafuerte is a Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) scientist and weather specialist. He warns that the climate crisis worsens weather conditions through global warming. This triggers erratic natural events such as heavy rains, longer droughts, water shortage, and rising sea levels. Dr Villafuerte pointed out an increase of 0.68 degrees in average temperature in the Philippines in the past 65 years. This creates a warming rate of about 0.1 degrees Celsius (°C) per decade.

The National Ocean Service published an updated report from 2017 to 2022. It stated sea levels are projected to rise 10 to 12 inches (0.25 to 0.30 meters) on average from 2020 to 2050. The rise in sea level will create a profound shift in flooding the coastline in the next 30 years. Local factors and conditions intensify the coastal flooding, which varies from geographical locations.

Rosalina de Guzman is the chief of the state weather bureau’s climate data section in the Philippines. She stated that the sea level rises three times faster than the global average based on the PAGASA report. Using satellite data between 1993 to 2015, the Philippine Sea increased from 5.7 mm to 7 mm as an average annually. Now, the sea level has risen to 120 mm or near 5 inches in almost 20 years.

All photos courtesy of George Buid.

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George Buid is an independent photographer and journalist based in Metro Manila, Philippines. His work has been published in Stern Crime, Transcontinental Times, InterAksyon, and Deutsche Welle news. He also contributes to the news wire Zuma Press. In addition to writing journalism, George is a self-taught photographer who started his photojournalism career and visual documentary storytelling in 2014. He focuses on capturing stories of everyday individuals, communities, and culture. Occassionally, he also covers science, history, sports, politics, art, and human interest.