Manila Bay rehabilitation displaces informal housing residents


In January 2019, the Philippine government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) launched a $906 million rehabilitation project to clean up Manila Bay and make it fit for recreation by 2020. Factories, commercial establishments, and people living by its tributaries and watersheds have contributed to the bay’s pollution over the years. 

Many of those people, called squatters or informal settlers, live in houses they built themselves on land they don’t legally own. Since they’re not connected to a sewerage system, their waste flows directly into the bay, according to the DENR. To successfully restore the bay, the government started relocating over 200,000 families living in these communities to in-city and off-city housing units. While some are grateful to have a stable home, many feel uncertain about the relocation program because they don’t want to leave behind the lives and communities they’ve built.

This multimedia project shares the stories of people living in these communities, as well as those already living in relocation sites. It examines how relocation affects their lives and whether the government is able to sustain these types of resettlement programs.

This reporting package was sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. It was published in Mongabay and Eco-Business.


MANILA — On a Wednesday afternoon, Rosemary Herela peers out the makeshift window of her home made of corrugated tin and salvaged wood. She sees a woman in the distance paddling on a Styrofoam raft and looking for pieces of wood to sell.

Herela waves to the woman, and the exchange prompts her to reminisce about her first days in Isla Puting Bato, a narrow strip of land along Manila Bay.

“This was all rock before. The water used to be crystal clear, and you could see the sand,” says Herela, a petite 41-year-old with a gaunt face and a short bob.

She used to live with her husband 24 kilometers (15 miles) away in Caloocan City, but they moved in search of work. Isla, located in Tondo, Manila’s most densely packed slum district, offered promise because it sat near a port area.

They moved into her husband’s friend’s house by the water until they saved up the equivalent of $40 to buy a small lot from a neighbor. Other neighbors helped them build their one-room shack out of wood scraps and corrugated metal sheets. Her husband found a job unloading cargo at a nearby pier, while Herela made and sold lump charcoal.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, Herela has given birth to six children, watched her husband die of hepatitis, fallen in love with her neighbor, and given birth to two more children who are now 3 and 4 years old — all in the same house, which now extends beyond the shore…

Read the full story here.