The community gathers in Mary Anne’s family home daily. Children crowd around smartphones with the latest addicting app, while adults gamble and play cards. They sit on benches that hide fighting cocks underneath.Mary Anne’s mother Benny Espiritu was born in Pariahan and refuses to leave the village. “This is where we grew up. Our children, my husband, their job is here,” Benny, 53, told VICE. She’s comfortable here and boasted about mastering the rise and fall of the water.Most men in Pariahan are fisherfolk and have used the water’s predictable movements to their advantage. When the water is high, those brave enough dive down to nests, where crabs hide and grab them with their hands — a practice known as kapa, which literally means “to feel out.” Those who prefer a more passive source of income get up early in the morning to set up nets called dragon bubo underwater that trap fish, crabs, and shrimps brought by the current. Some earn up to PHP20,000 ($385.60 US) a week just by selling catch in the public market. Residents say that business has been booming since the water rose.
The journey to Pariahan from Bulakan’s town centre takes about 30 minutes by boat. It could have been scenic, if it weren’t for the abandoned concrete houses, now flooded, that welcome you. Homes of the remaining families are connected by makeshift bamboo bridges and residents ride boats to go to other clusters of shacks.
But it won’t be as easy for other communities to adjust, especially those inland who will eventually experience flooding, too, if the problem of land subsidence is not addressed.Groundwater comes from a layer of permeable rocks called aquifers, where rain seeps through. Extracting water from the ground leaves spaces between these sediments, collapsing the layer, and lowering the ground. It’s like a sponge that shrinks when water is squeezed out.
So instead of leaving, they adapt. They raise their houses to avoid the water, bring their children to school in boats, and hear mass with their feet submerged when they pool enough money to bring a priest to their chapel once a month.
The United Nations Population Fund reported in April that the Philippines had an annual population growth rate of 1.6 percent from 2010 to 2019, among the highest in Southeast Asia and faster than India’s which was recorded at 1.2 percent. Because of its close proximity to Manila, Bulacan is one of the most rapidly urbanising provinces in the Philippines.The NWRB does not require permits for deep wells meant for “personal use,” which it defines as a household of five people. In reality though, most families are larger than this. Most Pariahan residents are relatives who live in interconnected homes and share one deep well behind Benny’s home because water providers don’t reach the area.Even houses in rural areas that are connected to water providers get their water from the ground. While Bulakan is part of the Bulacan Bulk Water Supply project and will soon be connected to surface water, the town is still mostly serviced by the Bulakan Water Company, a partnership between the government-owned Bulacan Water District and the private Manila Water Company, which still pumps water from the ground.
“The increase in demand for water does not stop because population is growing, development is increasing, urbanisation is rising,” David said.
"Remember, if they're factories, they have money. When they have money, they can buy pumps,” he said. “The property is fenced, it's not easy to monitor that; it's private.”The NWRB requires municipal, agricultural, industrial, and commercial projects to apply for water permits before drilling new deep wells. These applications go through a field investigation and evaluation among other steps before approval.David, the board’s director, said they started to closely monitor groundwater extraction in select areas about five years ago. In the new method, they determine a “safe yield” for the amount of water that can be extracted from a certain area and check quarterly to see if these sites stay within the limit. However, they cannot stop the use of deep wells without providing an alternative source first.Lagmay acknowledged that there has been a slight improvement in land subsidence rates — which used to be at 5 to 6 cm — but does not think this is enough.
Through their satellite monitoring, Lagmay found that areas with high rates of land subsidence are also sites of large industrial factories. Pariahan is close to the towns of Obando, Valenzuela, and Malabon which are home to factories for plastic, food manufacturing, and textiles among others.