Manila as the gates of hell? It’s the river Styx too!

I bet the outrage over Dan Brown’s description of Manila as the “gates of hell” in his book Inferno is still fresh in the minds of many Filipinos. They really should learn to react properly to any less than desirable description that foreigners have of Filipinos, whether true or not. If it’s true, do something about it. If it’s not, don’t mind it.

What is undeniable, however, was that he was actually spot on.

Now June has come, along with it the rainy season. Commuters started experiencing prolonged hell as heavy rains and floods brought traffic to a standstill on Monday night, June 17, 2013.

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The traffic gridlock occurred amid the early evening rush hour, with tens of thousands of motorists and commuters left fuming.

Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook were flooded with photos and videos of people stuck in traffic.

Bayan Patroller Ronald Omanya said it took him 2 hours to go from Julia Vargas to Ortigas Extension in Pasig.

EDSA Magallanes also became a virtual trap for vehicles, based on shots taken by Bayan Patroller Jaser Marasigan.

The situation was also the same for Ayala northbound.

Ix Cepeda, a a speechwriter of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, told that it took him several hours to get home.

“Left the Coconut Palace at 5:30pm. Arrived home (Don Antonio Hts) 9pm na. Hell ang traffic, Chairman. HELL!!!” he said.

Lawyer Cecille Soria, meanwhile, said it took her 2 and a half hours to travel from Ortigas to Fairview.

MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, for his part, had reportedly downplayed the traffic gridlock but was quick to pinpoint the cause of the floods to clogged drainage systems and the presence of squatters along key esteros. Whether Mr. Tolentino can find the cojones to actually do the dirty work of “cleaning up” the clogs, that still remains to be seen.

Admittedly, the “gates of hell” description of Manila has stuck among the chattering classes only because it’s so apt. However, with the seeming resignation of Filipinos that they really can’t do anything about the floods which paralyze the metro every year, we may as well attach another label to Manila, one that becomes more pronounced during the rainy season: The river Styx.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with this body of water, the the Styx is a river in Greek mythology that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. Now what is the Underworld? Think of it as a place similar to the Christian Hell. Now do things get clearer?

In effect, the river Styx leads to a hell like place, and just as Metro Manila feels like hell, the floods cause the city to feel like a river leading to hell. The only thing missing now would be a real-life counterpart to Charon the ferryman. Perhaps Mr. Tolentino will oblige?

How apt, indeed, Mr. Brown. How apt indeed. Maybe he was on to something.

Comparisons and metaphors aside, the underlying issue here is that what was once a manageable problem has come back to hit us in the ass because of our neglect. The disposal of garbage in the correct places was in our control, yet as a whole Filipinos didn’t give a hoot. Everybody thought that one little piece of plastic, or paper, or any type of garbage wasn’t really a big deal. Everybody thought that too many cars in the road at one time wouldn’t become a problem. Everybody thought that our booming population could all easily fit into the city without any problem. Everybody thought that we would be better off living with the traffic-causing jeepneys instead of devising more efficient alternatives for transportation. Finally, everybody thought that the absence of a master plan for the city was a non-issue.

Well, everybody thought wrong.

What happened? They eventually all added up and now we are forced to cure something which could have been prevented.

Manila feels like hell due to the traffic? It’s rather pointless and too late to complain about it now. We simply reap what we sow.

The more important question is: are we going to learn our lesson so that the near future won’t be as hellish?

On second thought, maybe the comparison IS a bit overboard. I bet even the river Styx, despite being muddy, is cleaner than any river here, or anywhere flood waters flow.


It all adds up to make rainy season hell for Filipinos

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” – maybe we should change the tourism slogan from “It’s more fun in the Philippines” to this one. After all, wading through floods and traffic in hell will never be fun no matter what era you’re living in.

[Photo courtesy Pasig River Watch and]

27 Replies to “Manila as the gates of hell? It’s the river Styx too!”

  1. Anyway, I’ve suspected that the use of plastic bags per se is not the root cause of the floods in Manila, and in the Philippines. The banning of plastic bags is simply a knee-jerk reaction without any serious study on why Manila is flooded, or I think none of our politicians love to get to the root cause – they simply wanted immediate, visible action for the election.

    1. Manila and its outlying areas are densely populated. The city and its limited resources cannot continually sustain the ever increasing growth of Manila. Paalisin at pauwiin ang Mga squatters Sa probinsya. Bawasan ang bus at jeep. Make LRt the primary transportation. Enforce birth control on the poor. Tama muna yan anak ng anak. Marami na kayong Mga Damuhog dyan. Masikip na ang manila.

  2. Traffic is the old problem of the Philippines that, sadly, never gets old actually. Because… it’s still here.

    Overcrowded Metro Manila is overcrowded.

  3. The answer from malacanan – wait 22 years – Master plan 2035 ( which is an update of the previous 2025 plan, and no doubt the precursor of the 2045 plan).
    And keep being surprised when manila floods x times a year.
    I wonder if eskimos are as shocked and unprepared when it snows.

  4. The MMDA chairman blames clogged drainage and the presence of squatters in esteros, yea he is right but he is also to blame and the rest of the government. They know to well the reasons but they are not doing anything concrete and long lasting solution. They cannot relocate the squatters because remember come election time they are voters whom our politicians are condoning to stay. So when the flooding comes everybody is affected even those high and mighty politicians riding in their multi million dollar cars will also pass the same flooded roads where the ordinary Filipinos riding in non-air conditioned buses are. We are all affected and they say that after all the calamities that we Filipinos face we still have the ability to smile and stand again on our feet but don’t we realize that rather than shrugged this off as a perennial event we could do something and become better. This problem is becoming hopeless but maybe we should keep our smile on our faces when we meet Hades in the underworld.

  5. I am so glad I not the one stuck in the traffic jams of the City, called by Brown as the Gates of Hell! But who cares, the Filipinos are used to adversity, and for those who have the chance becomes an OFW and lives abroad.

  6. Good Lord. When do Filipinos learn that when they destroy their environment, they are destroying themselves as well!

    This is revolting.

  7. Even before recent events manila was featured as one of the 5 dirtiest cities in the world.
    And as a capital city it is the mirror on a country, and somewhere no tourist wants to be, nor any western investor.

    It really is shameless how numerous incompetent and corrupt politicians and agency heads has simply allowed a city which once had distinction and heritage simply crumble and decay to the extent it is now a barbaric ghetto.

    Francis tolentino is so far out of his depth i wonder whether the country has any engineer administrators. Clearly tolentino is a small town nobody promoted far above his competency level.

    His excuses and lack of solutions are staggering, just as the amount of time he spends abroad on conferences is incredible.

    His lame comment is “other cities flood” – but they have plans to minimise disruption, major infrastructure projects to improve the situation, and learn from experience.

    More preposterous is to say ” wait for 2035″ i.e. ‘we have no idea so get used to it and if it looks like rain leave work early’!

  8. Flood is a problem that cannot be solved by politics. It is an engineering problem that requires an engineering solution. Like I mentioned in an another online forum on the question ‘What causes flood and what’s the solition?’:

    The simplistic answer (i.e. idiot-friendly) to the thread question can be described by the following hydrologic process:

    1.) Precipitation (rainfall intensity) exceeds the rate of absorption of natural ground and the vegetation cover (infriltration) and the environments’ capacity to evaporate (evapo-transpiration) its ambient water/moisture thus producing excess rainwater in the surface (surface run-off)

    2.) Due to natural terrain (topography), surface run-off and infiltrating water (groundwater) will flow to the lowest portion either to the sea/ocean or basins (lakes/ponds/). The transportation mechanism will be the following:
    2a.) For surface run-off, by drainage (gravity flow) through natural conduits and waterways (i.e. rivers and its tributaries)
    2b.) For groundwater, by percolation to the aquifer/aquitard/aquifuge.

    3.) Flood occurs when either or in any combination of the following conditions are satisfied:
    3a.) The intensity of rainfall exceeds the capacity of natural or catchment basins (eg.lakes, flood plain, dams / reservoirs) to contain the volume thus the overflow of surface run-off.
    3b.) The intensity of rainfall exceeds the rate of infiltration/percolation to the ground, and it also exceeds the capacity of the aquifer/aquitard/aquifuge to store water, thus surface run-off.
    3c.) The rate of flow of surface run-off to natural conduits exceeds the capacity of the waterways to discharge/drain to the basins/lakes or open sea/oceans.
    3d.) Extreme change in weather patterns such as strong storm surges, and increasing mean sea level.

    The parameters therefore for flood to occur are:

    A.) Capacity to contain surface run-off
    -Insufficient reservoirs
    -Lack of retention ponds/lakes

    B.) Capacity to store surface run-off
    -Insufficient water sheds and vegetative cover (deforestation, indiscriminate land conversion, etc.)
    -Surface run-off not percolating to the ground aquifer/aquitard/aquifuge
    -Ingress of saline water to the groundwater aquifer/aquitard/aquifuge due to grounwater drawdown or pumping from development areas (eg. residential subdivision using groundwater pumps)

    C.) Capacity to discharge surface run-off
    -Inefficient sewer/stormwater network and system
    -Diminishing natural waterways due to economic development (eg. riverside development, informal settlers)
    -Clogged waterways either by garbage or siltation

    D.) Climate Change
    – Change in weather patterns (extended and/or wetter rainy season,extended and/or drier/hotter summers)
    – Rising sea levels
    – etc.


    S O L U T I O N

    Having defined the parameters for flood to occur, the structural solution therefore should address each or in any combination of the following the parameters.

    A.) Capacity to contain Surface Run-off
    – Typical solutions are as follows:
    a.1) Provision for dams and reservoirs
    a.2) Provision for retention ponds & artificial lakes

    B.) Capacity to store
    -Typical solutions are as follows:
    b.1) Watersheds and vegetative cover
    b.2) Artificial Recharging wells
    b.3) Swales

    C.) Capacity to discharge
    -Typical solutions are as follows:
    c.1) separate network for each of the stormwater, residential sewer and industrial sewer lines.
    c.2) increasing waterways capacity either, or in any combination of the following: dredging the river bed, widening the waterways, raising the embankment by providing dikes or levees.
    c.3) reduce the potential of siltation and scouring either or in any combination of the following: bioswales along embankment, baffle chutes to reduce velocity,riprap/gabions/rock armours along embankment,etc.
    c.4) diversion for other purposes such as irrigation, power generation, water supply, transportation, etc.

    D.) Climate Change
    – Typical solutions include:
    d.1) Scenario Planning
    d.2) Improved forecasting techniques
    d.3) Infrastructure adaptation

    The above solutions will be part of a comprehensive water management framework in a regional or national scale and should be incorporated in the land use zonation planning,natural hazard & disaster risk mitigation plan, infrastructure development plan, and economic development plan of the region concerned.

    1. Additional….maybe can be categorize as a long term solution

      A.) Capacity to contain Surface Run-off
      – Typical solutions are as follows:
      a.1) Plant more tress in Rizal area specifically on the dam areas.
      a.2) Revive the mangroove plantation in the manila bay specifically in the bulacan area where they destroy it and create fish a result central luzon is always on flooded.

      B.) Capacity to store
      -Typical solutions are as follows:
      b.1) Trees, trees, trees

      C.) Capacity to discharge
      -Typical solutions are as follows:
      c.1) remove squatters and all the illegal infrastructure on all waterways in manila…
      c.2) clean up operation on all canals, waterways, manila bay coastline, rivers starting now until it finally answer the problem (but i dont know when) while
      c.3) imposing stiffer penalties to the mayors of cities/municipality and it citizen caught in throwing garbage, building or constructing thing on the waterways.

      D.) Climate Change
      – Typical solutions include:
      d.1) Trees tress trees..

  9. I see the water (Lake) moving inland again, it happens so fast, I’m almost positive there’s no exit of water and I don’t believe this has anything to do with the squatters, if it’s their garbage only… why not just pick it up, wouldn’t that be easier on everybody.

  10. it is a hopeless situation and the money that is needed is long gone. if the $$$/Peso’s that were supposed to be spent on irrigation/infrastructure projects were not STOLEN…the problem would be manageable now, BUT THAT time has long past.
    Never in my life have I seen such a lost cause as this.
    As SAD as it is DESPICABLE, the people responsible should be hanged.

  11. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my own friends agree with it. We do have a fair number of EPIC FAIL places and things about the metropolis. If only you guys heard what some of my friends suggest when it comes to improving the Metro as a whole.

  12. Tama ang controversially world-renowned fiction writer na si Mr. Dan Brown. Mala-impyerno nga ang ating kapaligiran lalong-lalo na sa Kalakhang Maynila at mga katabing bayan o kaya’y ‘surburbs’ nito. Kelangan magbago ang mga isip at damdamin ng mga nakatirang “squatters” at hindi dapat mawala ang pananagutan ng mga alkalde at kapitan ng kani-kanilang sinasakupan. Bakit ba sila ibinuto kung dapat PAGLiLiNGKOD sa SAMBAYAN ang iralin at HiNDi PAGLiLiNGKURAN sila nang dahil sa PERA, PWESTO at ePAL? Mag-isip-isip nga kayo bago kunin kayo ni BRO, ang talagang SUPERMAYOR ng lahat!… >:-(

    1. To stage something so obvious shows how desperate mmda are and what a pathetic person francis tolentino is, who must be worried about all his free trips abroad, and the annual increase in his wealth – SALN uplift last year 20 million pesos.
      A couple more years and he will be able to survey the floods from the comfort of his rolls-royce.
      He is as big a disaster as those he is supposed to resolve

  13. it is not right to blame one person (the MMDA chairman)of what happened. remember, hindi lang sya ang nakatira sa Pilipinas. lahat po tayo ay nakatira rito at hindi natin dapat iasa sa isang tao lamang responsibilidad na dapat ay tayong lahat ang gumagawa at nagtutulung-tulungan kung ibig natin na may bukas pa para sa atin at sa bawat Pilipino.kung kaya natin gawin ang isang bagay na makatutulong sa pag-ayos ng problema, kahit na maliit na paraan lamang ito ay dapat nating gawin.
    –iginagalang ko ang karapatan ng bawat Pilipino. May karapatan tayong bilhin at gawin ang nais nating gawin ngunit ang nakakalulungkot isipin ay hindi natin iniisip ang epekto ng mga ginagawa natin. Ngunit atin pong pakatandaan: na sa bawat karapatan na mayroon tayo ay ang responsibilidad na kaakibat nito.(in every rights we have is the responsibility with it).at kung anumang responsibilidad na nakaatang sa bawat isa sa atin ay nararapat lamang na ating gawin dahil ang kalalabasan naman nito ay para na rin sa ikabubuti natin.
    -ang simpleng pagtatapon ng basura kung saan-saan.
    -ang pagpila ng maayos.
    -ang pagsunod sa batas trapiko at paggalang sa awtoridad ng trapiko.
    -ang pagtawid sa tamang tawiran.
    -ang pagsakay sa tamang lugar ng sakayan.
    Ilan lamang po ito sa mga responsibilidad ng bawat isa sa atin at kung itong mga simpleng responsibilidad na mga ito na kayang-kaya naman nating gawin ay ating magagawa. ang pag-asa ay hindi mawawala.buhayin po natin ang bayanihan sa bawat isa sa atin.

  14. I think Dan Brown wants to send a message that the people need discipline or else chaos will eat them. Search manila hell on earth in youtube.

  15. “Everybody thought that our booming population could all easily fit into the city without any problem. Everybody thought that we would be better off living with the traffic-causing jeepneys instead of devising more efficient alternatives for transportation. Finally, everybody thought that the absence of a master plan for the city was a non-issue.”

    Seriously. No, that’s not what everybody thought. I thought everybody was an expert in this subject that everyone had a fucking opinion. Opinions don’t really matter noh? not bashing anyone here just saying that words and desires are completely worthless.

    im a shut up now and go clean my front yard!

  16. Is that a river or a trash heap? with a visible puddle cutely captured on second picture.

    I think the problem with squatters is they still believe in making family of 20 children, for good luck…that is so outdated thinking and not really sustainable atm.

    The main problem right now is the continuously expanding numbers of people competing for resources. You can’t blame the squatters for wanting to survive/live well but their way of thinking is destructive to everyone. If we want a fix we should look up to Japan, they are small land(comparable to ours) and effectively decreasing their numbers(much to the governments dismay).

  17. Why not just clean it up? No more talk. In the US, there are ‘Adopt A Highway’ campaigns, with citizens adopting a portion of a highway, and every month they pick up trash, put them in orange bags, and the Dept of Transportation pick up and dispose off the orange trash bags. In Manila you can have several “Adopt An Estero”, and groups can clean portions of it, and the city govt can pick up the trash removed by citizens from the esteros. With promotion such community action can transform areas of blight.

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