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Navotas is one of the most socio-economically depressed areas in metropolitan Manila. Over 250,000 people live in this region, one of the world's most densely populated, situated in the northwest quadrant of Manila, right on Manila Bay. Back in the 1970s, hundreds of families from Samar and Leyte and the Bicols fled the wars of insurgency. They found an abandoned garbage site lying between Manila Bay and a cemetery, and here they settled as squatters. As you might imagine, crime, drunkenness, and drug addiction ran rampant, while hygiene and treatment for malnutrition was non-existent.
Today, these conditions remain largely unchanged. Though most streets are paved, gaping holes, rotting garbage, and almost constant human traffic make getting around very difficult in this crowded town. The stench of open sewers, plus the exhaust from motorcycles, jeepneys, and cars make the air heavy and unpleasant to breathe. Typhoon rains regularly flood the streets of Navotas, rising to more than 2.5 feet in areas, taking days to recede. Hundreds of street vendors sell everything from live chickens and fresh-caught fish to cooked meats, rice, and noodles. The volume of noise from these vendors, the constant flow of traffic, the shouting and laughter of hundreds of children playing in the streets and the constant chatter of passers-by add up to an urban din not unlike the noise of major metropolitan cities in the U.S.
Peoples' homes vary widely in construction and style - some are cinder block constructions, while most are combinations of cement block and steel, patched together with scraps of rusted steel and discarded pieces of plastic and cardboard. For those who live literally on Manila Bay, houses are constructed on long bamboo stilts, and a system of rickety bamboo bridges and walkways guide residents to their houses, which are perched some 20-30 feet above the water. These are the poorest of the poor of Navotas, who live no better than their counterparts who have found sanctuary in abandoned niches in the Navotas cemetery. Elsewhere in Navotas, dwellings are packed tightly together, with alleyways between houses no more than 4 feet wide. Large families (5-10 children) are very common in Navotas, with all family members sleeping on the floor of a space no larger than 10' X 10'. Needless to say, personal privacy is never an option in Navotas!
Running water is rare in the town, so water is collected in large plastic drums outside the homes, to be used for the families' washing, cooking, and laundering. Filtered water for drinking is purchased daily from water vendors. Roaches, mice, and rats are commons sights in the daily home lives of Navotans.
(Adapted from JESUIT "TERTIANSHIP IN THE PHILIPPINES" a travelogue by Fr. Raymond Guiao, SJ)