Life in submerged island communities | Inquirer Opinion
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Life in submerged island communities

Summer days are upon us and whole families with swimming gear are trooping to swimming pools in our neck of the woods. At the height of this crunch, one wonders just how many people of various ages and shapes can be contained in what can only be described as overwhelmed swimming pools. Cars, tricycles, e-quads, motorcycles, etc. are parked outside, with vendors of floaters, water toys, swimwear, etc., creating a festive atmosphere.

Now, let’s pan to Batasan island off Tubigon in Bohol. This island is permanently submerged in clear seawater. On a typical day, young children to senior citizens relax in the seawater, sitting, wading, and swimming. The whole island is submerged in seawater, and it has been that way since the Bohol earthquake of 2013 caused the subsidence of Batasan and nearby islands—Pangaspasan, Bilangbilangan, and Nocnocan.


But this seemingly idyllic situation is actually a slow-motion nightmare. Drinking water is either imported from the Bohol mainland or collected from the rain. The sanitation system is an unimaginable or unmentionable challenge. Children wade to the submerged elementary school with packed lunches, so they do not have to wade home at noon. Here are several videos by a very insightful and productive young vlogger, Joseph Pasalo (SEFTV on YouTube) that more dramatically capture the dire straits of these islanders (,,

These islands have sunk by as much as 75 centimeters. The communities are flooded from May to August during the day, and at night from November to January during high tide. These islands have also suffered from typhoons, the most destructive of which was Typhoon “Odette” (international name: Rai) in December 2021.


Just how many of the 7,641 Philippine islands are submerged or home to coastal communities? How many more will be submerged due to earthquakes, sea level rise, overdrawn groundwater, liquefaction, and other causes? How should the Philippines deal with the slow and sudden onset of island or coastal submersion? How can this scattered and sporadic situation capture enough national and local government attention to move minds, move people, and move resources toward a workable, long-term solution?

These are the questions a group of social and natural scientists belonging to Future Earth Philippines decided to present in an online “transformation collaboratory” session in the Asian Spotlight Event at the Sustainability Research and Innovation Congress (SRI2023) where the international audience will actively participate in diagnosing, understanding, and proposing innovative and feasible solutions to the problem. SRI is the world’s largest transdisciplinary gathering for the global sustainability community. This year, it will be held in Panama City in June.

The FEP panel of experts who will present the problem for collaborative diagnosis and identification of solution pathways is composed of doctors, professors, and National Academy of Science and Technology academicians Fernando Siringan, Mahar Lagmay, Jurgenne Primavera, Guillermo Tabios III, and Dr. Rene Rollon. As the proponent of the panel, I will serve as moderator.

The session will suggest this problem to be similar to the effect of sea level rise due to climate change, making it a good focus for developing multisectoral partnerships to design and implement anticipatory mitigation and adaptation action. There are two levels to the call for policy and science inputs from the SRI2023 Congress participants: How to resolve the immediate problem, and how to use it to generate institutional collaboration and readiness for similar future events.

There are several cases that fall into this general category of submerged islands and coastal communities—the rapid subsidence due to earthquakes such as in Batasan; the slow subsidence of the coastal delta plains like in Bulacan and Pampanga; the slow subsidence of islands in the West Philippine Sea; the subsidence due to liquefaction as in Northern Luzon due to the 1990 earthquake; and the coastal erosion due to sand mining like in Cavite to feed reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

International interest in this topic is expected due to analogous experiences elsewhere in the world, such as in the Maldives, Nauru, and Hawaii. It is exciting to imagine that the transformation collaboratory session will generate innovative, adaptive, and resilient designs of residential, commercial, transportation, and other structures, as well as whole neighborhoods, barangays, coastal zones, and municipalities and cities.

The most difficult question that the international audience might ask is, with 7,641 islands, why hasn’t the Philippines been able to find room for the relocation of what seems to be proliferating cases of submerged island and coastal communities?
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