SLIDESHOW: Artex Malabon, The Venice of the Philippines

Photos by Jonathan Cellona for

Posted at Aug 13 2014 06:41 PM | Updated as of Aug 10 2016 06:20 PM

It wasn't always this way in Barangay Panghulo, inside the Artex compound.

Thirty years ago, it was a thriving community of laborers working for the Artex Yupangco Textile Mills Corporation, living together with their families. When the workers staged a strike in 1984 because of low wages, the company fought back claiming their low pay was compensated by free housing. After a long legal battle, the company decided to close down in 1989, but the workers decided to stay, claiming the property as theirs.

But unemployment wasn't their only problem. Even then, the compound, being the lowest point of Malabon, was constantly flooded whenever it rained because it was lying in the center of two rivers. In 2004, after days of continuous rains, the floods came and never left. Artex compound became a catch basin.

Some of the workers and their families have moved on to other places, but despite the flood, some of the hardiest residents have stayed. The workers' children have grown up and now have families of their own and have learned to call the 8-hectare property their home.

The streets have lost their name but the houses still stand, raised two to three floors up on concrete posts or stilts. Almost every house here has a boat, the boat they use to move around and the boat where their lives also revolve.

Theirs is a story of constant adaptation to forces not exactly brought by nature but may be beyond their control.

Women, because they stay home while their husbands and children work, are the ones left to operate the makeshift boats around the compound. They spend a majority of their time on the boats, stopping occasionally to rest and to take their meals, as they wait for passengers. The passengers are mostly their neighbors who pay five pesos per head to ferry them to and from their houses.

It is ironic that this community surrounded by water subsists on one faucet as the only source of fresh water. That is why the precious commodity is carefully managed by the community.

Here, residents fetch water to take to their homes for bathing, washing and everything else. The residents can buy tingi (retail) at 25 cents a gallon or in big containers for as much as 150 pesos. The water is drinkable but most of the residents buy mineral water for drinking.

The community is still composed of about 200 families. Many have gone and looked for homes and livelihood elsewhere. Only the one’s left here have hope that someday this land will be awarded to them. In many ways, their bane that is the water is the only thing keeping their lives afloat.