The emergence of Metro Manila as a political unit is inextricably tied to its history as a flood-prone metropolis. A comparison of flood-control efforts in the 1970s with those that preceded it in 1909 and 1952 demonstrates that flood control in Metro Manila has been a deeply political issue. Opposition from local governments derailed plans, which gained traction only under Ferdinand Marcos, who starting in 1972 initiated large-scale projects and neutered local autonomy by creating the Metro Manila Commission. Marcos’s flood-control program followed his regime’s technocratic, high-modernist approach to disaster mitigation and centralized metropolitan governance, with slum dwellers living along the waterways bearing the brunt of his undemocratic disaster governance.

Keywords: natural disasters • urbanization • authoritarianism • high modernism • technocracy • urban poor

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