Inside the Artex Compound, the 'Venice of Malabon'

Where water is a way of life.

When someone tells us about the "Venice of the Philippines," we might visualize images of the Venice Grand Canal in Bonifacio Global City. Rightfully so, as that thing is a sight to behold in many ways. But long before the canal inspired by the Italian original came to be, Malabon's version of Venice had already existed.

Water is a way of life down here at the Artex Compound in Malabon. Sure, the area might have never had the weight of history of the Italian city or the glam of BGC, but it does have character. It only took a little rain for the place and its people to be swallowed whole.

Situated in Barangay Panghulo, the area is pure drama. Look around and we see houses that rise above murky waters and boats floating in the vicinity. It's been this way in the barangay since 2004. There has been no land to walk on for close to two decades now. For hundreds of families, this is home.

"The compound used to be so beautiful. There used to be pine trees here. Residents would also play basketball. But a typhoon came and submerged the complex in water," said Martyn Tambis, a former resident of the complex.

A photo of the complex before the flooding.

Photo by Martyn Tambis.

Photos of the complex after the flooding.

Photo by Flickr/Rhea Santos.
Photo by Flickr/Rob Reyes.

He added: "People had to adapt, and that's why there are 'silongs' there, which are old houses that aren't used anymore because they're under water. Extension houses here are common because some people had nowhere to go."


Originally, this eight-hectare complex was supposed to be a housing project for the Artex Yupangco Textile Mills Corporation workers. In the '70s, it was one of the leading textile manufacturers in Asia. The decade that followed did not, however, produce the kind of results they had hoped for.

In the '80s, Artex factory workers would go on strike. They expressed dissatisfaction with the poor working conditions, low wages, and lack of benefits.

Some allege that the Artex Compound was given to workers as a token of sorts to squash dissent. These units were supposed to be rent-free housing, after all. The workers, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to leverage their demands.

They vowed to never leave the premises until management granted them just compensation. Sadly, this was when talks stalled and a standoff ensued. In 1989, Artex would close down due to the labor squabble and general flooding situation in the city of Malabon.

Photo by Flickr/Rhea Santos.
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Since then, the compound has been an alternate tourist attraction in some respects. People have a general curiosity about the place and for good reason. Street photographers have visited the area to document the lives of its residents while some media outlets have done whole segments about its history.

Malabon's urbanization over the years didn't help the compound either. The complex lies in one of the city's lowest-lying areas. Fish ponds became relocation sites and real estate developers started building properties around the barangay. This, unfortunately, would effectively turn the Artex Compound into a catch basin. "It's a privately owned location and the local government couldn't do much to intervene," noted Tambis.

In popular culture, the Artex Compound has even made appearances in critically acclaimed films like Brillante Mendoza's Lola in 2009 and Dondon Santos' Noy in 2010. Ang Probinsyano shot some scenes here, as well.

Photo by Martyn Tambis.

Artex Compound's residents have had to bear the brunt of the ironies of its Venice nickname. For starters, clean drinking water is hard to come by. In 2013, there was even been a fire here, too, which produced some casualties, including Tambis' friend's father.

Jobs can be difficult to find, considering that the place doesn't exactly have a myriad of opportunities for stable work. The flooding, which was brought on by rains in 2004, has never subsided. Relocation efforts have been done by the city, too, but residents only end up leaving for a little while and end up coming back.

The people of Artex have adapted to the ways of the waters at the very least, creating a subculture of their own. Stores here have a pulley method; they would make use of baskets and strings to exchange cash and goods. Houses don't rely on taps, too. Members of the family have to fetch water from a local well. Schools are outside the compound so kids have to take P5 boat rides to get there.

Water ebbs and flows in the Artex Compound today just as it did in 2004. Residents don't have much of a choice, really, so they go about their days, just paddling through.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is a Filipino cultural critic, editor, and essayist. He writes about art, books, travel, people, current events, and all the magic in between. His past work in film and media can be found on PeopleAsia Magazine, The Philippine Star, MANILA BULLETIN, and IMDB.
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