MANILA, Philippines - This past week, the Philippines experienced an unwanted visitor by the name of Maring. As this article goes to press, the storm-enhanced southwest monsoon has left 16 persons dead and 41 injured, and of the 1,000,000 affected, over 670,000 are located in Central Luzon.
When tropical storm Ondoy hit in 2009, it left behind unprecedented disaster. The then National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), whose sole job was to prepare for the unimaginable, found itself underwater, in a manner of speaking. Our own government was incapacitated and looked toward the private sector for help. Those with resources gladly pooled together what they had. We took to the streets, to social media, to every available avenue to get families off rooftops, and while it took more time than we had hoped to accomplish what we did, we were left with a glimmering sense of Filipino pride. “Bayanihan,” we said. “Where I come from, everyone’s a hero,” we said.
Four years later, the seemingly apocalyptic storms show no signs of stopping. There is at least one massive storm every year that ravages our cities and provinces, submerging our roads and crushing people under currents of dirty floodwater. The private sector has since stepped up far beyond its call of duty. For instance, Ateneo Task Force Noah, founded in 2004 as a means of addressing the natural disasters in Nueva Ecija and Aurora, has expanded into the Ateneo Disaster Response and Management Team (more commonly known as the Ateneo DReaM Team). Enderun Colleges, known for its culinary and hotel and restaurant management programs, consistently puts their kitchens to work in times of crises such as this in order to make hot meals for thousands of traumatized evacuees. RescuePH, once a mere hashtag in the beginning of social media rescues, has grown into a well-oiled machine where people can submit information on those in need of rescue, and after contact has been made, a rescue team is dispatched to those in need.
The government, on the other hand, has since renamed the NDCC the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. They have restructured the council without actually minimizing the risk or managed the terror these disasters have wrought. There have been no tangible developments in flood control as far as we can tell, and the most we have gotten are a few hot meals provided by DepEd and DSWD’s call to help repack relief goods. These are actions, which while good, are not nearly acceptable enough.
Pork barrel scandal
With Maring coming at the heels of the pork barrel scandal (which, if you haven’t heard about, you should really read up on), the people are livid. So livid that in the midst of this most recent disaster, the name Napoles kept coming up with a litany of angry comments, getting muddled in the good work that everyone else was trying to do. And as far as the sentiment goes, it’s completely understandable. See, it’s no secret that our government is riddled with corrupt politicians, that the taxes paid by dutiful citizens have gone to more pockets than country-wide improvements. But to be faced with actual names and numbers, what else are we left with but rage and questions? How does10 billion go missing without anyone raising questions? Where should that money have gone? Had there been a more honest soul in the place of the accused, would where we are today look much more different?
We are so desperate for good men to believe in that we take photos of public servants doing good work in past crises and say, “That’s the one who should have been president.” We are so blinded by anger that we organize marches that don’t necessarily have an end goal, except to show that we are outraged and that we want change, even though we are clueless as to how it should come about. We are grasping at straws because something called a Priority Development Assistance Fund should see what we’ve seen after the assaults of Ondoy and Pepeng and Gener and Maring and nameless torrential rainfall, and should be utilized so we don’t have to leave each disaster with a need to start all over.
We tear each other apart on an issue like reproductive health, which while worth discussing, is no more important than flood control or urban planning. Because we have gotten to a point where rain is no longer an issue of simple traffic management, but an event that causes fatalities that can and should be avoided. Each time we’re greeted by storms such as these, we are surprised not only at the number of people who are lost because they were victims of the circumstances, but at those we lose because they risked their own lives to save others. And while there is no one among us who does not want to help the other if it is in his capacity to do so, how many more times do we have to call for donations of canned goods, how many more times to we have to ask our brothers to rage against the flood to initiate a rescue, and how many more lives do we have to lose before those we elect see the funds we entrust to them as more than a means to fund their lifestyles? Even as a matter of politics, of all the issues we can disagree on, I hardly think making structural improvements to avoid unnecessary deaths is one of them.
There is a place for kindness and for idealism, and certainly there is no situation so dire that all hope is lost. But the consolation private citizens have gained from words like “The Filipino spirit is waterproof” has become very brief and dissolves like salt in rainwater. We are begging for progress, for justice and accountability, and at the very least some shred of respect for the electorate who repeatedly put their lives and their loved ones’ lives in the hands of a system that repeatedly betrays them. We extend love and prayers to each other as we plug up the holes in our boat, doing our best to keep it from sinking, while our government kicks back with a Dom Perignon and idly watches us work. We deserve more, and we should demand for more, but the real question here is how do we get it?
Originally published on 24 August 2013. Online release can be viewed here.