The biggest crime would be to allow the kind of government we have, the kind of system that’s in place, to continue. I think this is the lesson that typhoon Ondoy has taught us.
Since Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have been caught in the grip of the inescapable: the impact of a typhoon that let down an ocean’s worth of water through the streets and alleys of a country ill-prepared.
It would be a gross inaccuracy to say that the Macapagal-Arroyo government didn’t see the typhoon coming. I mean, freaking hell, the Philippines is a country that get’s visited by typhoons on a regular basis: every year, at least 10 typhoons come; and even the slightest rains leave the streets flooded and people are forced to wade through knee-deep, black and fetid water. That should be more than enough warning of what greater damage can happen if the rains took longer, if the water didn’t go down less slowly through the antiquated and often blocked drainage systems. But really, what does it mean that up to now, since the time the Republic was founded, the Philippines continues to fall victim to the devastating effects of natural phenomena like typhoons?
There is no excuse for the Philippines and the government, the administration that currently, supposedly ‘leads’ it, to be unprepared for Typhoon Ondoy, or for any other typhoon for that matter.
Every hour, tv news programs give update on the lives of Filipinos all but destroyed by the typhoon– the flooded houses, the damaged furniture and the personal possessions forever gone are the least of important of what has been lost. Thousands are in the evacuation centers, men, women, old people and the very young trying to adjust to suddenly very bleak conditions, a long horizon of hopeless scenarios ahead of them.
It’s a living nightmare, after surviving the typhoon, to find that you have no food and water, that your children are contracting flu that could quickly turn to pneumonia or bronchitis or some other killer respiratory disease. It’s almost a fate worse that a painful death by drowning to find that you have lost your wife or husband, a sibling, a parent, a child to the flood. It’s enough to even make you wish for death to realize that their bodies have not yet been found and the chances of finding them are so far they’re practically nil.
Not enough rubber boats. No helicopters. Transportation and telecommunication systems and electricity and water supplies are down. The private sector had to take over, and the government can only issue excuses.
Some would say that now is not the time to be issuing criticism or blame; that what Filipinos should focus on is helping each other to recover from the devastation and to make sure that everyone gets back on their feet. But is that enough? Do we simply forget what happened by chalking it up to bad luck, to nature punishing the Philippines, to faulty drainage systems?
I have no doubt in the indomitable spirit of of Filipinos. We are made of stronger, flexible stuff that ensures our survival. We are capable of smiling even in the midst of grief. We are capable of forgiving even our worst enemies. We believe in the power of hope, and we cling to our hope even as all signs point to a lost cause. We can and have often showed unity in the face of almost crippling challenges and difficulties. We are capable of great love for one another, as well as forgetting wrongs done us. There is both good and bad in this, and the division changes daily; but in whichever case, this is what helps us survive, what allows to continue, to get back on our feet and try again.
But how long must we rely on our resilience? And dare we hope that our children can and will be as strong as us? Dare we risk it — their futures; dare we gamble on it, their own chances of survival? And would it be right?
How long will be grin and bear it? Until when will we grit our teeth, or heave hollow sighs as we try to come to terms with what neglect we as a nation and a people suffer, the punishment undeserved that continues to be inflicted on us by deliberately flawed, callous and selfish governance? How many times can we turn the other cheek and try to forgive when again and again we have been not only slapped, but struck and bloodied all over?
We can replace television sets, sofas, refrigerators. Cars are merely metal; and houses can be rebuilt after all the mud has been carted away and the streets cleared of the flotsam.
But to say that it would be easy to forget the agony of trying to keep our heads out of the water after hours of treading it; of withstanding the wet cold of the wind and rain as we stand on rooftops; of seeing our children getting hungrier or thirstier by the minute or worse, needing immediate medical attention and getting none… that is simply not possible.
Now, more than ever, it is important — IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH — to realize the necessity of having a good government; one that takes into consideration the safety and welfare of the people above everything else; one that looks far into the future not to secure itself in power but to see what it can and should do to ensure that Filipinos will never again suffer like they are suffering now because of a typhoon.
We cannot fight nature and we shouldn’t. What we can do is to prepare for whatever it brings on, and to prepare well. Nature is predictable, and science has made leaps and bounds in foreseeing its actions and measuring all possible impact so humanity can adjust and keep itself safe.
But because of the kind of government, the kind of system that’s now in place, the Philippines is as helpless a paper sailboat in a storm everytime there’s a typhoon. Corruption is what eats up what should be allocations for disaster preparedness campaigns and plans — the same way it eats up funds that should go towards education, health and housing.
Even now there are reports that billions of public funds are being earmarked for moves to amend the 1987 Constitution:
And for a moment, if any of us is still inclined to give this government the benefit of the doubt, there was an August 15, 2009 story in the Philippine Star that states how the Macapagal-Arroyo administration utilized the government’s P800-million contingency fund for emergencies like calamities for her trips abroad. This was according to an opposition lawmaker who cited a Commission on Audit (COA) report. The COA findings show that the 2008 contingency fund was not enough for foreign travels and Macapagal-Arroyo augmented it by P120 million.
So crucial questions remain: will be wait for the next typhoon to devastate us as the government that should be leading us squanders taxes and the national budget for self-serving purposes? Will we again simply rely on our strong sense of survival and try to forget the man-made tragedies exacerbated by natural phenomena?
For the sake of those lost, and those still missing, for the sake of the children suffering in the evacuation centers, for the sake of those grieving and all that has been irretrievably lost, let’s not forgive this government and fight for a more humane, more compassionate one. Because Typhoon Ondoy was not the first; and it will certainly not be the last.And the body count of those lost to the raging floodwaters of the yearly typhoons continues to mount, and the tears of those who lost loved ones are almost enough to drown the nation if they had been contained, collected and then unleashed.