Précis of a Disaster
The aftermaths of Ondoy and Pepeng are far from over. In the streets of Pinagbuhatan, a friend describes chaos. In the subdivisions of Marikina, a friend describes desolation. From wherever I was those nights, I could hear the plastic bags making those scrunching sounds as people packed up donations and relief goods for those affected by the typhoons.
Any aftermath, however, begins with the first person who raises a finger to accuse. Way before the first plastic bag of relief goods was handed over to the first person who needed it, the first accusations already hit hard. Practically everyone has been blamed on this disaster; from that guy who threw a candy wrapper into the storm drain 3 hours before the waters started rising, to the highest echelons of the Government itself. After all, strong rains may be an act of God, but a flood is a calamity of man.
Sisihan being the order of the day, the “we have no one to blame but ourselves” card has already been played. The problem is that none of us are probably willing to shoulder the blame of the tragedy, as much as some of us are willing to take credit for ideas, solutions, and actions. The devastation brought about by the past few floods is the summary of years of neglect and omission: a crisis of priorities that lasted for decades, and still going strong. It’s not that we all should shoulder the blame, as much as we should take the calamity as a hard-hitting lesson that while things seemed to be okay, they never were right.
Ondoy and Pepeng highlighted and underscored things that were, metaphorically, disasters on their part. For all the lip-service on solid waste management and improving PAGASA’s services, disaster struck and went unabated, mismanaged. Relief efforts continued to reflect the same inefficiency that has characterized our bureaucracy. Yet there’s that continued stubbornness of the Filipino that, while helpful in the relief lines, still makes him continue to build shanties and throw garbage on the streets. Then you have people blaming this tragedy on faulty urban plannning, migration, a lack of discipline. Sentiments of regionalism rise up, and things that challenge our sensibilities spread all over the Internet.
At the end of the day, the blame game continues – and continues – that you really can’t pin this one on anybody, and the collective really can’t take the blame. No one can, no one will, and when everyone else is casting stones, nobody knows – or cares for – who threw the first one. That’s the other storm, and we’re flooded in blames and accusations none of us can be held accountable for. The first few things that clogged up the storm drains, denuded our forests, and congested the Metropolis were already there way before we were here. It’s just that we never really did anything to solve the problem. We never corrected it. It seemed to be all OK. Yet the summary says otherwise.
As much as the floodgates opened up for opportunists scrambling to donate meals with their names on it, Ondoy and Pepeng opens up a whole world of opportunities for us to start all over again. Too late, perhaps for this typhoon, but never too late for the next typhoon to plot out warning devices, build dikes, spread out development to the peripheries and to the different regions of the country, and for the lot of us, do our share to keep our streets and gutters clean. Plant trees. Realize that charity and justice don’t begin and end with floods.
The negligence, omission, and crisis of priorities does not have to end at storm warning systems or clearing operations, but a continued commitment from each and every one of us that if we don’t want this to happen again, we have to do our part. It should be the wake-up call for us that we’re a country teetering at the very edge of danger, and any indiscriminate act – whether it’s inefficient governance or poor citizenship – when multiplied in many ways, literally has the potential to kill us.
Not because of guilt, but because as Ondoy and Pepeng have shown, our lives depend on it.
* – Image sourced from here.