"We must learn to call out—in stronger voices—the neglect, ineptitude and indifference of whoever pulls the levers of government."
In a moment of epiphany, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced a crackdown on illegal mining and quarrying. These illegal activities have been with us since the 1970s. A succession of governments had vowed to stop them, but the problem seems to get worse with every change in regime, and with deadlier consequences.
Some sectors have proposed imposing a logging and quarrying ban altogether. This is a rather peculiar proposal, like telling a bald man he cannot have a haircut. As they say in Tagalog, “bawal magpagupit ang kalbo.”
All these would appeal to the cynical as examples of post-disaster scapegoating.
We have also been told that the causes of the widespread devastation are partly beyond the control of government, climate change being a global affliction. It is also partly our fault, the result of our supposed lack of discipline. Exhibit A are the tons of plastics and wastes clogging the canals and waterways. Then there is poverty. People too poor to buy construction materials for their houses end up cutting trees.
What we should have had is a sustained effort to protect our environment. Every administration in recent history had rolled out programs to address the pillage of our forests and watersheds and the perennial flooding. Yet most of these programs never survived beyond the term of the administration that proposed them. Other programs were good for a few photo ops and nothing else.
Instead of sustained undertakings, we have programs held hostage by politics and political patronage. It is rather disconcerting that specialized agencies that should be headed by experts and scientists are often turned over to political appointees who bring to the job their sterling qualification of being the seat mate, party mate, or province mate of the appointing power.
As a result, the government is thrown into a frenzy every time a natural disaster strikes. While disaster frontliners risk their lives, clueless officials try to look busy. Quick-fix solutions are implemented. A committee is formed. A new crackdown is ordered. We manage disasters through adhocracy.
This is infuriating. Action plans to curb climate change and to mitigate the impact of natural disasters should be based on science. They should transcend the six-year election cycle. Yet leave it to us to downgrade science in favor of politics.
In times of calamities, we can only turn to our time-tested resiliency. But even this once celebrated virtue has fallen into disrepute, described disparagingly by the woke as a convenient cover to hide government accountability. They have a point.
But resiliency is not the problem. It is the indifference to the failings of government. It is the collective amnesia, the acceptance of things as being the will of the Almighty when they are the results of ineptitude and corruption of ordinary mortals.
The problem is in being content with the short-term, being satisfied with the quick-fix rather than the long-term. It’s about time we replace “Pwede na yan” with “Bakit ganyan lang.” We should push for excellence, and not settle for mediocrity.
This might also explain why we prefer the opaque rather than the transparent, since transparency could reveal ugly truths about ourselves that we are not ready to acknowledge.
We should stay resilient. It has served us well given the cruel spot we occupy on the planet. It has helped us bounce back from every disaster, natural or man-made. But we must also crawl out of the hole of learned helplessness. We must learn to call out—in stronger voices—he neglect, ineptitude and indifference of whoever pulls the levers of government. That would be a challenge given the poisoned air of partisanship. But unless we get our act together, we might as well accept that we are all living on borrowed time.
The author is a former journalist and a political and government communications practitioner.