"We emote too much and rationalize too little."
Two successive typhoons, Two successive typhoons, Rolly and Ulysses, have just compounded the problems besetting our country, still reeling from the pandemic.Rolly and Ulysses, have just compounded the problems besetting our country, still reeling from the pandemic.
Many lives have been lost, livelihoods shattered, and local economies flattened by nature’s wrath. Strong winds destroyed homes and rampaging floodwaters destroyed billions of pesos worth of farm crops.
It could not have happened at a worse time, just some 45 days before Christmas, the country’s most festive season already dampened by the requirements of fighting the contagion that as of last count has breached 406,000 cases and coming close to 8,000 deaths.
Many beseech the heavens and ask why we seem to be punished so much, but forget that both people and government are partly to blame for the non-mitigation of predictable disasters. We keep praising our “resilience” and tout platitudes of recovery, because after all, life continues after every disaster, and people pick up the pieces of their shattered livelihoods to begin all over again.
In truth, we never learn.
Floodwaters that engulfed the Marikina Valley in what its residents described as worse than Ondoy was not just because of the unusual rainfall (Ondoy in 2009 poured much more), but because the foothills of the Sierra Madre in Montalban were denuded decades ago, the remaining earth now being quarried with impunity. The usual culprits—local politicians and their business cohorts. When the rains poured, tons of water just flowed by uncontrolled gravity down to the catch basin that Marikina has always been.
Logging, both “legal” and illegal, again through collusion between rapacious politicians and their greedy partners, destroyed the holding capacity of both the Sierra Madre and the Cordillera ranges, such that the Cagayan Valley was inundated, unfortunately with little warning because Ulysses which had earlier hit the Southern Luzon regions veered northwards instead of just westward to the China Sea.
The situation was compounded by the release of tons of water from our dams, particularly Magat in Isabela, and Angat in Bulacan, which, if science had coordinated well, could have been properly timed and calibrated.
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Meanwhile, the usual carpers and critics find a convenient flogging horse in the president, asking where he was while the calamities struck with fury. “Nasaan ang Pangulo?”, they twit.
What was it they wanted? To see a 75-year-old leader wade, nay swim, in floodwaters just to make a show of empathy? Should disaster response and effective governance in times of calamity be a mere show that demands the physical presence of a leader?
We emote too much and rationalize too little. The fact that rescue teams by both local and national government agencies responded and saved many even without the president presiding over television-broadcast meetings is proof that government works, even if their best is never enough when confronted by the unusually strong rage of nature.
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What we need are medium- and long-term plans in place, ready to be implemented whenever natural calamities, which are part of our geographic location, being in the typhoon swath of the mighty Pacific and its Ring of Fire as well. And plans that are far-reaching, well studied, pro-active and preventive, rather than mere reactions of rescue each time disaster strikes.
And these plans ought to be properly funded and continuously implemented, with consistency of purpose and proper coordination between the national government and its local units.
Taipei and New Taipei cities, for example, are also catch basins of rainwater from surrounding mountains and the swelling of both the Tamsui and Keelung rivers that flow into the China Sea. They too used to get flooded mightily in the 60s and the 70s.
But for two decades, the government constructed weirs and dikes to control the rampage and protect the population centers from overflowing rivers, programmed in the budget each year for 20 years, and assiduously implemented through sound engineering.
River banks were cleared, used as parks, baseball fields and parking lots, with hundred meter easements, after which 10-to-12-meter high thickly reinforced dikes were built. Not only have inner population centers been protected from recurring floods, but the easements have become recreational and sports facilities. This, despite the fact that the Keelung River alone, which passes right across the twin cities, is much longer than our Pasig, at some 86 kilometers in length.
In Metro Manila, riverbanks with hardly any easement are where we build our houses and shanties, with residents just praying that the rains will abate and floods not occur.
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We end this tale of woe with a sincere note of gratitude to the Taiwan government, whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Friday not only expressed to me their sympathies, and before that when Typhoon Rolly struck, but has donated 200,000 US dollars to our government through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Manila. The check will be accepted by MECO Deputy Representative Gilbert Lauengco from Representative Michael Pei-yung Hsu this week, and thence transmitted to our officialdom.
As has been their wont, the Tzu Chi Foundation has likewise mobilized teams to assist victims of these calamities, particularly in poverty-stricken Bicol, just as they responded immediately when Yolanda (Haiyan) struck in 2013.
Taiwan has always been ready to help.