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Archive for September, 2009

After the Storm: The Deluge

Posted by conscientioussubversive on September 27, 2009

Après l’orage, le déluge.

After the Storm: The Deluge

The Scale of the Devastation

Typhoon Ondoy, also known as Tropical Storm Ketsana, slammed into the Philippines on 26 September 2009.  Actually, it didn’t so much slam into the country as stealthily creep over Luzon. Once it was in position, it rained over 41 cm of water over Manila, dumping one month’s worth of rain in a single day. For a Metro Manila that had seen nothing but rain for days, this was the turning point.

The Marikina river overflowed its banks, rapidly flooding all the low lying areas of that city. In one private subdivision in Marikina (Provident Village), floodwaters reached the roofs of single story buildings in a matter of minutes, forcing people to abandon all their belongings in order to escape. Later, as floodwaters carried the roofs of some residents off into the river itself, a horrific drama unfolded: a bridge pillar ahead blocked their way. The roof smashed into the pillar, sweeping all the people off it into the furious undertow of the river. No one knows how many perished in that one incident alone. In other places of the city, floodwaters reached the level of 20 feet, or over 6 meters. In comparison Hurricane Katrina dumped 8-10 inches of rain on Southwestern Mississippi over the duration of the storm. Typhoon Ondoy added 6 inches on top of that, and the rains haven’t even stopped. Over 250,000 people have been displaced by the disaster, with over a hundred dead, with the toll still climbing.

Downtown Manila and the suburbs have been transformed into vast lakes. EDSA, the main thoroughfare of the city, itself became a vast river of water that stranded traffic for hours. The South Luzon Expressway, a strategic road for millions of people who live in the southern suburbs, was totally closed to traffic. Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport closed on Saturday as its runway was flooded. Cars became dangerous projectiles as floodwaters threw them around like toys at the University of the East in downtown Manila. People working at their offices in Makati were forced to sleep in after Chino Roces Avenue (Buendia), one of its main throughfares, became impassable to all vehicles. People scrambled for shelter in any place they could find. Malls, offices, neighboring residences… The places which have seen floodwaters recede have revealed garbage and thick mud covering all surfaces reached by the floodwater, rendering many homes uninhabitable and ruining all materials belongings. Power, water supplies, and telecommunications were cut off in many parts of the city as infrastructure was destroyed by rising floodwaters which clogged pumping stations and destroyed power lines. Over 80% of a city of over 12 million people has been submerged. The flood is the worst that Manila has faced in its history.

Elitist Reaction

However, all was not well in the upper echelons of Philippine society. Despite the tragedy that had befallen the country, some people chose to prioritize selfish needs even when people were suffering as a direct result of that. The owners of Ever Gotesco Mall in the Pasig-Rizal area refused to open the mall to refugees waiting outside in the rain and rising waters, without water and food for 24 hours. Some Filipinos abroad have made callous comments about the country, suggesting that its ‘sins’ brought the deluge on Manila. The woman wasn’t even original, echoing a comment made by Pat Robertson on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Perhaps most damning was a photo posted by an anonymous person, showing an otherwise unaffected Mikey Arroyo in a liquor store in the posh Rustans’ Department Store purchasing expensive alcohol. Browsing for ‘donations’ perhaps? What disturbed me the most was that in the midst of all the posts on social networking sites, there were Pinoys abroad and at home who could still manage to cheerily chirp about their latest material acquisition or about the latest cool event they were attending. Such oblivion (or perhaps apathy) is simply inexcusable in a world where one can never be truly out of touch.

Its been well documented by writers such as Alfred McCoy, Benedict Anderson, Raul Constantino, and Walden Bello that many of those who belong to our elite have been directly responsible for the rent-seeking, short-sighted, and destructive behavior that has handicapped our country for hundreds of years. However, it is one thing to steal from your countryman, and entirely another to let him die as you stand around doing nothing. That, I believe is perhaps the worst form of violence one can inflict on another human being. The only way these people can redeem themselves, in my opinion, is only by standing up and taking action, either by doing their jobs or by helping those who need them most. No amount of apologies or platitudes can ever replace action. I am not trying to lay the blame for all this entirely on anyone, but I implore all those with the power to act to take swift action to lead rescue and recovery operations.

Getting down to work

Fortunately, these people are still but a small minority in the great Filipino nation. For every idiot out there, there are more than a hundred heroes to take his or her place.

Heroes like a humble office worker who helped organized World Vision’s relief drive on Facebook.

Heroes like a political pundit who collated all the information he could on the disaster on his blog so people would know how to send help and to guide those in danger to safety.

Heroes like hundreds of Filipinos who live beyond the shores of the country, but are at this minute putting together the means to assist their countrymen any way they can.

Heroes like a young woman who was prevented from taking the bar exam by Ondoy, and who rolled up her sleeves as a volunteer distributing food to refugees.

Heroes like the neighbors who opened their doors to their newly homeless brethren who had nowhere else to go.

Heroes like the guy who created an interactive map to allow people to signpost where stranded friends or relatives could be found and rescued.

Heroes like the men who held ropes across flooded thoroughfares so people wouldn’t be carried away by the torrent.

Heroes like the men who rescued old women from rising floodwaters despite the risk to their own lives.

Heroes like the young woman who drove her car through floodwaters to rescue her neighbors, then got out of her car and went back and waded through the waters to rescue more people stranded in her subdivision.

Heroes like the 18 year old who rescued 30 people on his own, including an infant, before succumbing to the floodwaters himself.

These and many other individual heroes unsung continue to do what they can to help. Even the country’s largest conglomerates have committed millions of pesos to assist those affected by the calamity. However, what is most striking is the spontaneous outpouring of action by a concerned citizenry, from all walks of life. Rich or poor, southerner or northerner, Pinoy abroad or at home, all have independently committed themselves to help those in need in any way that they can. Despite our country’s deep political, cultural, and economic divisions, we have united in action in the face of a common and fundamental threat.

Resilience

Perhaps this is what has kept our people going despite all the political and economic depredations we have undergone. For all the disasters man-made and natural inflicted upon us, Filipinos have never truly given up on hope. We all try to survive, even when our worldly belongings have been taken away. Even this does not strip the Pinoy of what is most fundamental: his/her humanity. Refusing to be cowed by fear and cynicism, the Pinoy rises above tragedy and tries to do some good for his neighbor, even if this is as simple as opening his or her door to them.

Many in the developed world have spoken of the concept of ‘resilience’. Resilience, they say, is what modern individuals need to imbibe in order to survive in a world threatened by terrorism and natural disasters. These same people claim that only government tutelage, information campaigns, and considerable financial resources will be able to guarantee that a citizenry remain resilient… and they entirely miss the point.

Resilience isn’t something trained into a people, it is their attitude towards adversity. If they as individuals cannot be counted upon to retain their basic humanity in a time of natural disaster, then they are not resilient. The Philippines has proven this time and time again. Despite our weak political infrastructure, despite our corrupt and inept leaders, and despite our poverty, we as individuals know that when we are called to serve our motherland, we act. This is not something that can be programmed into us. We were born and raised into it, imbibing the cherished values of a society that has not completely lost its heritage.

The storm has arrived. People have gone into action, doing what they can to serve our country. The ball is now in our government’s court, both for those supporting the administration and those who oppose it: will you join the people in helping our country recover from this crisis, or will you disappoint us once more? The time for cooperation and unity has arrived: will you take this opportunity to prove yourselves as responsible stewards of the country?

The action they will take will shape what comes after the storm: a deluge snuffing out the respect that the Philippine public has for them, or the mobilization of the great spirit of volunteerism that has emerged from this crisis.

A deluge of indifference, or a deluge of hope?

Manila, overlooking Taft Avenue, 2003

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HELPING OUT:

If you wish to help, there are many charities you can support. Filipino or not, if you are a world citizen, we welcome your help. Here is a list of the charities and groups active so far, along with their contact information and their locations.

If you are out of the country, you may course donations through your local Red Cross or Red Crescent, or donate directly to the Philippine National Red Cross here.

For those in Manila and the surrounding areas, you can help report people in need of rescue at Typhoon Ondoy.org. Centers for collection of relief goods are also listed.

Thank you.

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