Here we go again, another river bank community

I remember Cagayan de Oro as where many years ago I attended a discernment program to discern (whatever this means) whether I’m material for the convent. My journey was almost end-to-end, from Baguio to Manila and then by sea with stop over in Iloilo where the Order has a mission center. The place is Manresa Retreat Center, atop a hill (the Order has centers on hilltops, expected from its history beginning at Mt. Carmel) that has an astounding view of CDO valley (how could one not “meet” God at that vantage point?). After that, I returned to the city twice the latest in 2009 and each time it is Manresa I remember although I had not visited it again in my return.

Like most I couldn’t have known that the typhoon would bring that barrage of rain and water and to that city and just before Christmas. I was in Tagaytay doing short work for an organization when the warning was issued. My roommate, employed with the host organization, recently transferred to the DRR programme, and who attended a meeting at the OCD that day gave me the latest news. We remembered the fury of past typhoons visiting in December and hoped this typhoon would spare people on its path. We worried that it might change course and journey to say Baguio instead which meant I’d be either on the road accompanying it back home or spend Christmas away from home. But thank heavens that was not the case. A day after returning home, the bleak news was out. The first thing I remembered was the flash flood in Manila brought on by typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy, which I witnessed. I decided to spend the weekend in Manila then but the next day regretted the decision at the sight of the rising water on our street (I realized I could’ve met an untimely death, drowned or something all because of a decision!). I would never underestimate the power of flash floods after that.

It happened again and apparently there is a need to identify who is to be blamed. Families who put up residence on the water’s path? DENR for being blind to illegal massive logging? The LGU for sitting down on DRR? Well each was responsible but at the core of the problem is economics. With scant economic resources, families favor river banks because of the river’s free services such as water supply, flowing receptacle of household waste, and food source. Supposing these families are in subdivisions, they’d be evicted in no time for failure to pay the mortgage, garbage collection fee, water and electricity bills, and starve on the side as there’d be none left for food purchase. Being on the path of flood is a risk they are willing to live with rather than starve. Any human with sense will choose to survive even if it means doing so against all odds. Therefore developing and implementing a solid economic development plan and strategy is the best thing the government could do to reduce disaster risks. Regular dole outs of milk, pencils, and slippers are left-over trappings of feudalism. Filipinos are a hard working people and their dignity are worth more than what could be had from permanent charity.

And it happened on Christmas season, again. For those of us who try to discern the message behind significant events, the timing, in a way, opens up attention to the plight of those families. Now we know that in CDO there was a river bank community that government, knowing the danger, has not tried to relocate and provided with relocation assistance. (Government in view of the community’s poverty does not just tell it to relocate without some form of assistance. Such assistance is in fact part of DRR. The 4Ps are not the people’s taxes, it is an international loan hence government could not reason out that taxes have gone to fund 100% of the 4Ps. And why is this country doing 4Ps for god’s sake? Charity does not solve poverty.) It’s an irony that the government, the private sector invoking CSR, NGOs, and others concerned reached out to this community only after the disastrous event. Otherwise they would not do so. Must there be a dramatic scene first before we are moved to act?

Newspaper articles cited Pagasa as one to blame. On the other hand, Pagasa stations around the country are bereft of the equipment and technology to do precise weather forecast and microclimate monitoring and research. The scientific community has for a long time lacked funding from the government (feudalism does not exactly walk hand in hand with scientific thinking). If I’m the decision-maker, my top three institutions for funding in the next five years are: education (basic and vocational), the scientific community, infrastructure development in the countryside. Fourth would be national security. It is scientific inventions that propel nations toward solid economic progress: Sony in Japan, Samsung in South Korea, discoveries and patents of Western countries. Scientific and technology inventions are the stuff of progress and this government is throwing away this country’s future in ignoring its scientists and inventors.

A typhoon and a flood we see but there is more to it than what meets the eye. The rampage of the floodwaters are like the intermittent rush of pain brought on by sickness, the sickness of this government and this country. In addressing the pain one has to know the sickness and in order to treat the sickness one needs to know its historical development in the afflicted.

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