Metro Manila is my hometown (or shall we say, home region), and having friends and family directly affected by the destruction and human tragedy that tropical cyclone Ondoy had wreaked on Luzon over the weekend, I was and am deeply distressed by what happened. The technologies available today certainly made this the most photographed and video-captured major Philippine disaster in memory. It was specially real to me given that most of the images of destruction I saw involved familiar places.
Because Metro Manila is the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Philippines, the devastation it sustained can be plainly seen and is intensely palpable — certainly in terms of the economic impact on the country and to those who lost property. Images of wrecked homes and personal effects, the submerged houses, roads, and bridges and cars piled on one another all give an immediate sense of the kind of loss that could be felt by those who’ve had the fortunate experience of owning and having access to a sizeable amount of material things.
It heartens me to see the amount of coverage the destruction and victims of Ondoy receive today and, more imporantly, the amount of reflection and calls to learn from all this evident in articles such as blogger Caffeine Sparks’s “People in Charge: A Letter to the Filipino“:
Of force majeure Ondoy, we have no control over. But we need not remain resigned to the caprice of nature and fate. Civilization tells the story of man’s battle to tame nature. All of science is a monument to this undertaking. For each difficulty posed by nature’s tyranny, others have dreamed of and fashioned solutions. Why can’t we? Typhoons, harbingers of disaster, come and go like the tide. Yet all these years, all these decades, we succumb blindly to fate. Fatalism is a condition that belongs to olden days. If there is progress, then there is no room for blind acceptance of what becomes of us.
[Also re-published on FilipinoVoices.com]
Indeed, in the aftermath of a disaster that struck within the personal spaces and circles of Filipinos who wield so much influence and control so much resources, one would hope that a more real resolve to fix some of the shortcomings in facilities, attitudes, and general preparedness for disasters like these would emerge. Perhaps there is some method in the madness of such a calamity happening in the lead up to a presidential election that could result in a greater awareness amongst the electorate as they decide who to select to lead them of the kinds of challenges facing our society that are truly important.
But now I find myself looking back to past events in the Philippines similar in circumstances but vastly different in the scale of human tragedy. Having seen in the past days a disaster in which I had a strong personal stake, my thoughts went out to a world I am far removed from but populated nonetheless by people not too different in nature from those highlighted in today’s headline news and on the “news feeds” of social networking sites.
Back in 2006, a landslide struck and buried Barangay Guinsaugon in the municipality of St. Bernard in Leyte killing close to 2,000 people. This disaster followed a record 571.2mm of rainfall over five days — three months worth of average rainfall for that region. Fifteen years before that in the city of Ormoc in the same province, 5,000 souls perished in flashflooding and landslides also following heavy rainfall.
The toll in lives lost in those past disasters in Leyte puts a bit of perspective around what Ondoy had destroyed in Luzon.
The people of Ormoc and St. Bernard had no large road networks and bridges to lose. They were not inconvenienced by a loss of access to sending and receiving trivial 140-character updates to and from their friends, nor did they gawk at pictures of piled up vehicles and pedestrian underpasses turned into swimming pools.
Instead of facing a monumental challenge to return to “normalcy” after their disaster, they faced a lifetime of not ever seeing the sons, daughters, wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers that Mother Nature took with her.
My hope is that we appreciate the second chance we and our immediate circle of family and friends get to apply a bit of learning in the next decade or two. More importantly, let us pause and remember those who don’t get a second chance but nevertheless depend on people like us (we who benefit from a bit more capacity and opportunity) to learn from their tragedy.
– the thousands who died in the Ormoc and St.Bernard disasters;
– the thousands who died in ships owned and operated by Sulpicio Shipping Lines;
– the 140-odd people confirmed dead as of this writing in the aftermath of tropical cyclone Ondoy;
… and the many thousands of others whose deaths in accidents and disasters could have been prevented.