After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy

The following is a re-post of my article “Day Ten, post Ondoy” originally posted on on the 7th October 2009. The article has since been included in Elbert Or’s After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy, an excellent collection of pieces “mostly written in the midst of and immediately after the typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009″…

The writers share their experiences of the typhoons, their insights and reflections, their hopes and aspirations. Long after the news media has moved on to the next big headline, After the Storm hopes to stand as a written record to remind everyone that this happened. We were there.

The book is printed by Anvil Publishing and is out for sale in bookstores. Proceeds from the sale go to charity with a focus on community rebuilding and livelihood programs to help those who are, up to now, still recovering from last year’s typhoons.

* * *

Day Ten, post Ondoy
by benign0,
7th October 2009

After the Storm (book cover)

Lately there’s been a lot of backpatting accompanying all the feel-good stories surrounding the heroism and “bayanihan” supposedly exhibited in the aftermath of the destruction wreaked by tropical cyclone Ondoy on Metro Manila. Indeed, there is reason to congratulate ourselves. The motivation to “help out” and “contribute” to the relief effort transcended social class and political affiliation.

Me, being a frustrated student of the emerging science of macro-psychology, thinks that there are some key elements that underpin such an outpouring of “help”.

Guilt trip.

I see it all over Facebook — people grandstanding about what and how they are contributing “selflessly”. Social networking has encroached on what was once the exclusive role of journalists and the media. The Media once held exclusive claim over the role of capturing images and stories of events and their publication. Not any more. People are now able to — and have taken it upon themselves — to capture events (which they themselves play the “hero” in) on film and self-publish these on the Web for their friends and peers to gawk at. Quiet achievement — with recognition as just a bonus — has been superceded by action with instant-recognition as a pre-requisite.

There is something amusing in seeing well-heeled folk packing relief bags in makeshift warehouses and loading them onto trucks (again I thank Facebook for that). Many of these are people who come from households where domestic servants may outnumber their employers almost two-to-one. Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to simply deploy their servants to those centers to do the manual work while they themselves focus their energies (and core skills) on tasks that deliver bigger, more far-reaching, and longer-term bang (such as getting on the phone to chew out the politicians they routinely fund and hobnob with for neglecting public infrastructure for so long)?

Perhaps all that tacky self-promotion enabled by modern technology hides a more ancient underlying psyche — guilt. Just as feast all year fast for one week is the Filipino motto behind the Easter Holidays (“Holy Week” as Filipinos call it), “helping out” when disaster strikes is what absolves the resource-rich of a way of life characterised primarily by NIMBY-ism (“not in my backyard”).

I’ve fasted/self-flagellated this week.

I’ve contributed/done “my part” today.

What’s the difference between the two? Simple answer: Nothing. They are the same. They both relieve personal guilt over an inability to ingrain doing things properly into our routine way of life. And neither addresses the harder question: What happens next?

The “bayanihan” we see today is just a souped-up version of our normal mode of operations.

It’s just a matter of turning the volume up when it’s time to dance.

Both the rescue efforts during and directly after the disaster and the lifeline of relief effort to victims sustained in its aftermath are driven largely by private sector initiative. They in no way represent our taxes at work properly channeled through public facilities and services. Rather, they are products of informal coping mechanisms — the altruism of the resource-rich and what Randy David calls “private solutions to collective problems” — a testament to the continued applicability of the Filipino Trinity that represents what our lot stands for:

Bahala na (come what may): As always, altruism when disaster strikes saves the day as the preferred alternative to the more onerous task of building sustainable ways of living by investing in measures to mitigate disaster. Why invest in progressively and contnuously strengthening the foundations of our standard of living when we can always rely on the resource-rich to help out when times are tough — as that characteristically Filipino way of thinking goes.

Pwede na yan (that’ll do): For now, most of Ondoy‘s flood victims are surviving on a steady supply of relief goods organised by the resource-rich. When the collective guilt has been absolved, the call to return to business-as-usual starts to overshadow the call to temporary duty, and the images of people “helping out” on Facebook become commoditised, what is an unsustainable pipeline of supplies to begin with reduces to a mere trickle. Eventually everyone moves on — the rich withdraw back into their gated communities and the poor move back into the floodplains. Next disaster, plez.

The third component of the Filipino Trinity – impunity is what set us up for this disaster in the first place. In the short-term, there were no unpleasant consequences associated with dumping garbage and raw sewage into our stormdrain systems.

False hope.

Again, the “bayanihan” we imagine to have happened over the last week or two props up our “hope” that Filipinos will be “ok”. Hope in what exactly? Yes, it’s that niggling question again that remains the elephant in the room.

How can there be hope when far bigger tragedies that occurred in the past due also to human neglect remain unaddressed today. What are we doing differently?

If the way our leaders and future leaders have responded to this disaster can be considered to be good indicators of what happens next, there is little reason to be hopeful.

Indeed, one would expect that our future leaders would have already anticipated much of the key challenges that grip our society even before they had joined the race to begin with.

That’s just a bit too much to ask of Filipino politicians, I suppose; because rather than step up to the grade befitting true leaders, they choose to merely reflect the society they aspire to lead.

* * *

[Elbert Or is the editor of After the Storm. He blogs at and can be reached by email at elbert(dot)or(at)gmail(dot)com.]


About benign0

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12 Responses to After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy

  1. Miriam Quiamco says:

    I agree with the basic sentiments of the writer, the two super typhoons last year could have been true eye-openers to our public policy makers in trying to make the country more ready for similar future natural disasters.  Randy David was on the mark on his criticism of the whole show, however, if public policy was really important to him, why did he support the most incompetent presidential candidate who obviously had no vision of the kind of public policies that could get the country out of the mess it is in.  This is another validation of Iida’s over-estimation of our opinion leaders like Monsod and David, they are cowards when it comes to making rational choices at most crucial times like during elections, they let their emotions reign.  You wonder then if they truly have the balls to implement their ideas if given the opportunity to lead.  They are useless opinion makers in my opinion.  

    It is clear that in our society, the mass media has failed in its role as agent of democracy.  The triviality-centered programming that is true in major TV networks is mind-boggling.  No other country that is democratic would stand the fusion of movies and TV broadcasting, with TV stations grooming their own stable of stars who are routinely promoted in their TV programming just so the movies they produce could generate profits.  This showbiz-culture that is what Filipino culture is all about, coupled with the bankrupt religious values are keeping us underdeveloped.  There is no real public sphere for policy debate that sustains the discussion of issues and solutions to problems.  We will never be able to develop unless a truly powerful and influential public broadcasting system is established with the members of the public themselves clamoring for substantive handling of problems and solutions.  We are doomed and I, as an individual voice without any influence will not be enough to reverse this doomsday trend.  Good luck Philippines with your showbiz-style politics.

  2. ako ang simula ng pagkabobo says:

    They won’t leave
    Housewife Cristina Cacao, 53, and
    her family live within swamping
    distance of Laguna de Bay, the
    third largest freshwater lake in
    Asia, and may well be among the
    people Gordon worries about.
    “We cannot just leave our way
    of life to be relocated
    elsewhere,” Cacao says. Her
    family lives in a rented two-story
    house at Sto. Nino Aplaya, a
    community of 98 families in
    Muntinlupa City who rely solely
    on fishing for their livelihood.
    “The people are okay with this
    setup. My family likewise don’t
    mind,” Cacao says.
    When a storm starts battering
    Muntinlupa and the rest of Metro
    Manila, Cacao and the others
    scamper to evacuation centers
    or to higher grounds.
    They return when the weather
    clears to resume their lives.
    “We’re content with this,” she
    ‘People are stubborn’
    Cacao, the leader of a women’s
    group called Samahang
    Kababaihan ng Sto. Nino Aplaya,
    insists that life in the community,
    no matter how hard, is still better
    than in relocation areas because
    they have fishing to rely on.–

    • ChinoF says:

      Here’s one reason why the country, or at least some of the people in it, won’t ever experience a better life. Because they’re they don’t want change. They want to remain stuck in the comfort zones of their own backwardness. Thing is, there are other people who want to get out of this kind of life, so we’d better work on empowering those. People like Cacao… well, let’s wait for them to see the light.

  3. Pingback: After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy- Typhoon Pepeng

  4. Hyden Toro says:

    The Typhoon Ondoy tragedy must have been used as a lesson for Filipinos. What have they done after the tragedy? Nothing. The esteros are still clogged. The squatters are still there. Solutions were presented for future disasters. However, they were all put aside, for Politics. Until, the next disasters. I believe more natural calamities are coming to the Philippines. It will wring the heads of the present leaders, off their necks. They will not know what they will be doing; like the Quirino Grandstand Hostage situation…

  5. Pingback: What Typhoon Sendong's destruction of Cagayan de Oro City says again about us | Get Real Post

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  8. Interessante Homepage. Das Design und die nuetzlichen Informationen gefallen mir besonders.

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