So Metro Manilans, I hear, are stuck in traffic and floods this weekend. Again. And what’s this I hear? Oh, outrage. But where was that outrage when the problem was not this big yet and all there was were mere signs of problems brewing? I’ll tell you where that outrage was. There was none. In its place was laughter — that all-too-familiar sound Filipinos make when faced with what at the time are still surmountable problems.
[Photo courtesy Hindustan Times.]
I recall an observation made waaaay back by “an admired Filipino economist, based in New York” after she suggested that “What ails the country is that Philippine society is intellectually bankrupt”…
There’s a weird culture in our midst: our jocular regard for our national problems, great crimes, villainous scams and calamities. Note that Filipinos are notorious for making fun, creating a joke of their misfortunes. The cellulars are full of them now. In other countries inhabited by serious and sensitive people, they mount crusades, indignation rallies or nationwide relief campaigns to meet such crises. They would weep or stomp their feet, or explode in anger, or demand punishment for the criminals or misfits. Here we tend to laugh at scams, crimes and natural calamities, as if they are part of the usual TV noon comedy shows, the Pinoy’s daily diet.
It’s very hard to be intellectual if you aren’t serious. And so far the clear evidence is that we are not a serious people. Worse, we don’t like to think.
Recall too how just a few years back, Filipinos were brimming with a palpable sense of mission to fix things after the devastation wrought by typhoon Ondoy back in 2009. Back then the so-called spirit of “bayanihan” was in the air — because in the aftermath of Ondoy was mayhem on a scale that defied even a collective imagination long seasoned by the consistent wretchedness of its existence.
Perhaps there is no such devastation and loss of life today (at least within the awareness of the chattering classes) as heavy rains once again pound much of Metro Manila and turn its teeming streets into steaming swampland. But the irony in the way some people simply laugh off this sorry state of the premier city of the country is lost as usual in our collective failure of imagination. While we have already been witness to a demonstration of how easily Manila could be destroyed by a storm even just a wee bit more powerful than Ondoy, the fact that the capital city today is once again paralysed by a far weaker tropical weather condition attests to how little was actually achieved despite all the post-Ondoy huffing and puffing.
In a show of the characteristic prescience of the average Get Real Post writer, I offered back then something that usually reveals itself in hindsight to the average schmoe…
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.
Next disaster, plez.
Thankfully the only disaster we see today (at least within the radars of our “social media activists”) are a few poor souls who may have been deprived of a chance to see The Dark Knight Rises (which I may as well say now is el primo excellente, me having just come home after a really pleasant ten-minute drive from the local theatre).
Seriously (something we should have been 30 years ago when Manila was still not the human cesspool it is today), we can never remind people enough of what the systemic issues are behind what to a tiny elite minority of Metro Manila’s residents is the mere annoyance of flood-induced heavy traffic. It is really the result of decades of Pinoy-style thinking coming back to bite us…
[See originally-sized graphic and/or download as PDF here.]
Thousands of Filipino lives have been lost and millions of dollars in property damage sustained as a result of disasters caused by weather disturbances common in the region. Much of what contributes to the devastation are the result of years of neglect and lack of foresight. This means that measures can be taken now that can reduce the impact to lives and property of future natural calamities.
It’s time we see our vulnerability to natural calamities as a system of contributing factors and not just mere laughing matter.