According to Mark McDonald in a New York Times blog post, the recent floods that hit Metro Manila this week “seem to have caused little public anger over further municipal dysfunction in the densely populated capital of more than 10 million” and that, instead, “Filipinos demonstrated a remarkable civic spirit as they shared news of evacuation centers and dropoff points for donations of emergency supplies”. I’ll bet a lot of Filipinos will be more than tempted to compare this observation with the stoic dignity with which the Japanese responded to the earthquake and tsunami disaster that devasted their land in March of 2011.
That’s an apples-to-oranges comparison at best.
The Japanese suffered after preparing themselves for such a disaster to the best of their abilities. Filipinos, on the other hand, suffered the effects of the present calamity after failing to prepare for it. The irony in the words “demonstrated a remarkable civic spirit” used to describe Filipinos’ response to the disaster after the fact tends to escape people who don’t really have a deep understanding of The Filipino Condition. Perhaps, to be fair, such civic spirit exists now that there is not much choice left for any other response. But consider for a moment whether such “civic spirit” even existed among Filipinos prior to the disaster when options did abound.
[Photo courtesy Selaplana.com.]
Filipinos are not exactly known to be the civic-minded kinds when it comes to routine day-to-day living. Indeed, Filipinos are known more for their aversion to following rules and doing the right thing; prefering instead to focus their energies on coming up with creative ways of putting one over one another. Furthermore…
[Philippine] society is quite extraordinary in the sense that simple rules and regulations whether on the road or in the work place are for the most part ignored. This is because each individual has this baseless sense of being more important than everybody else. It is why you see people cutting you off on highway lanes on the road or pushing their way in lines ahead of the rest in a queue. In other words, Filipinos in general tend to put their own interest first before other people.
Add to that the appallingly routine dumping of garbage and human waste into Manila’s waterways, storm drains, even into Manila Bay itself. It’s no wonder flooding reaches the sorts of proportions we see today. And yet we celebrate the “civic spirit” of those who are seen to be “stepping up” to “disaster response” — a disaster largely made worse by Filipinos’ own ironic lack of real collective civic spirit under normal circumstances.
Closer to what is directly relevant today, I now defer to Neal Cruz as he sees it in his recent Inquirer.net piece where he observes…
There are some scoundrels, however, who purposely clog the drainage pipes of some streets precisely to induce floods. Why? So that vehicles will stall in the floods and they will earn by pushing the stalled vehicles to higher ground. Or they can earn fees from pedestrians who do not want to get their feet wet to use the wooden planks that they have laid above the water. Or they can ferry them from dry ground to dry ground on their pushcartsâ€”for a fee. Trabaho lang, they will tell you.
That is par for the course in low-lying areas like EspaÃ±a. But what about V. Luna street in Quezon City that was never flooded before? Why was it suddenly flooded one day so that many vehicles stalled and had to be pushed to higher ground by men waiting there? Workers of the MMDA found the drainage pipes blocked with rocks and garbage. Were the rocks lodged there by the floodwaters or purposely placed there to block the drainage pipe and cause the flooding?
Suffice to say, Filipinos do indeed deserve each other.
Fortunately for Times blogger McDonald, a commenter provides some perspective that sets the record straight for him…
In a comment on my colleague Floyd Whaleyâ€™s story in The New York Times, Tomas Gomez III of Calbayog called metropolitan Manila an â€œabused space.â€
â€œIt is engaged in self-strangulation by not consciously decongesting and redistributing its population,â€ Mr. Gomez said. â€œSlums and squatter colonies predominate much of the terrain, occupying what used to be open canals/streams, river tributaries and even riverbanks themselves. Clogging of natural drainage arteries is the tolerated norm. It is beyond its carrying capacity and for a long time now has been bursting at the seams.â€
Filipinos. Victims perhaps now. Not so in sunnier days. Filipinos can be quite selective when it comes to occasions for high-fives. But when you are the sort of person who more often than not applies a bit of brain, such occasions leave an aftertaste that is quite off, to say the least.