Should Filipinos thrive only in tragedy?
Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature scorned, they say, and Filipinos have seen and survived many disasters time and again -- often at the cost of many lives.
While none so life-threatening, I've had my fair share of this "fury" enough to know what is typical of us Filipinos in environmental disasters. I've had two in fact, which cannot be more different in impact, yet the same in how we handled it.
The first was when Ondoy ravaged many parts of Luzon. It was the nightmare of a storm that took thousands of our mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters. I was a sophomore in college then, and fresh out of the almost storm-free hometown of Davao City, had never actually known what a storm looked like save that of what I saw in "Twister."
That day, several schoolmates and I who had just come from registering for the elections, had to push our jeepney that stopped in the middle of the road, only to be driven back to an already flooded Katipunan Avenue. We waded into the knee-deep river that was Katipunan, along with about a hundred others trying to get through to the other end of the avenue.
That night, I slept in my dorm room inside Ateneo with a sad, eerie view of a dark Marikina City, knowing that some of my blockmates, batchmates, schoolmates or teachers were among those stuck on the rooftops. And in the week to follow, our classes got cancelled and almost half of our school crowded our covered courts to take part in relief operations.
My second experience happened recently -- a baptism of storm as if to officially welcome me in the US and orient me in disaster management, immigrant style.
A strong derecho -- a series of storms that strike consecutively usually during the summer -- hit the tri-state area of Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia last June 29. It caused power outages for as long as a week in more than a million households amid record-high temperatures. Imagine a typical hot and humid Manila summer day with no type of ventilation whatsoever all over the city. This time there was no flood, but at least 10 people died either of heat strokes or accidents from fallen trees and power lines.
It was the first time since 2003 that a storm like this hit the area, and yet recovering almost seemed rehearsed just the day before. Electric companies immediately recruited more repair teams from farther states to speed up the restoration of electricity in houses. Systematic ways of calling for assistance and reporting further accidents (because the 911 service was briefly down) -- such as smartphone applications and mapping -- were immediately set up.
Generators were instantly powered to operate traffic lights and cooling stations were set up in several areas for the elderly or the sick to rest in. Others took to their basements or cars to cool off. It was a familiar scene for me when a splurge of panic buyers almost wiped out grocery stores, except this time, each family fended for themselves.
Perhaps it was because the impact was less compared to a flood's impact that no outpour of relief operations was necessary, and people simply minded their own business and their own families.
Still, where were we Filipino immigrants? Seeking refuge with those whose electricity had been restored, sleeping over, cooking rice and heating meals at each other's houses. Some even used the opportunity to bring out the gas grillers to hold mini barbecue parties. Bayanihan in the first world, so to speak.
It was amusing how, while the rest of the tri-state area in the US was in panic, there we were, house-hopping and having grill-outs, staying cool in the heat the "Filipino way."
However and wherever tragedy strikes, Filipinos survive through a camaraderie perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world. What we lack in a systematic process of recovery, we make up for in the way we help each other in the most generous, optimistic and compassionate ways.
So yes, in a sense, the Filipinos are waterproof. Stormproof even. But while laudable, the question remains: now that flooding of this magnitude happened the second time around, how long can we remain "waterproof?" How many lives should be lost before mini, mock Olympic diving in floodwaters ceases to be amusing?
Ondoy happened just two years ago. Much as we would like to forget, thousands of lives cannot easily be forgotten. But two years later, headlines about a flood read the same. Time and again we have used our strong sense of camaraderie to survive a flood, but why can't we use it to stop one?
It's not even about the typhoons, for in a country of our geographical position, they are bound to come and go. But we can at least stop the flooding, and the solutions have been repeatedly pushed the past years like a broken record -- proper waste disposal, unclogging of waterways, redistribution of settlement areas to avoid overcrowding and many more.
True, these are easier said than done, but having already proven what we are capable of together, how can these not be achieved? How can the same team work shown in surviving a flood, not be applied in preventing one?
Whether in the Philippines or abroad bayanihan is indeed inherent in Filipinos. And while other nations can brag about their speedy and systematic recovery, we are unique for the compassion-driven energy we put into surviving.
We continue to amaze the world with our resilience and our spirit, but why should it have to be only during a tragedy? - Rappler.com
Jem Palo is a communication graduate of the Ateneo de Manila. She migrated to the US not long after, but is still very much Filipino.
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