Today may as well have been a day in September 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy struck and devastated Manila. Back then I wrote about the Philippine government’s utter failure to step up and provide relief to hundreds of thousands of its victims (a failure to be repeated many more times since), and how Metro Manilans pretty much had to fend for themselves. They were left to assure themselves that the spirit of bayanihan was alive — that it would, in conjunction with that other imagined Filipino virtue, “resilience”, save the day.
Whether or not the same thing will happen again in the aftermath of this year’s Typhoon Fung-Wong (known locally as “Mario”) is anyone’s guess. Filipinos have since become a bit jaded about being charitable on the occassion of Philippine disasters following revelations of how horrendous amounts of relief goods donated by both foreign and local agencies meant for the victims of 2013’s Supertyphoon Haiyan were left to rot under the watch of the Philippine government. Relief money was also spent by the Philippine government on the construction of temporary housing for Haiyan’s victims that were reportedly found to be substandard.
This year it was pretty much more of the same. Metro Manila was all but paralysed as floodwaters rushed in from Metro Manila’s denuded hinterlands and settled onto city streets where it will likely stagnate for a while as it makes its way into Manila Bay and Laguna Lake through Manila’s clogged stormdrain systems and fouled-up waterways. In the meantime, the same wretched state of affairs persists. Commuters and motorists alike remain stranded all over the teeming megalopolis as rains continue to fall.
According to the records of the state weather bureau, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Mario dumped 268mm of rain on Metro Manila in just 12 hours. Comparing that to Ondoy which, in 2009, dumped 400mm in 24 hours, Mario is hour-for-hour a lot rainier than its super-predecessor.
The way the Philippine government has so far responded to the devastation is no different to the way it did back in 2009. Both the behaviour of the government, and the way Manila was devastated again makes it quite evident that nothing much has changed. The same clogged drains, the same sluggish emergency response, the same confusing communication, and the same overall national paralysis.
Ondoy struck in 2009 under the watch of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Since then, this, among many other alleged issues, has been the subject of criticism coming from no less than current President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III who’s made his presidential mark mainly around blaming the country’s ills on Arroyo. This time, however, Fung-Wong joins Haiyan as well as lesser but devastating storms nonetheless — Typhoon Washi (Sendong) which devastated Cagayan de Oro City in 2011 and Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) which laid waste to Davao City and Compostela Valley in 2012, among others — in a growing exhibit of gross government incompetence in the Philippines.
Observers have attributed the Philippines’ acute vulnerability to storm devastation to President BS Aquino’s short-sighted (and, many say, spiteful) cancellation of 1.9 billion pesos worth of flood control projects already earmarked by the Arroyo government before the start of the Aquino administration.
President BS Aquino also vetoed budget normally allocated to the disaster response or “Calamity” fund. Many believe a lack of resources to support emergency response capability resulting from this decision was a big part of the reason behind the astounding incompetence and lack of coordination exhibited by the Philippine government to the world in the crucial days after Haiyan struck Tacloban City in 2013.
Even on good days, Metro Manila is a wretched city, choked by 24-hour-a-day traffic gridlock, smothered by toxic pollution, infested by vast squatter colonies, served by a dilapidated public transport network, and patrolled by crooked police officers. Typhoon Mario is a sad insult to an already severely injured megalopolis. For now, Metro Manilans can only pray and hope and figure out what it is exactly they should be hoping and praying for.
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