Burying Filipinos like garbage – Typhoon Sendong need not have been as deadly as it was

The Philippines has now become renowned for template disasters. These are disasters that are caused by systemic issues that are profoundly inherent to the country. They are templates and therefore, by design, are highly repeatable. They happen again and again.

Here’s the template for the sort of tragedy unfolding in northern Mindanao today…

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Heavy rains followed by a deadly flash flood composed of a torrent of muddy water and logs rushing down from the mountains sweeping entire towns into the sea.

The tragedy that hit Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities as Typhoon Sendong dumped heavy rains upon them is only the most recent. Philippine history is rife in similar disasters that fit the template to a tee.

Back in 2006, a landslide struck and buried Barangay Guinsaugon in the municipality of St. Bernard in Leyte killing close to 2,000 people. This disaster followed a record 571.2mm of rainfall over five days — three months worth of average rainfall for that region. Fifteen years before that in the city of Ormoc in the same province, 5,000 souls perished in flashflooding and landslides also following heavy rainfall.

Then there was Typhoon Ondoy which hit Imperial Manila squarely in the jaw. This was 2009, just as the presidential election campaign was about to kick off. Being that, I wrote back then…

Indeed, in the aftermath of a disaster that struck within the personal spaces and circles of Filipinos who wield so much influence and control so much resources, one would hope that a more real resolve to fix some of the shortcomings in facilities, attitudes, and general preparedness for disasters like these would emerge. Perhaps there is some method in the madness of such a calamity happening in the lead up to a presidential election that could result in a greater awareness amongst the electorate as they decide who to select to lead them of the kinds of challenges facing our society that are truly important.

In retrospect, that was a bit of a stroke of optimism there. We all know now that focusing on the truly important is not something that characterises the government of today. To be fair to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, focusing on the truly important can’t really be considered a virtue of any Philippine government for that matter, seeing that template disasters like these transcend time, geography, and politics.

What is the common denominator here? Simple. I’ve always maintained that in a “democracy” in which, power and mandates to rule originate from “the people” (a concept that bozos like Conrado “Noynoy is Aragorn” de Quiros keep reminding us unenlightened sods of), leaders reflect the character of the people they rule. The character of the Filipino comes to light in the way we regard the lives of the least influential amongst us. Disaster or no disaster, the financially poor, the physically disabled, the less attractive, and even the less fair-skiinned routinely get the short end of the stick, get looked down upon, and get less priority in Philippine society.


It is a banal reality of life in the Philippines. We see this reality even now as the unclaimed remains of the victims of this tragedy are now buried in mass graves despite advisory issued by the Department of Health that there is no immediate need to do so. There are even reports that these mass graves are located in garbage dumpsites.

Dead Filipinos are being buried like garbage.

In the Philippines, there are no state facilities for processing the deceased. Like we do for even the most basic services, we rely on private enterprise to fill the gap — in this case, funeral parlors which are run as for-profit businesses and are accountable to investors who expect a return for the money they risk in the venture. When the operators of these businesses that unfairly bear the brunt of processing a mountain of dead Filipinos say enough is enough, they mean it.

These are dead people, at least. How many live Filipinos do we encounter on a day-to-day basis who we treat like garbage? We can count the ways we do with our fingers from the inside of our airconditioned cars as we pass a typical Manila street corner. Or we can count the ways by the thousands when we think of how we continue to not learn any lessons from previous deadly but preventable disasters.

Indeed, the people of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are not the victims of Typhoon Sendong per se. They are the victims of systemic factors that made Sendong far deadlier than it should have been. They are victims of our collective inability to learn — a collective character all but reflected by the people we elect to the highest offices of the land.

The next big Philippine disaster is just around the corner — as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. Do we plan to learn anything from this one?

45 Replies to “Burying Filipinos like garbage – Typhoon Sendong need not have been as deadly as it was”

  1. “Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster.”-Jim Wallis

    Mr. Aquino is a walking disaster waiting to happen. After the great tragedy in Mindanao we must prepare for the worst in human events. A disaster like no other has begun. We did not start it. It is coming as the darkness begins to creep out over this great land. The disaster is dictatorship. It is already dividing our country. Mr. Aquino is a dangerous man.

    1. So far as I know, the Iligan mayor has declared that ‘mass graves’ are against the law as far as he’s concerned and is steadfastly refusing to do it. Saw on Al-Jazeera earlier that they’re building some sort of communal tombs, with the idea that if anyone comes looking for somebody, they can retrieve the remains later.

      1. That’s new idiocy there, “mass graves are against the law”. Last I checked, so long as bodies are disposed in a hygienic manner, they can be buried collectively in pits. Proof again of dumbasses in office.

  2. We already know where floods will likely occur but we keep evaluating our disaster preparedness. We should already be implementing flood prevention and mitigating measures and translate the blah blahs into action.

  3. Please donate to Sagip Kapamilya

    in kind:
    #137 Mother Ignacia Ave, Quezon City

    Peso account 393-011-4199
    Dollar account 393-008-1622

  4. Dear mr president

    read carefully.

    Whilst you were laughing and joking at your party, families were dying in flood waters and mud!
    How did you not know what was happening?
    Why have you stayed so silent for so long?
    Why did you cancel the flood barrier project?

    I hope you feel ashamed at your lack of action and compassion

    They now struggle for water, food, medicines, and even a proper burial for the loved ones which they lost in such terrible circumstances.

    How dare you talk of the people being your boss when you display no interest, no compassion, and no responsibility.

    This is not the first time you have let the people down.
    If your heart is in parties, games, and cars then please let some-one do the job who cares for the country, and is not simply in the job to protect their ‘political clan’ and family interests

    I am not for any other politician. I am for honesty, decency, integrity, and a work ethic which OFW’s are only to familiar with, but which you clearly are not

    I am for progress and opportunity for my children, in this country, not abroad.

    I am for change, not protection of the elite and maintenance of the status quo, and i stand for honesty, not hypocricy or blatant lies

    This happened on your watch. No excuses. Once again you have come up short in both words and deeds.

    We need the best of the best. You have already cost the country too much, in too many ways.

    Do the decent thing, if you have any self-respect left. shape up or ship out

    The country has had enough of the schoolboy antics, the childish tantrums, and lack of focus.
    get the priorities right.
    i do not suffer fools and you are starting to turn into the class clown.

  5. Expect more damage control for the captain of the ship of state. The Malascanang Communications group now has the option to avoid lies, denials, blame games and diversions. Accountability begins at the top.

  6. i thought Mr. President wanted to avoid the “spotlight”.. correct me if I’m wrong.. I was informed that he went there with some ABS-CBN personalities.. tsk.

  7. We have that Filipino characteristic called: “Ningas Cogon”…If these tragedies happen: Filipinos are working impulsively, like busybodies. They seem to remedy the situation, as best as they can. Once, the ENTHUSIASM dies down. They are back in their usual routine: POLITICS…impeaching Supreme Court Justices…buying Congressmen or Senators…protecting their self interests, like the Hacienda Luisita…dessiminating Bogus Surveys, to show they have good performances, as Politicians – to hoodwink, the Wowoowee People and the YellowTards…I guarantee you – this tragedy will not change anything…we are all now desensitised by our conceited leaders…

  8. It’s actually surprising that the notion that unburied, decomposing bodies poses a very urgent health threat in the aftermath of a natural calamity is one of several enduring myths that even the WHO and PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) are trying to eliminate. They claim that microbes that are involved in the decomposition process are not the ones that spread disease. And even so, most disease-causing microbes from a person who died of sickness will not even last for a few hours in a dead body. The top priority has always been to look after the living, since “survivors could pose a lot more risk of spreading an epidemic than corpses due to unsanitary conditions”. Rushing to bury the dead diverts resources and manpower away from rescue efforts and can make it impossible to identify bodies later.

  9. I saw the video footage of Mr. Aquino. It showed him automatically smiling. He did this as he was handing relief bags to recipients. Maybe he thought he was in a Christmas party.

      1. The fact that it was erased means that they desperately want to hide the TRUTH.
        They can’t accept the fact that their president’s days in malacanang are numbered.

      2. A monopoly on the means of communication
        may define a ruling elite more precisely than the
        celebrated Marxian formula of monopoly in the
        means of production.

        The unholy alliance between abs-cbn and the aquinos has now reduced it to a propaganda channel. Lots of free pr/publicity for products/films/telenovelas and of course the yellow brand with no discussion/dissent aloud.

        The creeping censorship gives even more cause for alarm

  10. The blame game continues. Mr. Aquino has formed a probe team. This is to determine who should be held
    criminally liable.

    But wait. Isn’t he the head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council(NDRRMC)? Did he not approve the disaster management plan? I am assuming he must have read it. In an apparent knee jerk reaction, he also ordered its review.

    Setting the example in scapegoats is a convenient way to avoid responsibility. As I said before, accountability starts at the top.

      1. The doctrine of command responsibility attaches to Mr. Aquino. He cannot escape the criminal negligence of his subordinates. The bottom line is he supervises and/or controls the organized apparatus of government. Disaster management is his responsibility.

        1. @ Anonymous

          An impeachment against the President, you wish!

          With the Filipinos as stupid as they are and the congress well-fed with pork, I wouldn’t even be surprise if they give his Excellency a token of appreciation – for all the effort and accomplishments he magically conjured.

        2. @bulutongboy

          If the impeachment wont work against him then a coup might work better.
          Hell, Binay might be a better replacement if Aquino somehow got ousted.

  11. Message from P(arty)-Noy.

    ‘ Following Sunday’s tragedy, i have reviewed events and will take action.
    In future all guests to Presidential parties must sign a confidentiality agreement and the official secrets act.
    I never want such a PR disaster to happen again.

    Now you see why i dont like FoI bill. people are not responsible enough to handle the truth’

  12. Irony

    Those politicians involved in and making vast sums of money from illegal logging giving a paltry donation to a disaster they either helped create, or did nothing to stop.

    This was not just an act of god, it was the inaction of congress.

    Rest in peace – those who perished

    Sleep in shame – those who closed their eyes

  13. BadNoys Famous Quotes:

    “Can I leave the answer to that(who should be held responsible) until the fact-finding team that we created has finished(its investigation)? We cannot just accuse someone left and right. What I want is to accuse someone in the tragedy if the case is ready for filing in the courts.”-Philippine Star Dec. 21, 2011

    Did he create a fact-finding team? I think criminal negligence is best determined by the prosecution arm of the executive branch and not another “truth commission” style set-up.

    “We cannot just accuse someone left or right.” Mr. Aquino is now very careful not to railroad as this might show his scapegoat policy. It also might run over his KKK. He needs people to sacrifice to the altar of expediency.

    “What I want is to accuse someone in the tragedy if the case is ready for filing in the courts.” Is this a freudian slip? That someone is himself.

    1. Thank you for making the point Mr. Aquino. We now have a double standard of justice. Thus we have supersonic investigation case filing and arrest warrant issuance against GMA. We also have supersonic impeachment against CJ Corona.

      Not to sound disrespectful for the dead. But, did one Mr. Ramos of your disaster team not accuse the victims for complacency and/or alleged failure to heed alleged repeat warnings?

  14. Philippines are not the only part of the world where such disaster happen routinely. Human greed is far greater than history lessons.

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