‘Disaster preparedness’ has become an oxymoron in the #Philippines

It has been becoming increasingly apparent that “natural” disasters are now a routine occurrence all over the Philippines. The idea that Filipinos ought to be more “prepared” for such calamities — whilst something one would think ought to have been an obvious national priority — is only now resonating across the broader public. To the consternation of the residents of the country’s premiere megalopolis, even Metro Manila has become Disaster Central of late. Just a few hours of rain is now enough to engulf most of the city in muddy, sewage-laced, disease-infested flood waters. This is thanks to decades of chaotic over-development and over-population fouling up the natural drainage system that is woven all over the area’s original landscape and smothering what meagre infrastructure had been built since the city’s colonial periods.

Filipino politicians see disasters mainly as a vehicle to grandstand and campaign for the next election.

Filipino politicians see disasters mainly as a vehicle to grandstand and campaign for the next election.

One would think that the lessons delivered in 2009 by Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) had sunk deep after Metro Manilans who bore the brunt of its fury underwent a couple months of noisy imperial reflection in its aftermath. Looking at how Manila continues to slog through monumental floods that follow mere fractions of the rainfall delivered by Ondoy five years hence shows that most of those lessons remain unlearned. Untold billions of pesos in productivity losses are incurred as a result of disruptions to Manila’s urban hum (or, more appropriately, urban wheezing) brought about by these “inconveniences”.

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Poverty has also rendered millions of Filipinos helplessly vulnerable to nature’s vicissitudes. Many of the tens of thousands of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) and Typhoon Washi (Sendong) which struck the Philippine cities of Tacloban and Cagayan de Oro in 2013 and 2011 respectively were impoverished city residents that had settled (many of them illegally) along coastal plains prone to storm surges. 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 in 1991.

Nature, it seems, is always a few steps ahead of Filipinos. She may have finally got the country’s top talking heads yammering about being “prepared” for weather disturbances. But just as all those “initiatives” are getting off the ground, the spectre of an Ebola outbreak now looms in the horizon. Are Filipinos prepared for that? The prospects in the area of disease control so far do not look very promising. The same key components of the Pinoy Condition — lack of foresight, culture of poverty, belated reactiveness, and paralysing politics — will likely render the Philippines a sitting duck for a possibly catastrophic outbreak much the same way as Filipinos can only sit and watch helplessly as Chinese troops march into their outlying territories.

It is hard to have confidence that a society that cannot even run its trains safely will ever come up with the right solutions to the many problems that beset it. A vital line of the Manila Metro Rail Transit (MRT) system, the MRT 3 which links the city’s midtown central business district in Makati City to its northern suburbs is caught in a spiral of decay just 15 years since it went operational in 1999. This leaves commuters who rely on EDSA, the land artery along which the MRT 3 tracks were laid, once again reliant on public buses, many of which are being run by crooked entrepeneurs. If our society fails to step up to the challenges that its relatively affluent citizens face, how much more the challenges that the least powerful and influential of the lot contend with?

While Filipinos pay mere lip service to disaster response, foreign governments deploy billion-dollar resources to the job.

While Filipinos pay mere lip service to disaster response, foreign governments deploy billion-dollar resources to the job.

The Philippines, we might remind ourselves, is a society not exactly renowned for harbouring a genuinely caring regard for its poorest citizens. Affluent Filipinos routinely drive by scenes of extreme poverty while cocooned in their airconditioned cars without batting an eyelash. Not much has been done about the squalid ships used to ferry the country’s probinsyanas by the thousands to their hometowns across the archipelago’s shark-infested waters despite that industry accounting for the planet’s worst peacetime maritime disasters in history. Vast colonies of squatters are encamped all over the city, many at the very doorsteps of the nation’s most elite thinkers and policy hacks. And most horrific of all Filipino pracitces is the way unidentified bodies are disposed of by the thousands following such disasters — often in mass unmarked graves.

So it is quite hard to take the noisy drumbeating about the sort of “preparedness” that benefits this vast “C-D” demographic with anything more than a grain of salt.

Looming less than two years ahead is the 2016 presidential elections. Changes in presidents have been notoriously disruptive for a society that could ill-afford disruptions to the business of doing business. Current President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, for one, has been highly-criticised for summarily canning billions of pesos in infrastructure projects started by his predecessor former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when he came to power in 2010. Many believe this was done either (1) primarily out of spite or (2) to free up hundreds of millions of pesos to channel into the pockets of “friendly” legislators as rewards for their “cooperation” in various political “projects”. Most likely both. Indeed, included in that budgetary massacre was up to 1.9 billion pesos worth of flood control projects.

So we’ve come full circle back to the quaint idea the Filipinos could find it within their collective wits to be “prepared” for the next big disaster. Funny that, considering that they are already at wits’ end in their efforts to prepare for another disastrous presidency despite having lived through the current one.

14 Replies to “‘Disaster preparedness’ has become an oxymoron in the #Philippines”

  1. It is a tragedy, that politicians like Aquino is Grandstanding on the suffering of the Filipino people. Aquino use it to: “pa charming” to voters, together with his YellowTard minions.

    Aquino has never had any preparedness plan to any calamity that takes place in our country. He is just incompetent and lazy…and “Bobo talaga”…

    This Planet Earth Ozone Layer is already depleated; due to too much Pollution , coming from all sources of pollutions. The Solar Shield can no longer protect this Planet from Solar Ultra Violet Radiations and Solar Flares; that cause the warming of the surrounding oceans in our country. This causes the Birth of Typhoons and Weird Weather…

    Squatters, deforestation, pollution in the air, land and seas…these are the results: Strong Typhoons…

  2. This lack of disaster preparedeness in a country that is the most disaster prone in the world highlights just how fucked up/utterly insane/inhumanely insensitive/ terminally stupid (pick one) generations of our leaders have been. That we allow them to grandstand after every disaster and bullshit us with the “Filipino is resilient” line instead of coming at them with fire. guns and pitchforks is equally a disaster makes us insane.

    I don’t think the Philippines has had a year where no one has died due to a disaster. Our leaders lack of a clear disaster preparedness program is contributing to literally killing us.

    I don’t know about you but one of the reasons why people agreed to be governed and go into a social contract is so that the government can protect the people, here lead disaster preparedness efforts. But yeah the Philippines is a society where it is a war of a person against every other person. In short, bahala na kayo dyan….kkb….ang mamatay ng dahil sayo, pwera ako.

    Just some suggestions:

    1. Stop politicizing disaster preparedness and response.

    2. Create a government agency specializing in disaster preparedness and response. Insulate this agency from politics by paying its members well, hiring the required experts, maybe even banning members of the disaster preparedness agency from running for office.

    3. Buy PAGASA and PHIVOCS state of the art shit that they need do get their job done. Pay them well too.

    4. Create shelters for each municipality/city.

    5. Educate people.

    Dammit, we’re dying out here.

    1. “Bahala na kayo sa mga buhay ninyo”…is the mantra of these political leaders…as long as they are safe in their houses…with their stolen : Pork Barrels, DAP, PDAF,etc…

  3. The elections should not be looked upon as the hope of the country. History has dictated that the elections are something to be loathed, and yet they are anticipated as if the ‘change’ so desperately needed shall be supplied by one Man/woman: How fuckin ridiculous it all seems to the outsider such as ex-pats living there or visitors or even casual observers.

    The cadre of thieves infested in the fabric of the nations government only serve the affluent elites and take a horrendous shit on the rest of the population, and the population seems to say thank you.

    A true laughingstock of what was once poised to be a great country, a country that could have dwarfed Japan’s economic outburst after WW2, but NO.The fuckin criminals who have run the country into a state of utter poverty that is so astoundingly severe that there is virtually no way to turn the country into what it could have been over the last 70 years but rather limp dejectedly and despairingly away from it as fast as possible, by any and all means, and never return.

    Oh what could have been.The ship has sailed though now, and it ain’t coming back.

    1. unless it carried by the next wave that runs the length of Roxas Blvd. during the next disaster. The next one that is due in the next two-three months, February the latest. Any brains in the government would start NOW. Doing things like cleaning the sewers drains of all the accumulated garbage, but it won’t happen.
      OR how bout STOPPING the massive deforestation that is causing in-land flooding to be so severe as to look as if a new river/lake has formed in the middle of LUZON.

      No, better to wait for the next disaster relief package to arrive from over-seas so it can be pilfered/stolen and counted on again and again and again all while thinning out the herd of ‘illegal,er ,informal settlers’ (squatting pieces of meat litter).

  4. People forget that the earth can renew itself. Nature has no free will so God takes care of it. People may kill mother earth but it’ll always be reborn. Humans on the other hand have free will and they chose to destroy. They chose it so nature can easily flick their lives but the earth will remain and continue to flourish. Nature is your enemy if you won’t care for it. Man always forget that they’re just man. Either care for nature and it’ll take care of you or harm nature and it’ll destroy you. Only God has control upon nature’s power. And He created man to be it’s good steward. In turn it’ll flourish and nourish man. If man instead of becoming good steward trample upon nature, then suffer the wrath of nature. People only reap what they sow. Not only Filipinos are in danger of climate change but the sad state of the country, the way people deal with climate change and how they destroy their environment, expect strong calamities hit this country and more lives buried under collapsed land or deep dirty water. In Tacloban, during Yolanda, even the Mayor and his family almost didn’t escape storm surge. So don’t worry that government officials will escape from nature’s wrath.

    Philippine government is tried and tested, they care the least, they can’t save Filipinos so why do people keep relying on government alone? It’s like gambling and putting all your bet on a losing card. Get away from the claws of dirty politics and start being the system that could save you and your family and your community. It’s only 2014, two years before election but people are more concerned about election, those who’ll be next president than what to be done, what to change. It’s easy to choose leader if one focus on what they are doing and changing. People should start on where they are, where they live. They have more chance that their local government will act on the solution they could press. Instead of budget going to pork barrel or politicians pockets, it may go to what your city needs if people would demand it be use for the good of the city. Don’t wait for national government to act on the solutions you keep on pushing but is never heard, you’ll die waiting. They won’t change unless the ones where they stand change. Your government won’t make people strong individuals, in the present government it’s the other way around. Strong individuals make strong government. Honest individuals make honest government. Concern individuals make concern government. Until that’s the case for every Filipino, until most aren’t foolish, this country is subjected to worst situation. Sorry. People should mirror themselves in their surroundings and the kind of government they have. Unless they DO something, government will stay as it is. And now it would take major disasters, typhoons and deaths and fear for safety to learn. Filipinos, it seems, can only learn the hard way.

    1. If the Cycle of Renewal of the Planet EARTH is destroyed and depleated…then, it cannot Renew Itself…it will become a Dead Planet floating in space.

      Planet Earth must be taken cared of, to let the Cycle of Renewal works. If we continue to pollute and degrade this Planet…the inevitable will happen: a Dead Planet floating in outer space…

      The Schumann Resonance, which is the “heartbeat of Planet Earth” is already 13…

  5. How can the Philippines prepare for a disaster? The whole country is a disaster. It’s like cancer preparing against cancer.

    1. Hang those polluters; begin with those politicians, who are protecting them and these politicians, themselves are cutting trees and destroying the forests…and letting squatters to squat and pollute…

  6. I’m terrified of Ebola coming here. I imagine the PH will turn into a Mad Max situation within two months of Ebola arriving.

    1. Most Filipinos have really strong immunity system to the point of zombieism so fear not. Social cancer didn’t move them, Ebola pa kaya?

    2. Besides the yellow zombies.. there will be more variations of them..and it could be the apocalypse for the country. Even hospitals will run short of supplies but dead bodies will be in abundance for that will be the sad truth.

      Preparedness hmmm.. more like Pray and Pay the price lol.

      1. While the way the government announce how they deal with it is like great trailers on a bad film. You think they are utterly prepared pero sabi nga walang bahong hindi umaalingasaw (lalo at sa patay nanggagaling ang singaw). The government will deal with it the same way they deal with dengue fever outbreak. The same way they deal with our yearly disastrous visitors. Hundreds and thousands are dead before someone knows what hit them. Knowing how incapable are government is on disaster preparation and disease control and prevention what’s really worrying. And how poverty is defenseless against such virus and calamities.

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