After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy

The following is a re-post of my article “Day Ten, post Ondoy” originally posted on on the 7th October 2009. The article has since been included in Elbert Or’s After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy, an excellent collection of pieces “mostly written in the midst of and immediately after the typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009″…

The writers share their experiences of the typhoons, their insights and reflections, their hopes and aspirations. Long after the news media has moved on to the next big headline, After the Storm hopes to stand as a written record to remind everyone that this happened. We were there.

The book is printed by Anvil Publishing and is out for sale in bookstores. Proceeds from the sale go to charity with a focus on community rebuilding and livelihood programs to help those who are, up to now, still recovering from last year’s typhoons.

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Day Ten, post Ondoy
by benign0,
7th October 2009

Lately there’s been a lot of backpatting accompanying all the feel-good stories surrounding the heroism and “bayanihan” supposedly exhibited in the aftermath of the destruction wreaked by tropical cyclone Ondoy on Metro Manila. Indeed, there is reason to congratulate ourselves. The motivation to “help out” and “contribute” to the relief effort transcended social class and political affiliation.

Me, being a frustrated student of the emerging science of macro-psychology, thinks that there are some key elements that underpin such an outpouring of “help”.

Guilt trip.

I see it all over Facebook — people grandstanding about what and how they are contributing “selflessly”. Social networking has encroached on what was once the exclusive role of journalists and the media. The Media once held exclusive claim over the role of capturing images and stories of events and their publication. Not any more. People are now able to — and have taken it upon themselves — to capture events (which they themselves play the “hero” in) on film and self-publish these on the Web for their friends and peers to gawk at. Quiet achievement — with recognition as just a bonus — has been superseded by action with instant-recognition as a pre-requisite.

There is something amusing in seeing well-heeled folk packing relief bags in makeshift warehouses and loading them onto trucks (again I thank Facebook for that). Many of these are people who come from households where domestic servants may outnumber their employers almost two-to-one. Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to simply deploy their servants to those centres to do the manual work while they themselves focus their energies (and core skills) on tasks that deliver bigger, more far-reaching, and longer-term bang (such as getting on the phone to chew out the politicians they routinely fund and hobnob with for neglecting public infrastructure for so long)?

Perhaps all that tacky self-promotion enabled by modern technology hides a more ancient underlying psyche — guilt. Just as feast all year fast for one week is the Filipino motto behind the Easter Holidays (“Holy Week” as Filipinos call it), “helping out” when disaster strikes is what absolves the resource-rich of a way of life characterised primarily by NIMBY-ism (“not in my backyard”).

I’ve fasted/self-flagellated this week.

I’ve contributed/done “my part” today.

What’s the difference between the two? Simple answer: Nothing. They are the same. They both relieve personal guilt over an inability to ingrain doing things properly into our routine way of life. And neither addresses the harder question: What happens next?

The “bayanihan” we see today is just a souped-up version of our normal mode of operations.

It’s just a matter of turning the volume up when it’s time to dance.

Both the rescue efforts during and directly after the disaster and the lifeline of relief effort to victims sustained in its aftermath are driven largely by private sector initiative. They in no way represent our taxes at work properly channeled through public facilities and services. Rather, they are products of informal coping mechanisms — the altruism of the resource-rich and what Randy David calls “private solutions to collective problems” — a testament to the continued applicability of the Filipino Trinity that represents what our lot stands for:

Bahala na (come what may): As always, altruism when disaster strikes saves the day as the preferred alternative to the more onerous task of building sustainable ways of living by investing in measures to mitigate disaster. Why invest in progressively and contnuously strengthening the foundations of our standard of living when we can always rely on the resource-rich to help out when times are tough — as that characteristically Filipino way of thinking goes.

Pwede na yan (that’ll do): For now, most of Ondoy‘s flood victims are surviving on a steady supply of relief goods organised by the resource-rich. When the collective guilt has been absolved, the call to return to business-as-usual starts to overshadow the call to temporary duty, and the images of people “helping out” on Facebook become commoditised, what is an unsustainable pipeline of supplies to begin with reduces to a mere trickle. Eventually everyone moves on — the rich withdraw back into their gated communities and the poor move back into the floodplains. Next disaster, plez.

The third component of the Filipino Trinity — impunity — is what set us up for this disaster in the first place. In the short-term, there were no unpleasant consequences associated with dumping garbage and raw sewage into our storm drain systems.

False hope.

Again, the “bayanihan” we imagine to have happened over the last week or two props up our “hope” that Filipinos will be “ok”. Hope in what exactly? Yes, it’s that niggling question again that remains the elephant in the room.

How can there be hope when far bigger tragedies that occurred in the past due also to human neglect remain unaddressed today. What are we doing differently?

If the way our leaders and future leaders have responded to this disaster can be considered to be good indicators of what happens next, there is little reason to be hopeful.

Indeed, one would expect that our future leaders would have already anticipated much of the key challenges that grip our society even before they had joined the race to begin with.

That’s just a bit too much to ask of Filipino politicians, I suppose; because rather than step up to the grade befitting true leaders, they choose to merely reflect the society they aspire to lead.

6 Replies to “After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy”

  1. The “bayanihan mentality” is not yet lost in mindset of the Filipinos…it is still there…

    Tragedies like typhoons and other natural calamities, bring out the best and the worst of people.

    We are all Flipinos, no matter what position in life, you are !

    1. I remember those days. Manolo showed great leadership in mobilizing the elite bloggers by deploying them strategically using Google Maps and Facebook. What a great man. We should seriously consider him as a future president.

  2. Wouldn’t it have been more practical to have built proper shelter for the people than to keep shelling out “donations” and funds for recovery everytime this happens?

  3. Now what? It’s deja vu all over again. Duterte admin. did not learn any lessons from typhoons since Ondoy to Sendong to Yolanda, etc.

    Applying the good standard set by the writers of this website, since typhoon is not new and is always expected to hit the Philippine area at least 20 times per year, what are the government doing to mitigate the effects of it? Duterte is in power for more than 4 years now, and the flooding in Metro Manila during Ondoy in 2009 is the same as that, if not worse, of Ulysses. Nothing has really changed since then. You blamed Noynoy Aquino of the flooding in his time, you should harshly criticize or blame Duterte who promise changes to the Filipino people by now if you are not bias, hypocrite and/or applying double standard. Get real.

    1. You want honest criticism, Jason? Mr. Duterte should be harsher on the legislators obstructing urgent bills. Also on LGU officials who are not proactive on the job.

      1. The Senators and Congressmen are dominated by Duterte’s party, he has no excuses for that because he can always dictate priority bills as urgent if he wanted bills to pass immediately as he usually does, even if this means losing the independence and separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government. This has also nothing to do with LGUs. Big ticket infrastructure projects such as flooding mitigation lies with national government because of the needed big budget that LGUs lack or short thereof. The most LGUs can do is to monitor and warn their constituents before typhoon’s landing and rescue the trapped victims of typhoon during and after the flooding, and prepare shelter and relief goods for them.

        If Duterte has anticipated this kind of typhoon to happen every year in the Philippines, this should be addressed in the start of his term and is toplisted of his priorities already. But maybe not.

        That’s the problem when you promise changes to the Philippines you know you cannot keep, the problem becomes familiar all over again.

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