Monday, October 12, 2009

What is happening to our country?

Is the good Lord sending us a message? Two Saturdays ago, torrents of water fell from the heavens, right smack into the metropolis, and in six hours of blinding rain, thousands of homes were flooded, most beyond repair or rehabilitation. For two days, the national capital region and nearby provinces were virtually no man’s land. Rooftops looked like thousands of islets where families were marooned, waiting for succour, hungry and abandoned. As the days passed, we counted some 250 deaths. The number of those whose hopes have been slain, now looking liked dazed zombies unable to fathom what happened to their lives and unable to ponder over a future saddled with debt and uncertainty, keep growing as floodwaters have not receded in many areas. Laguna de Bay seems to have gone into reverse reclamation, with nature reclaiming the area which man had encroached upon. In the process, half a million people will soon be without habitat.

With the nation still in shock, another typhoon kept everybody in perilous death watch even as relief work was being organized. After Ondoy’s devastation, Pepeng, with center winds of almost 200 kilometers per hour, with gustiness beyond the same, threatened several parts of Luzon. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief when it’s howling winds spared Bicol, Quezon, thence Aurora and even the northernmost parts of the country. But the typhoon was not finished with the benighted land. Its winds may not have done as much, but for an entire week, it stayed within the country’s environmental theatre. And it poured far more rain in far greater areas --- all of Region 2, all of Region 1, and the Montanosa in-between. It filled our dams --- Ambuklao built by Quirino, Magat and Pantabangan built by Marcos, San Roque built by Ramos. Meter after meter of water had to be finally released else greater tragedy of unlimited tons of water destroy everything in its path. This happened Thursday night, and residents of Pangasinan, Isabela, and Nueva Ecija hardly slept as the water level kept rising, destroying their appliances and furniture, later threatening to destroy everything they had saved all their lives. One wonders why the dam management did not release the water little by little as early as two days before, and whether there was any coordination between them and Pagasa, the weather bureau. And why they had to release the water in the dead of night, when people were asleep. Meantime, in the highlands, continuous rain loosened the soil, and massive landslides snuffed out entire families in the dead of night. Another couple of hundred Filipinos died, perhaps more when the reports from other parts come in.

Meanwhile too, vegetables in the highlands meant for the tables of the lowlands are rotting, as Benguet and Aritao are marooned. Bangus in Dagupan squirmed out of their pens and washed out all human income expected from them. “Buntis na palay”, stalks heavy with soon-to-be-harvested grain, were bent, then drowned by rampaging floodwaters. An entire season of work and capital was destroyed, in what is the nation’s rice granary --- the central and northern plains of Luzon. Beyond, in the irrigated lowlands of Laguna, the same fate was repeated.

People will have to pick up the shattered pieces of washed-out lives. And they face the spectre of massive hunger and spiralling prices, going to Christmas and beyond, as the nation enters the orgy of political campaign to choose their next likely-to-fail hope for redemption. While it is true that climate change has unleashed many aberrant behaviours in Mother Nature’s weather patterns, the reality of successive quirky disasters befalling a nation already benighted by social and economic inequity, boggles the mind and discombobulates public order.

The Holy Father in the Holy See received our latest ambassadress to his papal court meantime. She was the third within his still short papacy, and within that span of time, he had heard nothing but miserable news about the only Catholic country in Asia, “only” until an equally impoverished Timor l’Este was snuggled out of the corpus of the world’s largest Islamic country.

Even the Pope could not contain his puzzlement at the stream of bad tidings that kept engulfing this country jewel of his tiara. He watched the endless diaspora of his faithful into almost all parts of the world, suffering ill effects upon families and social contracts, and even disruption of their accustomed religiosity. He heard news about unmitigated greed elevating official corruption to the level of evil science. And now he weeps at the unmitigated disasters that keep befalling his Catholic outpost in the Far East.

Through the new envoy before him, he wondered aloud why we cannot seem to be properly led by honest and morally upright leaders, as if in puzzlement as to how a nation consecrated to the Holy Mother and the Infant Jesus could be so cursed by low life masquerading as public officials. “The struggle against poverty in the Philippines calls for honesty, integrity and an unwavering fidelity to the principles of justice, especially on the part of those entrusted with positions of governance and public administration”, he lectured from his dais the veiled lady dispatched before him by the woman who once pompously said that “the Lord put me here”. Vatican officials should probably research at the origins of the wealth of the envoys the little lady has sent to them. Oh yes, they are always ladies of great wealth, but scratch a little deeper into the provenance of their possessions. Were they the result of graft-ridden commissions once purloined in a mahjong table through proximity to power? Or other unseemly sources of great wealth? Yet now, as if to redeem such inglorious and suspicious provenance, they face the holy of holies, in spiritual pretense and holy pose. It is as if Vatican II had failed to cleanse our faith of the filth of the Borgias and other medievalists who once lorded it over the Holy Church.

What is happening to the country? And for a country that year-in and year-out is visited by twenty typhoons each year, why couldn’t government have been more prepared, and its actions coordinated? Why are there no zoning plans for local government officials to religiously comply with? Why hasn’t Congress passed a national land use policy for the longest time? (I remember that a bill was presented as early as the Cory days to promulgate a national land use policy, but every vested interest in Congress slept on it). So many questions and so few answers from a government caught clueless and helpless.

Meantime the misery of victims multiply. What the mind finds immeasurable is the greater problem of repairing and rehabilitation, replanting fields destroyed, financing the reconstruction, even retrieving important documents lost to hundreds of thousands. If we as a people had been of lesser faith, our spirit and morale would be utterly broken.

Who among the presidential contenders can posit both immediate plans and long-term solutions, other than distributing relief goods wrapped in their signature colours? Is there anyone in government who can act, beyond the endless meetings, the repetitive command conferences? Why are we ever so cursed?