As far back as I can recall, this is the first time that I experienced the month of December as a summer during the day (it felt like hell is here on earth with its scorching heat) and rainy season during the night (when it rains, it really pours – heavily!). Also for the first time, an angry typhoon – Typhoon Sendong – visited our country in December, during Christmas season, and of all places, in Northern Mindanao where typhoons, according to news, rarely happens.
Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that “Tropical Storm ‘Sendong,’ which slashed across Northern Mindanao over the weekend, might as well have been called ‘Ondoy 2.’ The only differences were that Ondoy struck Luzon, mainly Metro Manila, while Sendong hit Northern Mindanao, principally Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, and while Ondoy swirled in daytime, Sendong roared in the wee hours of the morning, when almost everybody was sleeping.”
Furthermore, it said, “The deforestration of watersheds in Lanao del Norte and Bukidnon, which feed into the major rivers of Northern Mindanao, worsened the effects of heavy rains, Presidential Adviser on Environment Nereus Acosta said. Deforestration, in turn, was caused primarily by illegal logging. Mining, both large-scale and small-scale, also contributed to deforestration, according to Acosta. Rapid urbanization has reduced the capacity of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan to hold water, reducing the area for water runoff and causing the siltation of the Cagayan River.”
Television is filled with news and updates about Typhoon Sendong’s victims – both dead and alive – showing them in their most pitiful and gruesome state. In a newspaper, I saw this picture of a mother carrying her dead child. There was also this picture of pile of dead bodies no longer identifiable because of the mud that enveloped them. Typical to Filipinos, some still managed to smile and laugh about it as if they’re talking about a funny story that they survived the typhoon when interviewed by reporters. Some were calling out the president for help, to help them rebuild their house. Scenes like these can easily move me, make me cry, but for the first time in my life, I am kind of detached. The only thing that I see is that Typhoon Sendong came there to reveal the dark side of Mindanao – irresponsible mining and deforestration. Irresponsible mining and deforestration. Irresponsible mining and deforestration have been existing there for we don’t know how long! And the people there in Mindanao are reaping what they have sown, like what we experienced during Ondoy here in Luzon. Instead of feeling sympathy for the victims, I am more angry at our local government, at DENR, at ourselves. What is going on with me? Am I turning into an uncaring human being, becoming a preachy “pro-environment” person, not feeling anything when I saw people crying over what they have lost – their loved ones, their house, their only source of income – and finding themselves starting all over again from nothing? I don’t feel happy about it and I don’t feel sad about it either. Anger is more like it – at our local government, at DENR, at ourselves.
Though I know that President P-Noy is an easy target for blame during tragedies such as this, for the longest time, I don’t understand why it’s always on the president, what the hell does the governor, congressman do to help in their province? Aren’t they suppose to represent the president, to act in behalf of the president, because the way I understand it, that is the reason why their positions exist, why they were elected? They are not just there to invent laws that aren’t being passed or if passed, not being followed because nobody knows that it exist anyway. Sure, I see them giving relief goods when tragedy strikes but I wonder, what the hell are they doing everyday, eight hours a day or more when there is no big problem like this? Do they set goals on how to keep their people safe from flashfloods and NOT JUST DESTROY AND REBUILD THE ROADS? Are the villagers aware or know the name of their governor or their congressman in their province, do they get to see these public officials?
It appears to me that they only act on the spot, when something happens, but not before something bad happen. The problem with both our national and local governments, they don’t have contingency plans. The problem with our government is BUREAUCRACY. And because of bureaucracy, even if some mayors work hard to attend to the needs of their constituents by requesting emergency tools and financial aid or everything else that they found lacking in their community before disaster strikes, their efforts would be useless if it would take the national government to respond, because requests have to pass through the Department of Budget or whichever authorizing government body to pass that request that oftentimes results to months, years before the requesting party get to know the answer. And once you receive the answer, it turns out to be a NO, the request was disapproved. What’s making them so busy, anyway? I mean, they don’t have to work so hard when it comes to generating income because the private companies, particularly the working class, the ordinary employees are doing it for them by means of the taxes that are being deducted from their low salaries. They just wait for their budget to arrive and all they have to do is act vigilantly on what is required of them as part of the government, as public servants, especially those people with high positions and getting so many perks.
What does DENR do to protect and conserve our environment? I always pass through East Avenue as I commute to go to my destination and everyday, you could see vehicles producing black, thick smoke from their engines – the smoke belchers – and they are everywhere. There are so many government agencies there, particularly DENR, and my oh my they have a huge building but what the hell are they doing? Obviously, none. They keep on releasing ordinances but it is not being implemented. They keep on reporting statistics of deaths resulting from typhoons or illegal logging on certain places, so now, after getting that information, what do they do about it? None! According to them, they give notices to the local government. As if serving notices equates with “doing something about it.”
And what do we do as a citizen to protect and conserve our environment? When I ride a jeep, there’s a fellow passenger who would tell her child to throw his garbage out the window. Jeez, I wanted to strangle that parent for teaching a wrong thing to her child. You know what, I see this everyday, particularly the open burning of garbage done by my neighbors because garbage collector visits our place only once a week, sometimes they forget to even visit us at all! Just the simple act of throwing or disposing properly our garbage we cannot do.
I’ve complained about our garbage problem, back in 2010, where I had to take a leave of absence from work to go from person to person, from barangay captain (here, I was told we only have one garbage truck for all barangays) to the homeowners association (here, I was told that they plan to request from the mayor one garbage truck exclusive only to our subdivision) to the governor (here, I saw so many others like me falling in line to send a letter to the governor – one was asking for a tuition fee assistance, another was asking for medical assistance and you can just imagine what others were requesting – that I feared my letter would be ignored), just for the sake of disturbing them in their complacency, to let them know the garbage problem in my place which, as I was to discover, they already knew long before I did. Well, they did something about it if I would call it that way. After sending a letter to the Office of the Governor, a month later they sent notices to Office of the Mayor, to concerned persons or institutions informing them about a complaint filed by a concerned citizen (that’s me). I knew about this because I was sent copies of the notice letters (with my complaint letter attached to it) received by those offices that should act upon my request. As a result – none, there was no result. I cannot depend on my neighbors even if some of them have the same sentiment as mine because they’re too lazy they would rather mind their own problems that are enough to burden them. I stopped making demands when I’m losing my finances already due to travelling and absences.
Bata pa lang ako, panahon pa ni Heherson Alvarez as DENR secretary, naririnig ko na yang problema sa illegal logging and deforestration. Noong pinapalabas pa sa TV yung National Geographic in the ’80s, it mentioned the Philippines – if my memory serves me right – as the number one (if not the only) country in Asia with endangered forests, and today, it appears that nothing much has changed, still the same fact. Today, many have died in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro after experiencing the wrath of man-made Typhoon Sendong. The trees from the forests could have saved them, but these people no longer have enough trees, instead, huge logs from cut-down trees were found floating over strong waves of mud and floodwater from the mountains down to their condemned communities, hitting unsuspecting victims that killed them on the spot, destroying more properties, drowning the animals (luckily, some of them survived), bringing more danger to already dangerous places.
“The logging families in Mindanao, who became filthy rich from the massacred forests, are responsible for the deaths of almost a thousand people who perished in floods. Their blood is on their hands,” says PDI columnist Neal Cruz.
“It might have been war, what we saw in Cagayan de Oro, and it was,” says Conrado de Quiros. “We have been at war for a long time now, and these are its effects. We have been at war for a long time now, and the casualties are mounting. We have been at war for a long time now: With Nature. It is a war we cannot win. It is a war that is sealing our doom.”
I must say that because of our complacency and ignorance – if not ignorance, ARROGANCE – I just wish those who are irresponsible and numb – the smoke belchers, the people who burn and throw their garbage everywhere, illegal loggers, mining companies, lazy governors and congressmen, even some of the locals who could possibly be the ones cutting those trees — will be the only ones to be directly affected. To experience losing everything from flashfloods so they would realize their wrongdoings. I am bad I know and it is just unfortunate that this is impossible. Because we are all part of the human race, everyone is under no mercy. Nature doesn’t care if you’ve been good or bad. When tragedy happens, as humans who got no superpower, we can only despair and we are free to blame our God, to blame our neighbor, to blame our lazy politicians, to blame our president to let out our grief. Nobody gets strike by lightning for doing that.
The Philippines is known to be a rich country because of its natural resources (this explains why we are being granted loans by foreign entities like World Bank, why we have increasing debts) but we ourselves are destroying it. We complain that we are poor but what we don’t realize is that it is us who are making ourselves poor by just sitting pretty, thinking that typhoons will just come and go anyway. We Filipinos are resilient people, we would tell proudly to others. “This, too, shall pass,” we often say. But being mere creatures, we are powerless to the things that Mother Nature can do – like earthquakes, tsunamis, like signal no. 3 typhoons. We never learn from our tragedies. Because we never learn, the lessons from Mother Nature are repetitively being taught to us. Just observe: rainy days during summer and summer days during rainy season. Not to mention, a typhoon during December. What do you think is the message? If you cannot guess, still blaming God for the floods, for the death of your loved ones, the lesson will be repeated until we drill the lesson into our heads that our environment is just as important as the air we breathe. Reminding me of that favorite TV series I watched as a kid, I feel like we are living now in a “Twilight Zone,” where the turn of weather events causing calamities and deaths are getting more and more weird each time, getting more and more abnormal each time, causing confusion and distress and mystery, scared to guess what the ending of the odd story will be. And I’m getting afraid of the years to come, of many typhoons to come.
Written on December 22, 2011- The Best of “Living well is the best revenge” (theuntouchableone.multiply.com)