Typhoon Ondoy and the Need for New Politics
On December 6, 2006, almost three years ago, I wrote this editorial in TruthForce!, www.truthforce. info. I entitled it “Super-Typhoons and Philippine Democracy”. I will share it again in whole to emphasize two points. First, already back then, almost three years ago, the scientific evidence was clear that humanity has entered the age of drastic climate change and extreme weather events. Super typhoons will increasingly wreak havoc on the planet including the Philippines. Second, government had a chance to act and prepare for Ondoy, especially after the massive P18 billion-destruction brought about by Typhoon Frank in June 2008.
But, no, government chose to continue the path of traditional politics, focusing on retaining power and stealing the national budget at the tune of a minimum of P300 billion a year. It is clear. The time for a new and very different kind of politics has come, a new politics savvy enough to prepare for the upcoming disasters of super typhoons and other extreme weather events. Our future as a people will depend on it.
I have been wanting to reissue this piece for sometime. But there was no time amidst all the rescue operations, travels, events, and other related work. So here’s the December 2006 editorial which correctly predicted the coming of more super typhoons and why only true democracy can prepare us for the massive challenges that awaits the Philippines and the world in the age of drastic climate change.
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Mega Metro Manila had barely recovered from super-typhoon Milenyo two months ago when Super-typhoon Reming (International Code Name, Durian) slammed the Bicol and Marinduque regions of the Philippines last week. The impact was devastating.
Government sources reported that Reming killed over 526 people with another 740 missing. In addition, Reming damaged more than 250,000 houses. Marinduque alone had 90% of its houses devastated by Reming. The super-typhoon wrecked havoc on the lives of 1.54 million people, 83,000 of whom sought refuge at evacuation centers Estimates place the damage to houses, infrastructure and agriculture at P1.6 billion. In Albay Province alone, Reming caused P200 million worth of damage to power facilities that engineers estimate would take more than 6 months to repair.
Reming is the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year. The super-typhoon, with gustiness reaching 265 kilometers per hour at its peak, was headed towards Metro Manila. However, a high pressure area in the north towards China diverted the path of the super-typhoon. Thus Metro Manila, out of pure luck, was spared from another devastation similar to the one that battered it two months ago.
Reming is the fourth super-typhoon to hit the Philippines this year. This incidence of 4 super-typhoons in the space of a few months is highly unusual and is a microcosm of unusual weather events happening worldwide. The message is clear. Even before the dreaded massive flooding due to global warming comes about, drastic climate events will serve as a dramatic prelude for things to come.
Global warming has increasingly been in the headlines all over the world. Not too long ago, a report commissioned by the British government, written by former chief economist of the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, warmed world leaders of the gigantic economic costs, running into trillion of dollars due to global warming. If the world does not launch a concerted effort to reduce the releases of greenhouse gases, global warming could cost the world up to $6.98 or almost $7 TRILLION.
And recently James Lovelock warned of dramatic global catastrophes if global warming increases the temperature of oceans by 8 degrees Celsius. When this barrier is breached, then irreversible and adverse climatic events, including massive floods on lowlands, will take place. Hundreds of millions of people will die in the process. But way before this, even an increase of 2 degrees Celsius will be more than enough to unleash nature’s furry in terms of floods, droughts, super-typhoons and super-storms, disease epidemics, and a range of other unpalatable disasters.
The devastation of super-typhoon Reming revealed, in dramatic microcosmic form, the currently tragic decline of Philippine society as a whole.
First, the super-typhoon is a strong indictment of the mediocre state of governance in the country. The Philippine Government under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) has no comprehensive strategy to deal with super-typhoons and other side-effects of global warming. Albert Gore came to the country at the beginning of 2006 to warn Philippine leaders about global warming. His warming made it to the front pages of newspapers and received top coverage in TV and radio. But, as with many things, that was sensational news about 2 million people in Manila threatened by floods and increasing water levels. And then nothing happened.
Instead the GMA government has focused its energy on staying in power and removing the incoming threat of a May 2007 elections that could result in a massive shift in political alignment against GMA. So GMA and her cabal of insensitive reptilian brain-driven political allies are focusing on Charter Change or “Cha-Cha” where, among others, the traditional politicians currently in power do not have to run for office. They will automatically retain their position until 2010. “Our survival first and the rest be damned”. This is the implicit attitude of an illegitimate government drunk with power.
As for the Filipino people? Most have de facto given up on democracy. Many feel too alone and isolated to do anything about the power grab. Instead many are simply focusing on their narrow day-to-day concerns and hope for the best.
And this is exactly what happened with those who died in the landslides. Not too long ago, hundreds had died in landslides caused by other super-typhoons. The people in Bicol have been warned time and time again that there was a danger of landslides both from volcanic eruption and hard rains. Yet, many refused to look at the larger picture and simply went on about their daily concern. With their myopic focus, they were clearly inviting death.
This description is not meant to be heartless and unsympathetic. One definitely mourns the lives that were lost. But one cannot ignore the objective reality of people ignoring obvious danger signals with wanton abandon.
So that is the current status of Philippine democracy: a government that pretends to be democratic and a majority of citizens who are too scared or apathetic to extract accountability from the government. Such a passive citizenry is an open arms invitation for an abusive government to institute de facto dictatorial government, where most things concerned with justice, with exceptions of course, are a charade.
However, amidst all these, there is an increasing number of Filipinos who are also waking up. They are reaching their point of tolerance of the political stench that surrounds and paralyzes them. They are quietly but surely organizing. And they are doing this in a new way, one attuned to the new needs of the time. And they will become stronger thru the years just as martial law created one of the most massive and strongest civil societies in the world.
If Philippine history is any guide, or knowledge of Filipino character a warning, this farcical situation cannot and will not last long. A predatory and “manhid” or brazenly insensitive government and a suffering people driven to the wall create a very fertile ground for a social super-typhoon to devastate the country’s societal fabric. And may God be with all of us when it does!