Saturday, August 11, 2012

Best and worst

LAST Tuesday, while Metro Manilans were waking up to another round of heavy rains and flooding replacing unwelcome memories of Ondoy, two persons flew in from Singapore. For the German and the Chinese, it was their first trip to the country.

They returned back to their base country on the same day, as many parts of the metro and other cities in Luzon went under water. What impressions of the country, a Filipino colleague mused, did they bring back with them?

Below are my answers if the question had been meant for me:

WORST place for systems. If you expect systems to be in place, be ready for disappointments. Some long-time residents say that authorities in flood-prone Manila still don’t get it: how can they not prepare for disasters that strike regularly? Others also say that some of the areas that didn’t go underwater during Ondoy now did. So what went wrong?

BEST place for improvisations. News footages captured the heroism of rescuers. It wasn’t just saving the lives of strangers, even people who did not want to leave their homes, but doing so with very little resources and a lot of obstacles. Lacking motorized inflatable boats and life vests and other safety gear, rescuers showed what one could do with a piece of rope, the interior of a wheel and determination. Although there were no reports of casualties among rescuers or the people they were helping, a system should include the purchase of modern equipment to facilitate rescue missions and ensure the safety of rescuers, many of whom are volunteers.

BEST humans. Coming after our poor showing at the Olympics and the divisive squabbling over the Reproductive Health Bill, the selflessness of volunteering and cooperation to help those made homeless, hungry and ailing by the flash floods reminded us why the Filipino is great. Students, government employees, housewives, and others who could have just stayed home volunteered to repack food and give aid. The days of no work, no class released many to aid the rescue and relief operations. Cheers also to the news media, particularly radio and TV, for keeping the public informed and vigilant. Journalists sought out communities that were inaccessible and badly in need of help.

WORST humans. P-Noy chided people who resisted efforts to relocate them to evacuation centers, where food and medical assistance were easier to channel. He wondered if material possessions were worth more than the lives of loved ones and rescuers, who had to contend with heavy obstacles and risks to return to rescue them. Yet, it’s not difficult to empathize with homeowners protecting their homes and livestock from looters. Despite the deep floods, threat of electrocution and drowning and other hazards, submerged homes were still ransacked. “Jumper” boys ran off with the cargo of vehicles that floundered in flooded intersections. One TV personality attested that the food donated for network volunteers “tasted good, in fairness.”

WORST timing for trial-and-error. By changing “green” to “orange” at the height of the calamity, the Pag-asa confused the public and incensed P-Noy in the piloting of their rainfall warning system. Officials said that they changed colors as a concession to criticisms that the original color coding—yellow for monitoring, green for alert, and red for evacuation—confused people more used to the “red-yellow-green traffic light system”. However, changing colors at the height of a crisis and without sufficient explanation made the agency seem as unpredictable as the weather it still has to accurately read.

BEST time to think about others. We may never get any kind of system going. We may never buy all the modern equipment and facilities we need when disaster strikes. We can do something, though, about the trash we are disposing, the plastic bags we can reuse, the packaging we dispose without a thought. If “we” sounds too ambitious, “I” is shorter, simpler, easier: “I can”.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 12, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

No comments: