Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas amid a tragedy

This post is antedated.

I know people who still cannot comprehend how the flash flood in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City in Mindanao and Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental in the Visayas that claimed hundreds of—perhaps even more than a thousand—lives could have happened. The death toll has been steadily rising and grim pictures of the devastation are making people shake their heads in disbelief. That the tragedy happened in the run up towards Christmas magnifies the pain. This is supposed to be a season of joy and rejoicing; this is not supposed to be a time of tragedy.

My friends from Cagayan de Oro recounted how unprepared everyone is in this city for this kind of tragedy. I know. We are a country that does not believe in preparations; but our brothers and sisters in Mindanao even more so. Cagayan de Oro—and the whole of Mindanao—is not usually along the path of typhoons. Of course some people have been giving dire warnings about flash floods being a possibility in an area where forests have been disappearing at a faster pace to give way to development and where rivers and natural waterways have become silted due to pollution. But for the most part, most have stuck to the belief that they lived in a promised land where nature is at its friendliest best. Well, not anymore.

I don’t know if there is a message more powerful than what we have seen in the last few days. Many years of environmental abuse are taking their toll on us. Nature is fighting back; and in truly vengeful ways. Typhoons are getting stronger and stronger and, consequently, more devastating. Other forces of nature have also become more powerful. A whole month’s worth of rain can now be unleashed in a few hours’ time. We need to get our act together and help reverse the cataclysmic consequences of global warming.

This is why I am glad to note that more and more towns and cities are embracing environmental protection as an advocacy. This week, Antipolo has joined the number of cities that have banned the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. These are the two most common causes of pollution as well as clogging of waterways. Really, just imagine the sheer number of Styrofoam waste generated by the top fastfood chains!

Of course, we still have a long way to go to restore our forest cover, which is why we really need to have stronger political will in this country to ensure that first, we put in place a total ban on logging; and second, a total ban on mining. We just cannot afford to have more catastrophes of the kind that we are witnessing now in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete.

My heart bleeds for our brothers and sisters who were severely affected by the flash floods over the weekend. My thoughts and my prayers are with them. We should really do what we can for them, particularly since it is the season of giving. We can scale down very lavish preparations for our Noche Buena and for the remaining parties and reunions and instead donate a percentage of the money to the victims. Let us donate to the National Red Cross—they are the ones at the forefront of the disaster relief operations.

I hope the President stops making excuses and shows the kind of stewardship that is most needed at a time like this. It is important that the President is seen as a leader who is on the ground, distributing relief, shaking hands with the victims, and condoling with those in grief. That yarn about how it wouldn’t be easy for a President to make travel arrangements is pure hogwash; he is President, for crying out loud, he can make things happen.

I don’t think it was a big deal that the President was out partying the night thousands of Filipinos along the swathe of the flash floods were disconsolate, trying to locate loved ones and salvaging whatever they could from the mud. It really wasn’t the fact that he attended a Christmas party and had fun; it was more because he still had to show that he cared enough for the victims. If only the President were seen directing relief efforts or personally condoling with the victims, that bit of news about his partying the night before would not have become an issue at all. Memo to the bright boys in the Palace: We don’t mind if the President attends parties as long as he does his job.

Given the scope and magnitude of the devastation in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Dumaguete, we should celebrate Christmas and greet the New Year with a little more commitment to truly make this world a better place for everyone. Here are some ideas about what you can do in this season of hope, love, and peace.

It’s not too late to give Mother Nature a Christmas gift. You can resolve to go easy on the non-biodegradable materials during the rest of the holidays and perhaps even the rest of the year. Instead of serving food on Styrofoam, you might want to consider buying biodegradable paper plates instead. Go easy on the fireworks—they pollute the air and create more waste. They are also bad for our physical wellbeing. You can plant a tree, or two, or even more. You can sign a petition to ban logging and mining in this country. You can practice recycling.

You can also help protect the environment just by conserving water and electricity. Water is actually a diminishing resource. For instance, if you are the average person, you probably turn on the faucet while brushing your teeth. You must stop this practice and use a glass instead; in the process, you conserve water. The same is true when washing dishes or clothes.

Do not overcharge your mobile phones. Most people charge their phones at night and leave them on while they go to sleep. This is an utter waste of electricity. You can try charging your mobile phone in the morning while you are eating breakfast or going about your morning rituals. This way, you do not overcharge your phone. You can also try unplugging electrical appliances that are not being used as they continue to consume electricity if they remain plugged to an electrical outlet.

On Christmas Day, recycle. Make sandwiches of the leftover ham and cheese from your Noche Buena table. With a few slices of apples and some strips of lettuce or cabbage, these can be transformed into delightful gourmet sandwiches. Wrap them in paper napkins and give these to the street children that are bound to come knocking on your car window at some intersections of the metro. These kids probably had to fight for a slice of ham and probably didn’t have queso de bola at their table on Christmas Eve. Your leftovers will definitely be a welcome treat for them.

Spend some quality time with your loved ones, especially the old and the young. Go to church. Pray for our country; God knows we need all the divine intervention we can get in these uncertain times.

Maligayang Pasko!

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