Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unprepared and inefficient

This is my column today, September 21, 2014.


It is in times of adversity - such as what most in Luzon and parts of the Visayas went through in the last three days - when we get a full appreciation of the complexities and extent of our problems as a nation, and at the same time, of the strength of character and resilience of the Filipino people. 
Once again, we were painfully reminded of the dismal state of our overall capability and readiness to manage disasters and crises situations – even when the nature of the disaster and crisis is something that we have already experienced many times over in the past.  Massive flooding due to heavy rains is not exactly a new phenomenon in this country.  Even the crisis situation in the Bicol area caused by the restive Mayon Volcano is not really new – Mayon is one of most active volcanoes in the country.  We’re visited by typhoons many times a year, the people responsible for christening typhoons are running out of names and have resorted to having contests and being creative.
We’re not lacking in actual experience in terms of disasters and crises situations. 
So why are we still grappling with the same problems every single time a disaster befalls us? 
Let’s not even go into why we have not been able to put in place measures to mitigate the immediate impact of natural phenomena such as heavy rains.  If we really come to think about it, it’s been five years since Typhoon Ondoy submerged Metro Manila and nearby areas in murky floodwaters in 2009.  The current administration did crucify then Defense Secretary and administration Presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro for his supposed bungling of the relief and rehabilitation efforts; so I think some expectations are warranted.  Seriously, do our leaders really expect Filipinos to simply accept that the flooding is a given and that nothing could be done about it?  But okay, putting in place concrete solutions to avert flooding will probably require a more comprehensive, complex, investment-intensive and long-term approach. 
But there is just no excuse for the rank inefficiency and chaos that attend the information dissemination as well as the rescue and relief efforts!
For crying out loud, even if disasters do visit us with regular frequency, there remain quite a number of months, weeks, and days when this country is relatively disaster-free.  What do the people in the respective government agencies do during these times of relative quiet and calm which theoretically and ideally should be spent preparing for the actual times when disaster strikes? 
Given the advances in information communications and technology, we should already have some proactive mechanisms to get critical information out to people – quickly and efficiently so that people are not stranded on streets, or caught unprepared.  Granted that there are Filipinos in disaster-prone areas who are stubborn and afflicted with the worst case of fatalism and do not budge until the last minute, but surely, these represent the minority?  Why haven’t we been able to reduce to a science this matter of ensuring that people are given decent relocation sites, kept warm, and provided with the basic necessities to at least make their suffering bearable?  How come we have not been able to keep people safe and snug in unaffected areas, rather than shivering on the streets? Where the heck are the teams with the equipment and the tools to rescue people? 
As in the past, we leave people to their own devices somehow taking comfort in the fact that Filipinos are the most ingenious, resilient, and yes, cheerful people in the world.  We have the uncanny ability to turn trials into a test of character and moments of distress into a source of hilarity.  In dire situations, we rely on our strong faith and dig deep into our seemingly inexhaustible well of patience.  
Our ability to withstand adversity and overcome difficulties is amazing.  But this, too, can be our undoing.  Simply ignoring the inefficiencies and the seemingly inhumane nature of our systems can only worsen things.  It is time for a change of mindset:  Misery is not our birthright.

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