Still stunned, survivors of Sendong have yet to really mourn


A visit to evacuation centers in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro left me with the overwhelming impression that most people are still stunned, that they still have to internalize the loss of their loved ones or are still holding out hope for their reappearance.  They still have to really mourn, but that moment will come crashing on them very soon.

Clash of emotions

Perhaps not untypical of the clash of emotions is the case of Lennie Kundiman and her son. Residents of Bayug Island in Iligan City, they were swept far out to sea, almost to Camiguin Island, over 200 kilometers away, where they were rescued by a Philippine Navy boat after drifting for two days and two nights.  Joy at being rescued was, however, crushed when Lennie learned that her husband, radio announcer Michael, had perished.  But this news was somewhat mitigated when she learned that her other son, Michael Jr., had survived.

With the number of dead and missing climbing inexorably to above 3000, the Sendong Catastrophe is now up there in notoriety, among the earthquakes and tsunamis that are usually the worst natural disasters in terms of casualties.  The way that disaster struck—with no warning at all—in fact reminded people who lived through Sendong of an earthquake.  Even the animals, known for sensing disaster way ahead of time, were late this time.  One survivor says that his only sense something was amiss was when 15 dogs barking frantically ran past him, ahead of the rampaging flood waters by just a few feet.

Civil society fills the vacuum

Local government makes a difference.  The contrast is made between Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro.  In Dumaguete, one DILG official observed, community leaders and organizations were mobilized to meet the oncoming storm after Pagasa issued its warnings, while only few local officials were alerted for action in Cagayan de Oro City.  Indeed, in the aftermath of the catastrophe, so hapless is the Cagayan de Oro city government that civil society organizations have filled the vacuum in the rescue and relief efforts.  At the center of this effort is Xavier University, where we saw goods pouring in from other parts of the country as well as from international organizations being received and distributed by an impressive, well-organized effort involving hundreds of volunteers.

Sendong was an ecological disaster.  The Cagayan de Oro River watershed had been stripped of trees and vegetation that could have dammed the floodwaters.  Indiscriminate logging, in turn, stemmed partly from population pressure as thousands of rural families could no longer sustain themselves via traditional livelihoods.  Population pressure had also driven thousands of families to settle on ecologically fragile areas like Isla de Oro in Cagayan and Bayug Island in Iligan.  Populated by around 10,000 people each, both spits of land jutting into the river were totally wiped out by the combination of rampaging waters and careening logs bulldozing everything in front of them.

Climate collapse

But apparently the main culprit was the man-made phenomenon of global warming, which was responsible for the unusual path that Sendong took across an area of the country that is very seldom, if at all, visited by typhoons or tropical storms originating in the Pacific.  Sendong reminded us that, in the era of accelerated climate change, our ability to control environmental events is extremely limited since their origins are outside our borders.

Sendong, indeed, was a tragic footnote to an event occurring thousands of miles away, in Durban, South Africa.  There the United Nations Climate Conference (COP 17) ended with no commitments on the part of the worst carbon dioxide polluters to curb their emissions and no offers by any of the rich countries to provide money for the Global Green Climate Fund that is supposed to assist the poor countries to protect themselves from the consequences of global warming.

When I attended the Bali Climate Conference in 2007, there was still hope that  a new climate treaty could be negotiated soon to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.  In Durban, the parties decided to put off coming to an agreement on a new treaty to 2020.  Hopes that the rise in global mean temperature might be kept at 2 centigrades Celsius or below have now given way to fears that it might go up to 4 centigrades. That virtually guarantees many more Iligans and Cagayans throughout the world.

As I watched the apocalyptic emptiness of Bayug Island in Iligan, I was reminded of someone’s warning to the effect that if we do not take the necessary steps to curb our numbers, consumption, and carbon emissions, nature will find less palatable ways to restore equilibrium between her and us.

* columnist Walden Bello, who represents Akbayan in the House of Representatives, recently visited Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City.

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  • Mang Teban

    I commiserate with those who suffered and lost their loved ones in the areas affected by Typhoon Sendong.

    Little by little, the impartial findings by the government weather bureau speak of topography as the main probable cause of the huge wave of a mixture of rainwater and mud that cascaded to the different areas in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Dumaguete. They seemed to have identical topography. Toxic carbon emissions though in those places are not common, are they?

    This generalization of opinion writing that discusses the usual motherhood statements about Global Warming is nauseating. So, I would suggest to columnists like Walden Bello who does not fail to mention their foreign trips and international conferences to depict some sort of credibility to write incredible parallelisms that do not really exist to stop using this technique to sell an idea.

    Walden Bello is the first one to mention about carbon emissions that are existing in other countries far away from Southeast Asia. Is the situation in Mindanao and Negros Oriental that serious now with toxic carbon emissions?

    • TheGUM

      My lengthy reply has been tagged as waiting for moderator approval.  The gist of my reply, Mang Teban, is that you should read up on the ABCs of global warming.

  • zoiloperez

    Walden Bello should blame peNoy the abNoy for this tragedy.  He cancelled the 5 billion set aside for flood control

  • andrew lim

    a main stumbling block to any project that spans several years, several generations, several budgets and several administrations is our culture.

    our culture is designed for short-term, ad hoc and spontaneous action. we are averse to any form of planning – that’s why traffic is so bad (which requires incredibly long term and detailed planning of the city) ; that’s why you have so many families of excessive size, exceeding the capacity of the parents to support;  that’s why conservation and anti-flood projects are rarely completed, much less started.

    our culture is our enemy. we are good at responding to disasters; we are bad at preventing them, since that requires some serious planning.

  • t_vlim

    This columnist is obviously fully convinced on the matter of ‘global warming’ and its effects on our planet earth. The last time I read, and heard about this phenomenon – the jury is still out and there still exists two sides to the story. At any rate, on this subject other than raising its voice to be heard the Filipino has very little that can be done. On the other hand . . .

    There is a more significant, nay,  much, much more important matter to bring forth onto the public’s consciousness. This is DEFORESTATION AND ITS EVILS! Man , himself should be convinced that the natural protection accorded him by FORETATION can temper to his advantage  Natural disasters such as Sendong. t_vlim

  • Malik62

    I’m still stunned by the inadequate actions and much more by the actions of the present administration.

  • Pakistani music

    its a great work done. 

  • bgcorg

    Mr. Bello never fails to mention as among the causes of poverty or natural disasters, the “excessive” numbers of populations, and advocates “curbing” the numbers with artificial contraceptives, gadgets, methods, procedures and services.  In articles he has written and in his advocacies, it is clear that he advocates artificial birth control methods against the poor who, with his elk, he blames for irresponsibility for “multiplying like rabbits” unlike in the models he presents in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam where, according to him, artificial contraception to limit population has succeeded. He fully subscribes to state intervention to achieve what, in his mind, should happen so that only a certain class of society can enjoy the goodness of creation and so that calamities can have only fewer casualties he can gloat over suffered because of his successful prescription.

    What he fails to mention, though, is that the ideal population numbers should really provide for a sound and healthy replacement growth without which the total “population” picture runs into dangerous extremes. Without providing for such a safety measure, a nation can suffer what is already experienced by some countries: “a greying population phenomenon” where it translates into lesser productive members of the work force and more state support for the old and elderly, as the population skews towards more senior citizens in the country that the state should provide for.  The infrastructures for such a possibility are not simply in place here and the accelerated decimation of the population if the reproductive health bill becomes a law would move faster than our preparation to meet the consequences.  Mr. Bello fails to stress that man should find a way to improve on productivity, especially in agriculture and food production, innovate on ways to create jobs, livelihood, develop industries and implement infrastructure developments without corruption, spread basic education especially in the countryside plagued by decades of rebellion and insurrection and, in general, uplift the conditions of the very poor so that they can have more in law. Man is given the power by God to subdue the earth and be the lord of his creation.

    We should fight poverty and corruption with hope and social justice.  If the very poor are given hope and the equal opportunity irregardless of less power, influence or money, to uplift the status of their economic life in society and assisted in this endeavor by the state, there would be less poor, underprivileged, and it would not be difficult to have responsible parents to have children they can affod to raise.  Mr. Bello has to compare attitudes of poor parents/families in other underdeveloped or developing countries to find out that due to lack of hope to ever get out of the misery of poverty, couples take to having sex with their partners as the cheapest way of getting release from frustration in their hopelessness, despite knowing that additional mouths to feed are a burden to them and to society.  There is no need to be a well-travelled correspondent to arrive at such a conclusion.  With a law (if ever) that pretends to discourage irresponsible parenting but dangles artificial contraceptive gadgets, drugs, methods, procedures and services as a form of “informing” to have choices, it is DISHONESTY to provide during counselling free condoms, IUD insertions, vasectomy or tubal ligation services or free drugs with the subtle coaxing to use any of these services for convenience, free availments and  ease against reinforcing the value of self-control, discipline and abstinence, using public funds and personnel services for the purpose.  It is clearly the intent of the state to harness all its resources, including funds even from those who do not subscribe to the lawfulness of forcing them to buy facetiously declared “essential medicines” in order to contribute to acts which are by themselves immoral, if not for the matter itself (contraceptives) against the Natural Law, fomenting abortion and the prevention of human life.  It is not disinformation to claim that by thinning the endometrium or by such other means to prevent conception from happening, man unduly meddles with the imperatives of the Natural Law.

    If our population growth rate is 2.04, it is closer to the ideal population growth rate of 2.01.  Mr. Bello can join the fight against poverty and corruption by restoring social order in the community so that with hope and social justice, poverty and corruption may finally be eliminated in the country.  He can stress on man’s fight to preserve his environment for generations to come; not champion a culture of contraception for generations to come.  He can promote the campaign to mitigate the effects of climate change on this generation and generations to come; not introduce the nation into another type of upheaval caused by a greying population for generations, difficult indeed to reverse, per the observation of the great management expert, Peter Drucker who said that an aggressive population legislative measure such as the one proposed by some misguided legislators, “creates an irreversible mentality against human births” (Management Challenges in the 21st Century).  St. Thomas Aquinas has warned us against “not too much nor too little” as the antititheses to the “golden mean” is disastrous and “a small error in the beginning translates to be a disaster in the end.”  Mr. Bello and his cohorts need to listen to the wisdom of the ages. 

  • mchang1978

    Pangit na bakla ka Bello! Ipa-retoke mo yong mukha mo. What is Vicky Bello for?

  • Bagong

    I have yet to see a real debate happen in the Philippines between those who believe there is anthropogenic global warming and those who do not.

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