Storms and high anxiety
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez are both from Mindanao. Their home region, along with the Visayas, has just been battered by a succession of three severe storms that caused widespread flooding, landslides and human misery. Hundreds of people have died from the disasters, with thousands more displaced and in dire need of immediate relief.
But the two leaders’ recent pronouncements contained not an urgent word about the condition of their home communities. Instead, the stalwarts of the ruling PDP-Laban appear to be busy floating the trial balloon of a “no-el scenario”—that is, suspending the 2019 midterm elections and thereby extending the term of President Duterte and other officials, including themselves, ostensibly as part of the transition period toward a federal form of government.
As politicians continue to obsess with ever more elaborate ways of consolidating power and keeping themselves entrenched in their positions, ordinary Filipinos are battling arduous challenges on multiple fronts: calamities, poor or nonexistent services, crumbling public transport, police abuse, an unending rash of vigilante crimes, and now the specter of higher prices of fuel and other basic commodities.
Where were Pimentel, Alvarez and other Mindanao and Visayas officials as those regions foundered in the kind of apocalyptic storms that, not too long ago, were a rarity in the southern part of the Philippines? Climate change, long forecast by scientists but ignored for far longer by shortsighted policymakers and politicians, has now clearly come home to roost, but it’s also quite as clear that no serious efforts have been done to cushion—let alone prepare the citizenry for—the impact of such changes.
Tropical Storm “Urduja” killed 47 people in the Visayas last month, with 37 of those deaths occurring in normally placid Palawan. Some 60 other people are reportedly still missing from that storm. Urduja was followed by “Vinta,” which barreled further south into Mindanao and left in its wake 240 fatalities. The New Year ushered in the third tropical depression to visit in as many weeks—“Agaton,” the heavy rains and winds of which brought fresh misery to a wide swath of the Visayas and Mindanao, knocking out power in Negros Oriental and Aklan; causing landslides in Cebu, Romblon and Iligan City and storm surges in Basilan; flooding a number of towns in Bohol, Leyte, Biliran, Eastern Samar and Cebu; forcing the evacuation of hundreds of families in Capiz, Zamboanga del Norte, Agusan del Norte and del Sur, Dinagat Island, and Surigao del Norte and del Sur; and stranding thousands of travelers who had thronged the ports to return to work and school after the holiday break.
Apart from the havoc in their lives caused by these disasters, the calamity victims are set to share with other Filipinos across the land another looming whammy: the price hikes seen to be imposed in the course of the implementation of the new Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law signed by the President. While the law reduces personal income tax, it also imposes higher taxes on fuel, sugary beverages, tobacco and cars—a tradeoff that observers have decried as essentially negating the promised increase in people’s take-home income, as the costs of basic commodities also rise due to the fuel price hike. According to the think tank Ibon Foundation, “the poorest 10 million Filipino families whose incomes fall way below the family living wage of P1,039 per day will soon bear the brunt of TRAIN-triggered higher prices of food and goods, and service fees.”
Calamity on one hand, government-induced austerity on the other: It’s a time of anxiety, when hope and inspiration from the country’s leaders are needed, but all the public gets is self-serving politicking.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.