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Editorial

Widespread devastation

/ 04:09 AM December 11, 2019

A week after Typhoon “Tisoy”(international name: Kammuri), the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year, barreled through central Philippines and enhanced the northeast monsoon, thousands of Filipinos in sodden Cagayan are still desperately crying out for immediate aid and assistance.

Their cries, however, have been unfortunately drowned out by the (well-deserved) attention and cheers the country has been lavishing on the competing Filipino athletes in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, as well as the seeming indifference of some of the highest national government officials to the sorry plight of the province now under a state of calamity.

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“The Cagayan River is no more,”lamented Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba during Monday’s flag-raising ceremony in the provincial capitol. “It has become an ocean.”

Torrential and incessant rains over three weeks caused the Cagayan River to breach the critical level of 12 meters above sea level, submerging entire villages and causing some 70,000 residents to flee to cramped temporary shelters. They are in dire need of basic necessities such as food, water, blankets and clothes.

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Key roads have also remained impassable to all types of vehicles, as the heavy downpour last week triggered landslides that locked down Cagayan’s capital city of Tuguegarao.

The full effect on agriculture is yet to be quantified, but already the local government sees that, on top of calamity funds, it will need “a lot of help” from the national government.

Cagayan’s lingering woes are sadly duplicated in regions in the path of Tisoy, the 20th typhoon to hit the country this year, and the full impact of which is just starting to be tallied.

The Dec. 10 report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council showed that 428,659 families, or 1.83 million Filipinos, were affected by Tisoy in 3,257 barangays in Central Luzon, the Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, the Cordillera and Caraga administrative regions. Some 19,843 families are currently taking temporary shelter in 335 evacuation centers.

Almost 200 areas were flooded in Central Luzon, Calabarzon, the Bicol Region, Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas, although floodwaters in 187 areas have already subsided.

Some 22 road sections and three bridges in the affected regions are still not passable. Declared under a state of calamity are the provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Quezon, Cavite and Northern Samar, and parts of Romblon, Batangas and Laguna.

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines reported that while power has been restored in most provinces affected by the typhoon, it remains unstable and areas will remain prone to outages, raising the possibility that many communities will spend the Christmas holidays without power.

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And while the local governments and other disaster agencies are to be lauded for their preparations that have kept the casualty count to the barest (if still heartbreaking) minimum, the postdisaster work is just beginning.

Mamba has urged immediate action to arrest further “environmental destruction”in Cagayan and in other parts of the region. It’s rainwater from the nearby provinces of Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Kalinga, Apayao and Ifugao that flow into the Cagayan River, but if the forests in those areas continue to be denuded, the river will overflow more frequently and put residents and infrastructure around it at great risk. “We have seen it worsen every year,” said Mamba, who is calling for a “united front”to battle the adverse effects of climate change and environmental abuse that he claims involves “politicians, generals and regional directors.”

The Philippines is more vulnerable to climate change than other countries; a recent study by environmental policy think tank Germanwatch ranked us as the second most affected country by climate-related disasters in 2018.

Also, according to its Global Climate Risk Index report released last week, the Philippines was fourth overall in terms of the most number of recorded deaths due to extreme weather events last year, leaping from 11th place in 2017.

For Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the Philippines is already in a state of “climate emergency,” and “We call on the Philippine government to formally acknowledge this emergency situation and act with utmost urgency and defend the interests of its people in the face of climate injustice.”

Mamba, among the increasing number of local public officials who are grappling with the consequences of environmental devastation in their communities, is voicing the same plea.

“We have a big problem, and if we do not solve this, it will only become more severe,” he warns.

Is Malacañang listening?

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