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Wrong decisions, disastrous outcomes

It only occurred to me that Typhoon “Ulysses” was a strong one when the electrical power in our area got cut off.

It was 2 a.m., and while the winds were clashing in disastrous harmony with our roof at that time, I found myself heaving sighs of frustration because of our already-fluctuating internet connectivity. I still had activities due in the coming days, and I was hoping to finish a few of them before I went to sleep. It’s quite absurd—how in the middle of a raging storm, at the top of my head were my academic deliverables.

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I didn’t get to finish anything though. The room went pitch-black before I even halved my to-do list. I was left alone in my bed, silently noting the chaotic orchestra of the elements outside. I couldn’t sleep either.

We had it coming. Sort of.

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My family and I are always up to date with the news, especially the weather. We were aware that a storm was brewing a couple of days beforehand. And we knew of the possibility of the eye passing through our area.

Still, it came as a surprise to us to learn how powerful this storm was, with its reach covering the entirety of Luzon if not the Philippines, and bringing with it massive rains.

Enveloped by the darkness, and with the specter of not being able to submit my requirements on time, I emailed my professors (thankfully, they all had canceled their deadlines). Then, with all that was left in my data subscription, I proceeded to check Twitter, the app I consider my primary source of information.

What caught my attention was how others felt the same way I did — clueless and ridden with fear. One thing we agreed on was the lack of urgency in the news and the limited warnings. Perhaps there was indeed a lack of storm warning and coverage. Then again, perhaps the people just became complacent after the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Rolly” the week before. Or maybe both.

But with all the destruction that was happening, I couldn’t help but think: What if things in the past had happened differently?

Earlier this year, the government had shut down the country’s leading media and entertainment network. A broadcast network kicked off the air meant, in times of disaster, less coverage and fewer warnings, and hence fewer people informed of what’s happening around. In barrios like ours where cable television is unavailable, people rely on regional news broadcasts and on-air forecasts for preparation and updates.

There are other things, too, that the national government could have done differently.

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It had reduced the budget for the Department of Science and Technology, along with similar budget cuts in calamity funds since 2017. Project Noah, the country’s pioneer program in disaster prevention and mitigation, was also shut down. The budget was instead redirected to defense, intelligence funds, and who knows what else.

Weather tracking could have fared better if Pagasa had enough funds to upgrade its technology—something long overdue for a country periodically on a head-on collision course with typhoons. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council could have deployed more rescue teams, and the public could have been made more knowledgeable about disaster preparedness and safety.

To put it simply, we could have done better. And the government should have known better.

The morning that Ulysses barrelled across Luzon, the President attended the virtual opening ceremony of the Asean Summit. No concrete plan of action was heard from him about the latest calamity to visit his country. No briefing beforehand either, in preparation for the typhoon. He later justified his lack of action by saying he was discouraged by his aides from going out and swimming in the floodwaters along with the typhoon victims.

Could the disastrous outcomes of the successive typhoons have been avoided had the national government made the right decisions?

I fear that this event would once again be “charged to experience,” but without any improvement in disaster reduction and mitigation policies. It disgusts me to think that the lives lost would be reduced to mere statistics, and the government would again escape accountability. As a matter of fact, it has again trotted out the worn-out concept of Filipino “resiliency.”

I’ve been sleeping with a heavy heart, knowing that many Filipinos are left to fend for themselves in these trying times. I wonder if the ones on top can sleep at all.

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Phil Justin A. Pangilinan, 19, from Nueva Ecija, is a chemistry freshman at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: disaster preparedness, government decisions, Phil Jusin A. Pangilinan, Rodrigo Duterte, storm warnings, Young Blood
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