El Niño, El Filipino | Inquirer Opinion

El Niño, El Filipino

Many have been complaining about traversing through flooded streets these past weeks. The rains are not constant but frequent enough to confirm that the rainy season has started. If the present pattern holds, there will be more flooded streets – even from just sudden downpours.

Looking at weather alerts from PAGASA, there is always a good chance of thunderstorms most days of the week. Somehow, the earlier weather alerts asking us to prepare for El Niño seem to be almost like fake news because of daily thunderstorms. I think it is time that PAGASA shifts from warning us about El Niño ahead of making us prepare for floods.

Or, PAGASA may again educate the public about the meaning of El Niño. I remember that El Niño was always related to extended droughts just as El Niña was supposed to be too much rain. There has been no drought, not even during the summer and hottest months. In fact, there was no alert about dams reaching critical levels and no water rationing resorted to. Yet, even the President had joined PAGASA in warning us about El Niño.

I had to Google what El Niño means because I was getting confused. It seems PAGASA may not be wrong because El Niño seems to be more about the hot climate more than a dry or rainless spell. This is what I found from Merriam-Webster Dictionary:


El Niño “is an irregularly recurring flow of unusually warm surface waters from the Pacific Ocean toward and along the western coast of South America that prevents upwelling of nutrient-rich cold deep water and that disrupts typical regional and global weather patterns.”

You will note that there is no mention of drought or a rainless period, only unusually warm surface waters. In other words, we can be flooded every week and it is still an El Niño phenomenon. Because the general interpretation of El Niño may have been leaning towards no rain or drought, we prepared for it by conserving the use of water. But when El Niño is about the temperature of water, how are we to prepare ourselves?

To think that I kept monitoring the water levels of the dams that feed the Luzon grid instead of keeping track of the temperature. I was so pleased and relieved that water levels may have gone down somewhat during the summer months but nowhere near alarming levels. At least, I can now just wait what PAGASA will tell us about preparing for an El Niño which will well be already upon us now.

I can now move forward and pay attention to our food situation. If there is no emergency from El Niño, we can reassess our situation to prevent a food problem. I have talked to some farmers who choose to wait out another season instead of planting their traditional crops. The high costs of fertilizers and fuel in the face of low selling prices discourage them from risking another planting season with little odds of earning a profit. And if El Niño decreases water supply, they are afraid they will have no irrigation as well.


We can look at food as a security issue in a world with so much turmoil from man-made and climatic disasters. That means importation is not a first option but more as a last resort. To be food secure means we must produce enough food for ourselves. Other countries may protect their own domestic supply in adverse conditions; consequently, importation is not something we must depend on.

Among different foods, rice is the most important commodity in the security totem pole. No matter what, there must be rice whatever the circumstances may be. Our farmers do not produce enough. Most likely, they will not produce more, only less. There is no profit on rice and there is no capital to keep on taking risks for small rice farmers. Rice-planting is there only because they have little option to do anything else. Many, though, will just keep going deeper in debt.


Rice farmers and their families, together with fisherfolk in our coastal communities, make up the majority of the poor in the Philippines. While they plant rice and fish, what they harvest is less for profit and more to feed themselves – or to barter with. That leaves the rest of us food consumers totally dependent on the volume of subsistence producers – or importations. No food security at all.

I wonder if our national leaders have any vision of building a producer base or just continue to depress prices of food in order to keep consumers from severe discontent. I just listened to a speech of the President where he said we should discourage dole-outs and instead empower the poor. That is very good because the poor, when empowered, will become the production base of the Philippines.

Unfortunately, the President must sit down with his officials and count the total cost of the government’s dole-out program. He might be shocked to note that his dole-outs, the ones he says he does not like but is in charge of distributing them through government agencies and programs, are quite humongous. He might then see how a fraction of that can be diverted and dedicated instead to empowering production among small farmers and fisherfolk.

Because they are national leaders, I would presume that they constantly ask themselves how government can find a good balance between production and consumption. Just like whether people ought to pay correctly for items or get them from dole-outs. Building a strong nation demands strong producers. Otherwise, a weak nation will be swallowed in endless consumption and corruption.

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Looking at the majority comprising classes D & E, they are more representative of the Filipino than those from the A & B. They are the El Filipino. It is them we must all endeavor to bInqeditorsuild towards their higher productive self – and steer away from their endless consumption-dependent state. Without them, there will be no strong nation.

TAGS: El Niño, Glimpses

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