It is an agonizing disquiet unmistakably etched on the faces of the thousands of evacuees, mostly cramped inside soiled evacuation centers in the different “Sendong”-devastated parts of Northern Mindanao, that cannot be easily forgotten or ignored. Sendong’s fury did not only steal their merrymaking for the season, the tragedy also destroyed the lives of many, the dead and the survivors alike. To some, even an entire family, an entire future generation was totally washed away. They shared the unfortunate fate of a million others before them who suffered the same grief and endured the effects of the devastation caused by a deadly combination of humanity’s greed and nature’s wrath.
By now, though, amid the continuing sufferings and uncertain future of our devastated countrymen, the glowing and defensive press releases can no longer hide the sheer ineptitude, incompetence and vulnerability of the government, especially the agencies tasked to supposedly minimize, if not prevent, the unnecessary loss of lives.
While the act of dumping the recovered cadavers in a dump in Cagayan de Oro City was considered by many as heartless, the attempt by some officials to blame the tragic death of many on the poor victims themselves for living near the riverbanks and waterways was more callous, even criminal.
However, by now it can also be said that it is an even bigger and real national disaster when government agencies tasked to reduce or manage the risk of disasters and their aftermath are themselves reduced to counting the dead and the missing.
Last Dec. 20, days after the tragedy, P-Noy finally went to the “environmental war zone” and I was wondering if indeed he truly asked himself this question: “Kailangan ko pong tanungin ang aking sarili (at araw-araw ko pong tinatanong ang aking sarili): sapat ba ang nagawa ng inyong pamahalaan para iwasan ang ganitong klaseng trahedya?”
If indeed, P-Noy did ask that rhetorical question, even if only once, he would have realized that the stark answers were already staring at him. For example, his administration cannot deny the fact that despite its much-ballyhooed logging ban, it still allows logging in many selected areas, particularly those covered by commercial farm plantations and mining claims, including the places that surround heavily affected areas like the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.
The administration cannot also now deny the documented warnings made by some scientists and experts foretelling the destruction that may be brought by the continued destruction of our environment and exploitation of our natural resources.
Some experts say practically 60 percent of the country is now vulnerable to natural disasters, especially considering the country’s, particularly Mindanao’s, fast-depleting forest cover due to unbridled logging, the government’s aggressive push for mining, and the harsh effects of global climate change.
Also, while the heads of local government units are equally accountable for their lack of preparedness and political will, the Aquino administration cannot just pass the buck to them. In fact, even before Sendong unleashed its fury, calamity preparedness was already a casualty as a big chunk of it—P5 billion—was one of the budget items disapproved by P-Noy for 2011.
As it is now, it is unfortunate, if not outright depraved, for the government to feign and to stay clueless why this “catastrophic massacre of the innocents” happened, particularly in this season. The government’s ineptitude is too apparent to ignore. The justifications mounted by its spin doctors are puerile, even senseless at its worst.
From the records of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (among the first non-government organizations that, without much publicity, immediately responded and conducted rescue, retrieval and relief operations in the stricken areas), more than 409,119 individuals from 45,989 families were devastated by Sendong. Already, more than a thousand people have been confirmed killed and another thousand are still missing. And, the grief continues.
Yet by now many people in Northern Mindanao know that it is wrong to blame Sendong for the tragedy that struck them, it is a mistake to blame Sendong for their stolen Christmas. They know that the real culprit is a cacique and elite-controlled system that glorifies the greed of the few. And by now they know, too, that their real salvation cannot come from the greedy grinning politicians and their patrons. Their true salvation—from grief and powerlessness, either caused by man-made or natural tragedy and disaster—comes from truly empowering themselves, as many are doing and celebrating now.
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In the spirit of the season I am sharing this message of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), a progressive organization of public-interest lawyers, law students, paralegals and legal workers: “He was born on the day we celebrate as Christmas. He came upon us so that the poor may have abundant lives, that the greed of the few may be turned upside down, that the peasants and fishers’ voice may be heard, that the widows and orphans may be shielded from exploitation, that the weak may be empowered against oppression, and that humanity may fiercely embrace justice, truth and equality as its fundamental virtues and be saved from its own follies. Jesus Christ is the reason for the season.”
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