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Can Aquino tame Nature’s fury?

11:55 PM September 02, 2012

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009, local government units made a big show of dredging their drainage systems because experts had said that clogged sewers choked off the savage onrush of rainwater.

The déjà vu experience in early August with the southwest monsoon, made even more devastating by Typhoon “Gener,” tells us the efforts in 2009 weren’t nearly enough. It was either because the LGUs’ efforts were inadequate or mainly just for show, or because we Filipinos (Metro Manilans mainly) generate amounts of garbage enough to again stuff the sewers that were declogged after Ondoy. Experts are again telling us that the deluge in the first week of August was greatly exacerbated by our own abuse, negligence and unconcern over environmental and safety measures.

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The experts have been insisting that the national and local governments must put in place concrete, dependable and lasting measures in order to make our communities safe from natural disasters. Proposed action includes appropriate physical infrastructure to secure areas that are prone to flooding and landslides which, in turn, cause other problems, especially during severe weather conditions.

Measures include relocating residents who are vulnerable to Nature’s fury. Long-time communities that have become prone to calamities because of climatic and topographical changes must think seriously about moving out of their areas, however strongly attached they are to their homes. And new and viable communities must be created for the hundreds of thousands of squatters (now called informal settlers).

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The issue of “informal settling” has become a social and moral dilemma. Social because great numbers of people occupy land that belongs to others, depriving the rightful owners use of or income from their property. And moral because how do you in conscience throw out the same people, hapless and powerless, to fend for themselves out there? Squatting has become an urban conundrum whose solution has been made more elusive by the refusal of public officials to tackle it with political will.

Unscrupulous politicians choose not to lift a finger to solve this festering urban malady. Slum-dwellers are a convenient source of votes during elections, and they prefer to cultivate these vote-rich areas to their advantage.

Squatter areas are not only a problem of aesthetics. The more pressing concern is that most of these areas, because they’re congested and made up of houses built with highly flammable materials, are at constant risk of fire and, as we’ve experienced seasonally, deadly floods (not to mention the traditional issues that plague slum areas). Politicians don’t care how people live in the slums, they only care about and crave the squatters’ votes.

Our recurring problems emanate not only from poor neighborhoods. We have all been guilty of indifference toward proper disposal of our daily household and industrial waste. How many times have authorities advised, implored, cajoled, threatened, and reminded us to dispose of our garbage properly? And how many times have we ignored such advice/instruction? Many, if not most, of us are guilty of not protecting our environment, of not taking care of public facilities and infrastructure, of being nonchalant about proper sanitary and safety measures.

We ourselves abuse our surroundings, even vandalize public structures and facilities, and then blame others when disaster strikes. We ourselves cause the problems that plague our lives. We put our lives at risk by living in unsafe areas like riverbanks and hillsides, and beneath concrete bridges or flyovers. And when storms and high winds come, we look for someone to blame. In reality, we are our own worst enemy.

But there may be relief in sight. President Aquino has gone around flood-ravaged areas and told residents of his directive to start building infrastructure that will in the near to medium term make communities safe from natural disasters.

Indeed, as I was writing this, the public works secretary was briefing Malacañang reporters about an immediate P5-billion effort to kick-start remedial and repair action on busted dams, dikes and roads. And a P352-billion flood control program is in the works and will span two decades of construction.

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Mr. Aquino has so far shown that both his heart and his head are in the right places. Despite what those who are predisposed and programmed to not like him say, he has so far shown that he knows what he’s doing. We the people, especially those who have suffered over the years from Nature’s devastating fury, must hold him to his word.

We the people must take advantage of having a caring leader and insist that he put his words into concrete action for the welfare of his constituents, especially the poor. We must make sure that this President puts his money where his mouth is and finally solve the recurring nightmares and ordeals from Nature’s force by taming its fury.

We the people must make sure the President’s words aren’t just the empty promises and platitudes glibly peddled by the political elite, even as he attempts, sincerely it seems, to break out of his Establishmentarian provenance and pedigree.

Leandro “DD” Coronel’s commentaries have appeared in a number of Manila newspapers and are currently carried by Fil-Am publications in Washington and Toronto.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino, disasters, Government, Natural calamities
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