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Toe the line, with feet in the water

When Tropical Storm “Mario” struck, I was doing what my younger self would have detested: curling up under the sheets and checking my phone for social media updates besides those relating to the weather. I was celebrating a work-free day, a month after separation from my employer of five years.

Storms aren’t new to me, having been raised in a city frequented by these natural forces, in contrast to an acquaintance who grew up in Davao and delighted in experiencing his very first typhoon while in Los Baños years ago. I also had the chance to study the behemoths of these phenomena in meteorology and hydrology back in university. Very interesting subjects I relished yet again upon seeing a photo post of a former classmate braving the “flood in his hometown Manila.”

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It made me grin and, while keying in my banter, I realized that his post qualified as a misdemeanor in which I may be implicated. The picture? He was submerged in the sea under the Guimaras afternoon sun, against a backdrop of cottages seemingly set for pounding by the water. And the caption? In the vernacular, he quipped: “Heavy flood… Level up to the chest… Soon to reach the houses… Seems like at sea.” So I left his page with one clear thought: that he knew too well about land and water resources, and that I shared the thought I taught him to think.

I learned late in life not to use water as a metaphor for women although I learned early that water leveled itself. As a construction foreman, my late grandfather used this water property in measurements. In hydrology, the same water property is vital in measuring rainfall, tracing surface water and groundwater movement, and outlining the catch basin or the area where water collects.

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Heavy rain plus low soil porosity equals floods. In meteorology, where typhoons can now be associated with women—years ago, only female names made the Pagasa typhoon roster—climate and weather are declared quasi-predictable phenomena. According to records, though, the return period (or the time it takes for a flood or typhoon to repeat itself) is predictable and ranges from 15 to 20 years. Statistical probabilities account for the numbers.

Experts say return periods are now shorter due to climate change. (“Just saying,” my little sister would remark in response to my factual blabber.) The point of the matter is that these natural phenomena can happen anytime, and the necessity to haul up and face the challenge is ever increasing. Mentor Obet Cabrillas says to man up against challenges and run away from temptation. I also heard DJ Papa Jack echo this over the radio.

What temptation? one would ask. For the able, there may come a point of mental struggle on leaving the country for the temptress that is the good life abroad. And I am just writing about natural phenomena. Geographically, only Mindanao falls within 10 degrees above the equator, where typhoons should be rare or nil. There it also rains, albeit in bullets, as the jargon goes. Thus, in the light of such destructive wrath, there is the temptation to run away. Still, the challenges are better off faced and struggled with.

Alongside come the political storms. A long list of issues continues to wrack most Philippine institutions. The sight of technocrat leaders manning up to the challenges with a disoriented people lingers on the horizon. A local edition of an international magazine recently ran an issue on the best presidents this country never had, spanning three generations. What now?

“This is not the sea but San Mateo, Rizal,” a news anchor said in the vernacular at some point in a telecast during Mario. The remark trashed no one but was well-stated to enlighten: It pointed, first, to inaction, or the lack of corrective action in times of emergency, and, second, to graver inaction or I daresay decay—the lack of proactive means to avoid emergencies. Therein lies the synthesis of leadership.

There would be no need for all the drama around typhoons and their aftermath if things were done to specifications. Unwavering political will, well-versed technologists, and updated technologies are just some of the attributes that line this national “pursuit of a glorious thee.” There is no need to be in awe of random media contents because these fall short of fruitful ends. Invoking and stoking the right emotions toward an “untarnished truth” so one is compelled to positive action is my end here.

A day after Mario, I read economist Bjørn Lomborg arguing that the world is much better than ever and that the skewed perspective is merely a campaign. Yes, he says, eliminating poverty and illiteracy while promoting peace is needed, but the world is doing better than people think it is. So, there was a premise in my thought, after all. I can now banter with my friend regarding his post.

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The success Filipinos want are in many living examples like Cardinal Chito Tagle, Bo Sanchez and Manny Pacquiao. For the nominal Catholic like me, living life one day at a time while focusing on eternal life is the key to cut sin. It is walking the talk. It is conscious living daily.

A gritty character is the marker for success, says Angela Lee Duckworth. Perseverance is the nearest synonym of grit and Filipinos are persevering, as witness the long lines to and the overcrowding of the trains in the metropolis. But how persevering should one be? I see no clear line between perseverance and indifference, so I think it is a cycle of continuously not giving in to the self.

One looks at the goal, works toward it, looks at it again while assessing the progress, and continues this work-focus cycle to the goal. To that end, queuing in long lines for a cramped train ride is indifference nestled in perseverance. Not eating the marshmallow in the context of the marshmallow experiment is the highest form, but this is already okay because, as Lomborg claims, we are much better than a decade ago.

I understand my friend splashing away in Guimaras. He knows how to map this water problem. I believe he knows there is someone with a viable solution to the avoidable aftermath of typhoons, only that somewhere in the execution there was a glitch. I think he knows there is technical competency and that some things along the way are just not right.

When has this country’s Department of Agriculture ever had a farmer for a secretary, anyway? I asked our high school salutatorian that question over dinner two days after Mario. The highlight of our chat was this line I heard from Fr. Bob McConaghy: “If the reason and timing are wrong, God says no; if the reason is right but the timing is wrong, God says slow; if the purpose is right but the motive is wrong, God says grow; but if the reason and timing are right, God eventually says go.”

Filipinos, I believe, are just growing. The country, going by Lomborg’s premise, is better off now than a century ago.

I love my country. I do toe the line. Being a sloth during Mario was necessary so I could wrap up thoughts days later. If the situation required, I could have gladly wet my feet or swum in the water—the flood or the Guimaras sea.

 

Ian Carlo M. Lositaño, 27, describes himself as “a professional agricultural engineer with a belt in meat production who refrains from eating pork.”

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TAGS: Davao, Guimaras, Los Baños, Obet Cabrillas, Philippine Storm, Philippine Weather, Storm, tropical storm Mario, youth
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