Scientists to the rescue | Inquirer Opinion

Scientists to the rescue

/ 12:07 AM September 28, 2015

WHAT THE government will not do out of compassion for its poor people or respect for their human rights, it may do out of fear of science’s condemnation of its work.

Science and concerned scientists may yet save thousands of poor families from the government’s planned tide embankment in Leyte. This program will ram a four-meter-high dike, 20 meters wide at the base, for 27 kilometers through the coastal towns of Tacloban, Palo and Tanauan. The scientists don’t believe that the government has secured the required environmental clearance certificate (ECC), or done the proper simulations needed to avoid huge errors in the construction that may cost lives and homes.

It will be sad indeed if the last major infrastructure under President Aquino’s administration ends in tragedy for poor people, the very same people the world helped in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”


Last Sept. 10 a group of scientists, men and women from government agencies and private institutions, met at Ateneo de Manila University to discuss the tide-embankment project. The nonscientists at the meeting marveled at their discipline and the marvelous tools that modern science has created. Most interesting of these tools is the possibility of accurate simulations of future events, which has an entrancing back-to-the-future air about it. Simulation is done with the help of powerful computers only recently available. If scientists want to know what effects the tide embankment will have on the land and people, they put all relevant data into the computers, ask the appropriate questions, and run the program. It is probably more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the program.


According to the scientists, such a simulation might show that the proposed embankment can stop the direct force of the storm surge, but the surge will instead move up the rivers, creating great flooding further inland—the area that the embankment is intended to save. The scientists believe that the government hasn’t made such simulations, or secured the ECC guaranteeing that the project will not harm the environment.

The scientists are willing to meet with ranking government officials to explain their thinking. Our organization, the Urban Poor Associates, is attempting to contact government officials for such a meeting. Any official who would like to meet with the scientists may contact them through the UPA’s e-mail address The scientists are also willing to speak at public meetings.


It takes courage for a scientist to contradict the government in a public way. If the current plans for the tide embankment have to be changed, a better plan can be made in the future.

It is too bad we didn’t have the possibility of simulation 50 years ago, when the practice of distant relocation began with Sapang Palay. It is now estimated that 60-80 percent of the people sent there have moved back to Manila. If we had known that back then, and understood why they moved back, we could have spared hundreds of thousands of families pain and anguish.

If I were a scientist and had access to one of their computers, I’d be tempted to stay after work and use it to answer some questions over which I have puzzled for years. Why, for example, do millions of Filipinos join the Black Nazarene procession at great personal cost—they come barefoot and fasting, and stay all day in the sun—yet we can’t get more than a few thousand at our rallies for housing, land and jobs? Why not do both? The spiritual road to development is preferred to the road of organizing and struggle, though God blesses both approaches. Shouldn’t our faith motivate us to join our brothers and sisters and take the normal steps toward a better life through people’s organizing and development?

If I were a young man, I might input all I know about my girlfriend who I am thinking of marrying. The trouble here is: How much do we really know even about the women we marry?

* * *

When it rains here in Manila and everyone hurries around in a bad mood, I think of the poor elementary-school boys and girls who are now delighted when it rains, because they can put on their new raincoats, hoods and booties and dance all the way to school as the best-dressed children in Tacloban. With the help of Christian Aid we were able to outfit 1,992 children. They are as beautiful as bunches of flowers when they move along the streets, or cluster together in the school yard.

The little girls seem to be posing for some camera that they think must be there. Maybe they have seen the poses in the fashion magazines, but that is unlikely because they live in the coastal villages of a city that was badly crippled by Yolanda. Their fathers are fishermen or day laborers.

The poses are innate. These are in their DNA. The little girls lift their faces to the rain, reminding us of Pope Francis saying Mass at the airport of Tacloban last January in that too-small yellow raincoat he wore, with the rain streaming across his face.

The arrangements for the gift of the rain gear were made by Jessa Margallo of Urban Poor Associates. When it rains in Tacloban now, the city is full of color and of happy children.

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Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

TAGS: nation, news, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, urban poor

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