Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Epic flood

CBCP President Angel Lagdameo calls it “epic flood”. Perhaps, because the inundation brought about by typhoon Ondoy was beyond the realm of the conventional. The flash floods swelled so fast and so vast to cover immediately about 80% of Metro Manila and outlaying provinces in just over an hour of that fateful Saturday morning.

In a couple of hours later, the media was already showing people, thousands of them, marooned on their rooftops until the following day, Sunday morning, when the waters naturally subsided; in some areas, radio stations were reporting of people still perched on their roofs until Sunday evening.

But for the government, particularly the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) there was nothing epical. It was the usual slow motion of people who are better seen on expensive TV advertising than on actual delivery of basic services—almost verging on irrelevance and inutility. NDCC’s mandate is all about “disaster preparedness, prevention, mitigation and response” which, of course, is still begging for a pinch of realization. It is a composite of 18 presumably topnotch government agencies headed by the Secretary of Department of National Defense and the presidential Executive Secretary, to boot.

That mandate and composition could have been enough even to move mountains if only, in the words of Lagdameo, “there were no graft and corruption in our government, our government would be more prepared to response to such crisis.” The government’s disaster preparedness program was exactly that—a disaster, deaf and dumb to the desperate cries of thousands of its constituents who were agonizing and angry to the death. It is incomprehensible, if unforgivable, why right at the very geographic center of government people had to wait to be rescued for two nights atop their roofs with neither food nor drinking water, but in vain.

In the worst hit city of Marikina, for instance, which has a population of almost half a million, only two rubber boats were fielded for rescue operations. But that was even a luxury because in other areas there were none. It is not any wonder then why the fatalities are now close to 250 and counting, with many still missing. But thanks to improvisations and private ingenuity, some lives were saved using whatever materials the victims could hold on to, even a bathtub for a marine transport. Thanks, too, to the bayanihan spirit of some who risked their lives to heroically rescue those most imperiled.

To borrow from Charles Dickens, this is the best of times, this is the worst of times. The best, of course, are people—private citizens, religious groups, the media, the academe and non-government organizations—who are now moving with compassion to share what they have to the victims and going as far as solicit donations on their behalf. The worst maybe is when one’s government competes with private groups in soliciting donations from the very same people who are bleeding from the scarce delivery of basic services—which is an epic, indeed.

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