I recently saw a Facebook post that claims disasters in the Philippines as a result of people’s nearsightedness. The majority of the population indeed put magnified importance on survival over long term plans. However, the vastly flawed and deeply-rooted issue extends way beyond a myopic generalization.
Typhoon Rolly (Goni) recently caused vast devastation and destruction in Bicol, leaving at least 20 people dead. A few days later, typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) makes landfall in the same Region and leaves some 170,000 dislodged, one dead, while three are still missing. It wiped the main island of Luzon to destruction earlier this week, causing further displacement of vulnerable individuals in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis. All this havoc affected millions of Filipinos in days.
So, whose fault is it?
To cut the chase, the mass population of the country has little to nothing to do with it.
The Sierra Madre, an extensive mountain range in the Philippines, is integral in shriveling typhoons. It also absorbed rainwater and controlled floods in Metro Manila. However, logging and deforestation continue in the area. For one, the government currently pursues a China-funded dam project that would not only displace thousands of indigenous people but also cause “long-term irreversible environmental damage to Sierra Madre and its biodiversity.” For these reasons and more, Metro Manila becomes a natural catch basin.
In 1976, the then Metro Manila Authority initiated a flood control plan for the sinking city. They planned to construct a waterway from Marikina River leading to Manggahan, Pasig, and a spillway connecting Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay. The Manggahan floodway was finished but not the spillway. With this, the water builds up in Laguna de Bay, like a clogged sink. This accumulation results in overflown waterways, such as rivers, estuaries, and drainage systems. Some channels we have today are outdated, while most of them have an obsolete design. Many remain clogged because of informal settlers and pollution. Architect Jun Palafox says that poor urban planning is the focal cause of flooding in Metro Manila. The erection of buildings and cemented areas make it hard for rainwater to go down. Architect Palafox says, “Instead of increasing the lungs of the city, we reduce open spaces; reduced open spaces reduce potential for planning.”
The Philippines is drastically vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Principally, the economy is dependent on climate-sensitive processes such as agriculture, which has few resources for adaptation. Despite the repercussions of the issue, climate change literacy among Filipinos remains considerably low. Excessive groundwater extraction leads to continual land subsidence in the country, while climate change causes the rise of sea level. There exists a toxic glorification of ‘resilience’ among Filipinos. Somehow, it has ingrained to the masses that the grave consequences of these natural calamities are just topological accidents that they are supposed to brave through.
The Pacific Ocean may bring typhoons, but the ramifications that come with it are man-made at most.
Malaysia’s storm drainage and road structure called the SMART Tunnel solved Kuala Lumpur’s problems with flash floods and traffic jams. It is a megastructure flood control project that stretches 9.7 kilometers. Similarly, Japan’s comprehensive flood surge tunnels tamed the effects brought by natural conditions. The silos absorb the excess water from different rivers that would potentially flood the surrounding area.
Philippine catastrophes are a culmination of years of cyclic neglect. The ruling class only makes up a small percentage of the Philippine population. They are the same small group responsible for the principal decisions that affect the rest of the country. They are the ones who sign away the byproduct that millions of Filipino families reel from every single time. Those with the least access to national resources at disposal and the least contribution to carbon emissions are the most vulnerable in disastrous situations. They are the ones that suffer the most devastating outturns, while those who put them there barely get a flick on the arm. The social divide has been a long-standing issue in the Philippines. Millions of Filipinos would not be drowning in floodwater if it was not for it. The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.
The Sierra Madre continues to face deforestation because of capitalism and modernization. The waterways in the city are polluted, and global warming is worsening mainly because of corporations and factories that surround them. Millions of informal settlers remain in makeshift homes because short-term resolutions to poverty serve politicians better. The country has a limited calamity fund with no flood control plan because the government thinks that there are more important projects to focus on — like putting artificial sand on Manila Bay. These are the roots of the worsening consequences of catastrophes in the country. It is more than just an issue of culture, as it extends to the cruelty of the political system. To say that the Philippine government is incompetent is an understatement of their blatant ignorance and neglect of the sufferings of the people that they govern.
The flooding problem in the country is not new, Filipinos deal with it multiple times a year, yet no concrete solution exists to resolve it. The Philippine government’s disaster preparedness is second to none. Families are over and over just expected to wait for the water to subside. With that, the blame cannot be put on Filipinos in general when almost all of them do not have a say on what happens in the country. They are practically like prostitutes; they do all the dancing while the government decides if they want to throw in some money.
It is a hasty generalization to say that Filipinos are myopic. You cannot expect a common breadwinner in the country to think about long-term goals when they involuntarily focus on day-to-day survival. The sad truth is that the ability to look far into the future is a privilege. Not everyone is born with the same equal opportunities. A more appropriate statement would be that Filipinos get indefensibly undervalued. They have a complacent government and a ruling class that keeps them where they are. Because of this, one really cannot demand a common man to consider the long haul when his only way out is to survive the day.
Filipinos are not myopic because they continue to live near rivers. Filipinos are not myopic for climbing on roofs because their homes are submerged. Filipinos are not myopic for continuously falling victims to a broken economy and a gaping social inequality. If anything, they deserve better.
While you’re here, I would like to take this opportunity to direct you to donation drives for families and individuals affected by typhoon Rolly (Goni) and Ulysses (Vamco).
- 1 dead, 3 missing, and more than 170,000 displaced in Bicol due to Typhoon Ulysses. ABS-CBN News, 2020
- Barreda, Ariel B. Assessing the Level of Awareness on Climate Change and Sustainable Development Among Students of Partido State University, Camarines Sur, Philippines. The Journal of Sustainability Education, 2018
- Blackburn-Dwyer, Brandon. Massive Tokyo Flood Protection System Might Not Be Big Enough. Global Citizen, 2016
- Cabico, Gaea Katreena. Proponent, funder of Kaliwa Dam told: Think about future of IP communities, environment. Philstar.com, 2020
- Casualties, missing persons reported in the aftermath of ‘Rolly’. CNN Philippines, 2020
- Climate Change In The Philippines. Department of Science and Technology, n.d.
- Metro Manila. GMA News TV, 2020
- Pante, Michael D. The Politics of Flood Control and the Making of Metro Manila. Ateneo de Manila University, 2016
- Philippines: Super Typhoon Goni (Rolly) and Typhoon Vamco (Ulysses) — Flash Update №4 (as of 12 November 2020, 11 p.m. local time). UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2020
- Stop Kaliwa Dam. The Haribon Foundation, 2019
- Typhoon Vamco: dozens dead as extensive flooding hits the Philippines. The Guardian, 2020.