Three years ago while she was abroad, Ondoy hit the country and her oh-so-loved residence was completely devastated by flood waters that almost reached the second floor. All her newly acquired furniture not to mention her high-end car ended up inside what turned out to be a giant blender of muck and water overflowing from the nearby Marikina River.
Thank God for her splendid career and her seemingly endless resources. She came back determined to put together the pieces, spent perhaps more than year living elsewhere while her house was being remodeled, refurbished her furniture and finally settled back that home ruined by the onslaught of uncontrollable floods in her posh northern subdivision.
She left the country (again) for business feeling secure that all will be well because there was not even a typhoon within the radars. And who would have guessed that the annual visitation of the Southwestern Monsoon (popularly called the Hanging Habagat) should wreak such havoc?
Who would have suspected that the annual tag-ulan should bring this much ulan in a matter of days?
Yes, Ondoy brought us six hours of non-stop rain --- but this nameless creature of almost generic nature shoved three days of sporadic downpours enough to swell up rivers, bloat waterways and submerges towns, villages and the enclaves of the rich and privileged, drowning everyone and everything on its way with mud and garbage.
From what I heard, the executive's house went underwater again. Insert music here: "It's the same old song ..."
And I shake my head and wonder. I am upset for what happened ... but I think it requires more than just being discombobulated here. It requires a bit of thinking ... and playing a devil's advocate.
For one thing, hard and bitter the bite of the apple must be, the chomp of fruit we must learn to swallow.
If you happen to invest in a flood-prone area (nay, let us be brutal about this: if you decided to build your residence in any of the areas, town or municipalities that went underwater three years ago ... and had a repeat performance recently), then you must face one brutal fact. It is going to happen again.
Consider the extent of the problem.
I have been kvetching about the lack of preparation or foresight that powers that be exhibited in order to ease the situation. Please take note: I am not even close to suggesting that the government can stop the flooding at this point --- not unless the president is so privileged that a flaming bush will appear in front of him in one of his sorties and no less than God the Father hands him the staff of Moses.
It is insane to think that the government can solve all this.
The problem has become far too big --- and cannot be tackled instantaneously like pouring hot water on a cup of noodle. On the contrary, flooding in the Metro and the nearby provinces took years to bring to this drastic extent. We were all warned but we did not listen. We were all sent feelers but we chose to practice the art of deadma.
Eh, di hayan ngayon.
We cannot blame the government for all the careless, irresponsible and even godless beings who dump their garbage on the waterways because they have not been taught the art of civilized urban behavior in a functioning modern society. But we can ask the government to implement much stricter rules, create more stringent laws that will send the signal to these people that if you mess around with the canals and the esteros, all the garbage and crap you throw away will float back right on your faces.
We cannot blame the government for the swelling of the Marikina River or the overflow of the Angat, La Mesa as well as all the other dams because of the uncontrollable volume of rainfall. But we can also demand that the government become more assertive especially in creating ways and means of minimizing the damage to whatever extent possible the next time such a natural occurrence takes place. Because we all know for a fact that it will most certainly happen again and again.
In a previous blog, I asked, "How could the government allow developers to actually launch and sell real estate properties in areas which (to begin with) are already endangered by flooding?" It is easier to understand how and why those informal settlers mushroomed in all the most unlikely places --- including those which are evidently in the front line of waters rising. These people are, well, incorrigible --- and when poverty becomes the issue as both cause and effect --- or politicos succumb and kowtow to the call of the Madlang Masa or they risk political castration.
But there must draw the line.
We are all aware that the presence of these shanties lining up esteros or even under bridges and other waterways is a major source of the clogging of the already pathetic sewerage system we have in the city. It is bad enough that the drainage system we have has become so outdated and completely out of proportion to the service of an urban population that has ballooned beyond the imagination --- but to have non-biodegradable waste (including the reckless use of plastic and Styrofoam) thrown into waterways together with the rest of their personal muck does not only create poison the water (which is already devoid of all life forms except disease-causing bacteria). It is acknowledged to be one of the major causes of flooding.
Just how long can we accept the excuse that kasi mahirap nga sila as a reason for tolerating this practice --- or throwing a blind side whenever the sun is out and we are all going on with our merry ways?
It is bad enough that we have not completely addressed our waste disposal system --- that we have to deal with other major problems like illegal logging that causes loosening of the soil thus resulting to landslides, blah, blah, blah. It is bad enough that we have to reckon with the fact that Manila is indeed below sea level and yet through the years the government has not created a long-term program to find ways and means of wrestling with the problem of flooding --- especially now that we are also confronted by rising sea levels brought by global warming.
Mga kababayan, even more than a century ago Manila has already been under flood waters. This is a phenomenon that did not happen ... uh, just during the time of Ondoy. We have been practically sunk out of the map since the time of Rizal --- except for the fact that we are sinker much deeper now.
And still we have yet to hear of a concrete long term project that can help ease (not even obliterate) the problem.
We can predict the weather. We can calibrate the strength of gusty winds or even the amount of rainfall --- but have we done anything to insure that:
(a) People will be wise enough to realize that if you choose to live in a village, town or area of the city that has succumbed to disastrous flood waters, then you do so at your own risk --- and you prepare yourself for a life that should include speedy evacuation and perhaps waterproof furniture.
(b) People are aware of the consequences of their action so that if they violate certain rules that can contribute to the jeopardy of a critical ecosystem, then they shall be punished accordingly and not merely given a senseless, useless and ineffective warning.
(c) People are responsible for their decisions. If they are told to evacuate --- and choose to stay put and guard their material possessions rather than their lives --- then let them deal with it. The stubbornness of some should not the be cause for others to risk their lives just because of pure impertinence, lack of foresight --- or even downright stupidity.
I think one lesson we should learn at this point is that we should stop being merely reactive. We have to move our butts and step on feet --- sensitive feet --- if necessary just to get the job done.
Otherwise, if we are going to simply skirt the issue and think that packing relief goods and singing "Magkaisa" is the solution to this problem, then I greatly suggest we Filipinos --- especially living in the Metro area and the nearby provinces --- should either have mandatory lessons in scuba diving, snorkeling or even develop gills.
* * *
In the meantime, social media is bursting with pleas, petitions and calls to action for people to help in the relief activities.
The response is overwhelming. There are those dedicating their time, energy and resources to make sure that relief goods are delivered to areas where to this very moment the flood waters have not abated.
But again, let this be a reminder: this outpouring of generosity affirms the good side of the Filipino. The better side has to appear: the sense of direction, the sense of determination ... and not to succumb to fatalism by mumbling, "Ganyan talaga ang buhay." The bag of rice, the sachets of instant coffee and the cans of sardines can relieve the problem in the here and now ... but not what follows after.
Maybe we should also be reminded that the Season of the Habagat should normally last until October.
We are in a catastrophe and there isn't even a tropical depression to press alarm buttons.
So what are we going to do about it?
* * *
It will be useless to have the house repaired for the second time after it went under water again.
The owner has two options: the first is to do as minimal correction possible --- then unload the house by selling the property. Or the second is to defy the law of logic --- of spending millions of pesos again --- trying to bring back the residence in its original form. Perhaps part of that project is to build a firewall big enough to serve as a dyke to insure that the Marikina River will keep away the next time it decides to indulge in another unannounced visit.
But there is another problem here.
If the owner sells the house, who will buy it? I mean, who in his right mind, will want to purchase property in a place that has the infamy of being twice under water in three years? Even if the house and lot are sold at a quarter of its purchased price, I doubt if anyone would want to have anything to do with such a volatile acquisition.
I guess there is a third choice: to face the awful fact that there are areas in this country which have become unusable. They are no longer usable because they have ceased to be investments.
That is the saddest part. For we have so many of our countrymen who have to accept the fact that if they still choose to stay in their abodes that they worked so hard to obtain or are their ancestral homes, then they will have to deal with a ceaselessly worsening situation. They endanger not only their properties ... but also their lives. Their persistence will never yield anything fruitful except dangerous sentiment.
That is sad. That is very, very sad.
And just like what has happened to various parts of the Metro, some properties have already degenerated into liabilities. They have actually become useless.
Yet we have to deal with it.