As I write this, the rains have not ceased.
It has been more than a week that the rains have fallen incessantly in Metro Manila. Even if I left for Bangkok the weekend, I came back with more rains greeting me. This was nothing unusual this time of the year.
Then Monday night came --- and the rains really started pouring.
We were all properly warned, weren't we? This was not a tropical depression: the strong winds are out there dancing near the shorelines of Taiwan. This was just the habagat getting to us. Ah, ok.
This was just the Southwestern winds --- nothing phenomenal, something we deal with as part of our climate cycle. Except that tropical depression north of our islands is sucking up all the monsoon thereby dragging this mammoth cloud to cover a slab of Luzon. That was what was unusual. And exceptional.
The satellite weather map posted by a friend on Facebook last Sunday night was somewhat disturbing. The cloud practically covered half of Luzon: the country was practically swallowed by the blotch of cloud. I asked my friend, "Where's the Philippines?" And he replied, "Underneath all that." Ah, ok, I said.
The Weather Bureau warned us of more rains to come. Just that.
Nobody told us it was going to be that much rain. A helluva lot of rain, rain and rain. No winds --- just endless pouring of rain.
Three years ago we were also caught flatfooted. Remember?
Despite storm warnings, Ondoy was not supposed to be a major cyclone to send alarm bells ringing or signaling red alert. After a while you get used to these storms. Some are so insignificant that they become more of irritants rather than major causes of concern. Ondoy was supposed to be one of those --- except for the fact that nobody said anything about the amount of rainfall he would bring.
We are properly warned about the strength and intensity of winds ...but at that time, we weren't talking about how much rain the depressions brought when it hits land. Ondoy's winds were not that threatening ... but who would have been prepared for six hours of continuous and outrageous rain?
We are all used to the fact that typhoons meant wind ... and the rains followed after the typhoon has left because of all the stratospheric activity happening out there that the late Ernie Barron could have explained with such authority and Kuya Kim could enlighten with such cuteness. But then ... we simply listen to the enumeration of facts and say, "Oh, well."
We were not told that Ondoy had more surprises than unimpressive winds.
The result of that typhoon was cataclysmic--- traumatic and perhaps historic.
MetroManila and the nearby provinces looked like it was flushed through a toilet bowl.
You would think that after Ondoy we would have learned our lessons.
You would think that after Marikina practically sank back to the sea --- and that cars ended up on rooftops because of the overflow of the rivers and the spillage of major dams surrounding the metro that we would have gained an insight into the degree of damage, the extent of danger and even the more horrible possibilities of what has yet to come.
You would think that we would have made concrete plans on how not only to handle the disaster but to minimize the possibility of duplication of such events.
After Ondoy we should have confronted certain facts: that global warming has indeed raised the sea levels to such awesome extent that the waves come crashing into Roxas Boulevard like a prelude to a tsunami each time a storm skirts the country. That never happened before ... and there was even a time that we did not even think that it was a possibility at all. But it is now happening ... with regularity. So much for arguments against the rise of sea levels, huh?
It is now a fact. There is global warming, Manila is located below sea level (like many other locations in the world) and we are right at the gateway of all possible repercussions from a screwed up worldwide climate disaster. So there. We cannot relocate our archipelago to another side of the Pacific --- thus we have to accept the inevitable: that we will get the brunt of all these tropical events in varying degrees ... like annually.
We can also add other murmurings that others considered as downright irritants but have now become evident facts.
These include our really irresponsible way of treating Mother Nature --- because a great majority of our population (include those who have been bestowed the privilege and responsibility of local and national governance) do not give a hoot about ecological balance or just making sure we don't make a bigger mess out of the mess that we are in and perpetuating.
We have not made greater efforts to improve our waste disposal, clean up our drainage and sewerage system ---or even just making sure that people who choose to live by canals, seashores or even under bridges don't throw their garbage into the waterways.
Well, we ask ourselves again: what are they doing there in the first place?
Yes, they are illegal settlers (we don't call them squatters any more ... because we consider the term politically incorrect. As a matter of fact, we even protect them. Of course we do. Because they are also our countrymen ... they have their rights even if they have decided to occupy a space that is not their rightful land or they shouldn't even be living beside canals or under bridges --- not unless they are trolls ) but more important --- they can be registered voters.
After Ondoy you would think that we should have done something and that we could have been just a bit wiser. Or smarter. Or even practical. Or even realistic.
We already know that certain areas are indeed prone to floods because of their locations near waterways.
We already pinpointed critical points for water levels of dams --- and the extent of damage opening the flood gates would create to towns and cities directly affected by the content flow. The onslaught of rushing water will not distinguish a shanty from a mansion as long as these are on its way, right?
We have already seen the extent of damage that massive flooding can create and how equipped we are in dealing with such tragedies. We realize our shortage of amphibian tanks, rubber boats, even jet skis to traverse waters rising above rooftops. I mean, how can any government be prepared for that?
But, hey --- let's have a reality check here.
It happened three years ago. It has happened all over again. And now there isn't even a storm. We do not even have a name for it.
Yet we still have people left wet and cold on their rooftops waiting for rescue teams in rubber boats to save them. We have entire towns and cities submerged in murky flood water and mud. The entire parking lot of SM Marikina as well as the ground floor of the UST and UE RM hospitals have been under water for the past two days ... and the rains have not stopped falling.
We have seen all this before and it has happened again. Guess what: it is going to happen again and again and again and again ... because it is not going to get any better. Nope, there is a possibility that it is going to get far much worse.
Not unless we learn our lessons, right?
Not unless we confront the fact that this problem will not go away and can only get much worse. Now what else can be worse? Oh, I think the possibilities are endless ... and even all the more terrifying.
Yes, it feels good to hold hands, get together and find ways of alleviating the pain and anguish of our countrymen who have been devastated by these horrid acts of nature. It gives us a high to be of service and to celebrate the power of the people. We celebrate our sense of concern, empathy and charity. But, kababayans, unfortunately these are not the solutions. These are medications, palliatives --- and temporary pain relievers but are not even short term solutions. What we see is a bountiful reaction to the tragedy ... and not the ways and means of directly dealing with the source of the problem.
We think healing wounds is the way to end the battle. Uh-oh! Not true.
Proof of human concern makes us indeed special creatures because it makes us exactly that --- human. But let us be honest: they are consolations. They are necessary for uplifting the morale and boosting the fighting spirit --- but truckloads of relief goods, more rubber boats and more speeches about the future of our nation will not mean that the flood waters will not rise again and again.
We need to address the problems not as if it were the sole responsibility of the government ... but as a people not merely protecting our properties but preserving the very survival of our country. That much I realized: the government can only do so much. And I have reached a point of not expecting much from the people who sit in thrones of power because ... well, politicians are called politicians because of their politicking.
A nation is not made by the greatness of politicians but by the resilience and integrity of its people.
And I am not very keen on politicians using disasters such as these to prove to their constituents that they are actually living saints. I would rather have them as leaders --- with a sense of control, resolve and direction. I am more impressed by quiet but effective public servants who do their jobs ... because they know what jobs have to be done ... and that is not merely passing bags with a kilo of rice and two cans of sardines and a sympathetic smile on the face punctuated by a rehearsed, "God bless."
Foresight. Resolve. Determination.
And let's cut the crap. I hope we institute and implement more stringent laws to protect the citizenry from building houses in disaster-prone areas. I wish we can have law enforcers who do not have to beg people to leave their houses because of impending danger ... then only to have rescue teams summoned by the same stubborn (and, yes, idiotic ) people when they are neck-deep in dirty flood water --- screaming bloody murder "because the government ain't doin' anythin' for them."
I hope we can have certain people in City Halls explaining why they allowed developments of middle class residences in areas which are in direct danger of overflowing rivers and waterways.
I hope there are ways of convincing these most unfortunate and misguided residents that despite the fact that nobody will buy their properties with a history of flooding --- that going back to that same house over and over again will mean losing everything they worked for in the process of reconstruction to the next swelling of the river ... or overflowing of a waterway.
I wish we learn our lessons this time. Even for a bit.
Meanwhile, I look out my office window. The rains have not stopped. The visibility is practically zero. And I know that the flood waters are again rising.
We have to learn our lessons this time. If not now, then when? Hopefully, it is not an exercise in futility.