Every disaster that hits the Philippines brings the best and the worst in the Filipinos. The recent typhoon, internationally known as Haiyan, that devastated central Visayas, Friday, November 8, was no exception. On center stage are people, including two huge TV Networks mobilizing their staff and working overtime to repack goods, food, and medicine for the ravaged region in the south. We extend our humanity to people entirely unknown to us. This is the best in us.
Government soldiers and civil servants were also involved in the rescue and relief operations but their efforts were simply a mismatch to the enormity of the destruction. Typhoon Haiyan was considered the strongest tropical cyclone that made a landfall packing a wind velocity of 315 kilometers per hour (one minute sustained wind velocity, but at 230 km/hour on 10 minute sustained velocity) and surpassing the record of Hurricane Camille at 305 kilometers/hour that hit the United States in 1969.
Filipino resilience to natural disaster of whatever magnitude was best encapsulated in that Facebook page announcing: “Bagyo Ka Lang, Pinoy Kami.” However, the worst in us comes at center stage too. We started bashing and clawing at our government officials for their incompetence in laying out ahead of time rescue plans to minimize the agonies of people ravaged by the tropical storm. As if anyone is capable of perfectly managing a disaster of this magnitude and ferocity.
Western journalists weighed in as to the absence of “civil government” in the affected areas which only added fuel to this burning narrative. They were seeing government’s effort as lacking the fingerprint of topnotch rescue effort that Japan had in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Great East Region in March 2011.
Understandably, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was not likely to compare the imprint of US FEMA botched rescue operations in the wake of hurricane Katrina that devastated Mississippi, Texas, Florida and most specially, New Orleans in August 2005 to this equally botched rescue efforts of the Filipinos of their ravaged archipelago – because if he did, he would be at a loss as to which between the two was the bigger screw-up.
The Philippines is a third world economy, the U.S. an industrial country. To demand from Filipinos who do not have money and sophisticated equipment certain “rescue skill sets” to address a disaster of this magnitude and not to demand it from Katrina rescuers is a tad unfair. But this is not to say that we should bask in our shortcomings.
Add to this scenario also the fact that the above-mentioned disasters swooped down mainland Japan and the U.S. — highways were open, communication and electricity mostly functional. Yolanda wrecked a hodge-podge of islands in central Visayas – communication, transportation and electricity were down. Each province becomes an island unto itself. You have to hop from island to island to find out what happened to the humanities in each island. In the absence of transportation and communication, finding out what happened to the typhoon victims poses a tremendous challenge — the same challenge that hampered the distribution of life’s necessities days after the storm had faded.
Israel is the number one country when it comes to disaster management. Time Magazine article years back painted a glowing picture on how the Jews clean up mangled bodies littering the streets, repave pock-marked roads, manicure business establishments few hours after every Arab suicide bomber tore up their cities. Observers passing through the area of carnage after the clean-up would hardly notice that it was an earlier site of a ghastly mayhem.
Japan from my perspective, comes next after Israel, and with the Katrina rescue debacle, I could no longer rank the U.S.A if it’s 3rd, 4th or 5th. I would rank Canada third when it comes to disaster preparedness.
As to RP’s ranking, it could be at the tail-end of the list, but let us say we are still fortunate that we are still living in these islands. But if we do not shape up, we can vanish entirely from the earth and become extinct. Darwin’s theory of selective adaptation favors a group of specie that have the adaptive trait to cope with the harsh realities of nature. If we continue whining and bickering to highlight our helplessness in the face of this tragedy, maybe we are not the fittest creatures that can survive in this literal jungle.
Our ancestors of thousand years have been exposed to far worst kinds of elements. There was no civil authority to coordinate relief efforts to cushion the impact of nature’s wrath and vengeance. Each to his own. Many have fallen along the way and few have survived to provide continuity of the human race. Are Filipinos the weakest link in the human race and are not imbued with adaptive skills to fend off the worst disaster individually or collectively? If we cannot survive Yolanda and future calamities, there is a perfect reason for us to become extinct.
Filipinos must shed their culture of entitlement and see natural calamity as a continuing challenge that they themselves must vanquished, or it will vanquish them.