By BENJIE OLIVEROS
When Pagasa announced, early this week, that typhoon Chedeng might hit the country, local government officials frantically inspected and dredged rivers, canals, and drainage systems. They readied rubber boats and set up an emergency communication system. President Aquino called on his administration to aim for zero casualty.
The people living near river systems, coastal areas, and landslide prone areas wrapped their belongings in plastic, tied their houses and placed heavy objects on their roofs. Those with the means to do so also readied their own flotation objects and stored food supplies in upstairs rooms. Some were eventually evacuated.
Expectedly, these preparations were accompanied by the blaming game. Local and national government officials blamed the people for throwing garbage everywhere clogging drainage systems and rivers. They also blamed people living near canals, under bridges and along river banks for blocking the path of floodwaters.
However, the result of all these “preparations” – whether the zero casualty call of President Aquino would be achieved – could no longer be tested because typhoon Chedeng veered northwest. Well, that is good for us.
Nevertheless, it makes one wonder why, considering that an average of 20 typhoons visit the country every year, preparations are always being done at the last minute. Why could rivers and canals not be inspected and dredged whole year round? Why does it have to be done a few days before a typhoon hits the country?
A Pagasa official was quoted in television saying that typhoons should not be blamed for the disasters that befall the Filipino people when a storm makes a landfall in the country. And what he said is true. While extreme weather conditions could test the readiness and vulnerability of the people, it is not the root cause of the disaster.
On one hand, it is true that the practice of people throwing garbage everywhere that clogs canals and drainage systems is partly to blame. It is also true that urban poor communities blocking canals and flood ways impede the flow of water and thus, cause floods.
But the question remains, why does the government pay attention to dredging rivers and unclogging canals only when a typhoon is about to hit the country? Where do the funds allotted to flood control projects go? Is it not true that a part of the money being paid by movie patrons automatically go to this fund?
Second, do the urban poor really love living under bridges, over canals, and along flood ways? Do farmers and settlers love living in landslide prone areas? It’s as if they have a choice.
The urban and rural poor, who comprise the majority of the Filipino people, live in vulnerable and risky areas because they could not afford to live in safe, secure, and decent houses. And they could not afford it because they have no secure jobs that pay a decent wage. This is also the very reason why they resist being relocated to remote areas where there are no jobs available. Because of this, they could not even afford to pay the low amortization , which is around P500 per month.
It may sound trite, but it all boils down to people’s vulnerabilities, which, in turn, is being caused by poverty. And if the government could not even do a basic service such as flood control consistently, how could it address an issue of such magnitude as poverty? If the government refuses to veer away from the failed globalization policies and insists on protecting the profits and interests of foreign and local big business to the detriment of the rights of workers and the people, how else could it provide jobs, which are secure and that pay a decent wage?
Thus, the magnitude of the destruction that is caused by a typhoon is directly proportional to the vulnerability of the people, which, in turn is directly proportional to the extent of the sins of omission and commission by the government.