The Real Catastrophe behind Ondoy

The administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro has been airing costly TV infomercials bragging about the Arroyo regime’s disaster preparations. The typhoon Ondoy proved his claims to be a big farce. The scale of human suffering that enveloped Metro Manila and other parts of the country in the aftermath of typhoon Ondoy’s onslaught is staggering. The landslides and flooding, said to be the worst in forty years, brought untold destruction on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

As we continue to extend aid to the victims of typhoon Ondoy, we should never overlook examining the convergence of various underlying factors that resulted in the disaster. The people were not merely victims of a natural catastrophe. The threat of strong tropical typhoons, considering the country’s geographic location of proximity to the Pacific Ocean, is always present. The more revealing detail is the Arroyo regime’s lack of adequate provisions for such emergencies.

Typhoon Ondoy did not only reveal problems of insufficient preparation for effective relief and rescue operations. More importantly, it exposed the government’s misaligned priorities that resulted in deficient preventive measures.

Typhoon OndoyLest we forget, even as the Arroyo regime continues to neglect urban planning, infrastructure, drainage, and flood control, the president was able to rechannel emergency funds amounting to P800 million for her foreign travels.

In a sense, typhoon Ondoy substantiates the people’s fears of an ecological breakdown that would destroy human civilization as we know it. It props up a form of thinking that can be summed up in the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s remark on how today “it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”

But what is truly apocalyptic is not the specter of more environmental catastrophes but the reality of human actions that fail to prepare for such calamities. In the long run, we can only ready ourselves adequately for future Ondoys precisely by changing how our society is organized and the way our government is run.

Until Philippine society remains to be divided between an exploited majority of workers, peasants, and slum dwellers and an oppressive minority of big compradors and landlords who use the State for the protection of their interests, government funds intended for disaster prevention will continue to be squandered in corruption and skewed priorities.

“Cast away all illusions and prepare struggle,” Mao once said: let us turn the grief and suffering of the present into a thirst for justice. The moment this longing crystallizes will be the Day of Judgment for the callous ruling classes who have made the people suffer for the longest time. ■

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