On Tuesday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reprimands us all: stop negative criticism. Tumulong na lang kayo.
This echoes what we heard from a United Nations official on Monday, who told us all to stop the finger-pointing and the bickering. He then implored us to preserve the spirit of bayanihan.
Engaging in the latter apparently cannot mean the former. I cringe at the kind of clichés that tragedy brings. I shudder at the notions of national identity that are brought to the fore, no matter that these are unstable at best, questionable always.
Bayanihan as second nature
And yes, I hate resilience as much as the next person. But probably worse than that in my book is the use of the word bayanihan, bringing back as it does that image that is just as much a cliché: four men carrying a nipa hut made of bamboo and coconut leaves, with huge smiles on their faces.
Look at the little brown brother carrying his tiny poor home on his shoulders!
But in recent years, and ones filled with storms and habagat rains, bayanihan has ceased to be some construct that we need to live up to. Neither is it something that anyone at all can throw in our faces in times of tragedies like Typhoon Yolanda.
No one should be mentioning bayanihan like it’s a requirement we must fulfill.
Because we do it like no other. We do it without thinking, we just do it. And that is not because we are better or kinder than any other people. It is because we don’t know any other way. It is because we’ve got members of the middle to upper classes that have the capacity to help, that have been taught charitable hearts in their private schools; because we have the poorer among us with a sense of how difficult things can be, and how they could easily lose everything to the next storm, too.
We help out because we can. And because we see, in fact, that people in government cannot do it themselves.
We get disasters in the Philippines. These become tragic because government proves itself inutile in dealing with its aftermath.
The bane of nation
Bayanihan as such is not some cliché that is in our blood. It is a construct that is also the bane of this country’s existence. Because when you have a private sector rising to the occasion of nation – and how! – we also inadvertently allow government to play it cooler than it must. Because we have been taught to live bayanihan to the fullest, we fail to teach government to do its work, and do it well, because we all deserve to be cared for as citizens.
This is the thing really, with helping out and criticism, with bayanihan and finger-pointing: those two things are intertwined.
Helping out means talking to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda as they arrive in Villamor Air Base. It means hearing those voices that cry for help, for food and water, for rescue. Helping out means realizing how long these people had to wait for relief goods, how long they had to wait to be evacuated. Helping out means seeing how hungry they are, how scared, how uncertain about their futures. Helping out means packing relief goods knowing full well that it will last two days at most, and having the sense to wonder: what then?
It is bayanihan, it is our coming together as strangers to help those in need, that necessarily make us critical. Having a sense of how bad things are, of how long people had to wait, of how little care government showed these survivors – these are things we learn about because we help, this is why we have reason to criticize this government.
Helping out and criticizing, bayanihan and finger-pointing, are not mutually exclusive. These come hand-in-hand, and is not even much of a multi-task.
The President first
Now about the blame game, the bickering, that we are being reprimanded for: I say start with the President why don’t you?
Tell him to STOP criticizing local government officials for being unprepared at this point when these officials have also lost their homes and offices, families and employees. Tell our President to stop taking jabs at his political enemies in a time of crisis. Tell our President and his DILG secretary to stop wearing their campaign shirts to go to areas in need. While we’re at it, tell the DILG secretary to keep his wife off television; tell the President to keep his sister(s) off it as well.
I speak of bayanihan and its pitfalls now, not because we are tired or because we have run out of things and time and money to give. I speak of it now because in fact this government has benefited from a citizenry that lives up bayanihan to a fault, and yet it takes offense at every criticism that hits too close to the truth. This government also seems to delude itself into thinking that this act of giving is not so much about those in need, but about our trust in it as an institution, as leader.
The answer is no. Bayanihan happens because this is what living in this country has taught us to become. And it’s not because we are more special than other people, as it is in fact and ultimately because we have less of a government.