January, according to scholars, is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and beginnings. He was represented by a double-faced head – one face looking toward the past, the other toward the future.
New Year’s Day, by tradition, is the time when we make resolutions, personal and collective (family, club or nation). Coincidentally, the word “resolution” also has a dual meaning. One meaning points to the past, resolving old problems. The other, plans for the future, resolving to do things better.
As a collective resolution for the Filipino nation, I want to tender this modest proposal to the powers that be and the public:
Instead of quibbling forever about the exact count of Yolanda/Haiyan casualties, let us now list them all down, by name, by place and by story (if the victim has one to tell). As we finish up in interring the dead (particularly the 1400 dead bodies still in body bags in Tacloban, cited in my previous column), let us turn our attention also towards how we are going to remember this awful chapter in our lives and our nation’s history.
The way to do this properly is to build a memorial and memory bank. And the way to jumpstart this is to begin assembling a documentary record of this disaster.
Not another forgotten crisis
When he visited Tacloban on 22 December 2013 and after touring the ravaged city, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared to the media and to the world: “We must not allow this to become another forgotten crisis.” He then called on donor nations to ramp up aid to the Philippines.
“I am appealing to the donor community, to speed up, scale up their support,” Ban said, adding that he had met with the ambassadors of key donor countries in Manila the day before. He said he was deeply moved and inspired by his visit to Tacloban, where despite the many challenges “people are working hard to recover.”
What worries Ban is the danger that Yolanda Haiyan will be quickly sent down the memory hole, where it will become just another cataclysm in an endless sequence of cataclysms in the world.
Remembrance, reflection and responsibility
This is why a Yolanda memorial is important and necessary. This is also why work on the memorial must begin early this year when the event is still raw in the national psyche and seared in the conscience of humanity.
This is by no means unprecedented. Many countries remember their great disasters in significant ways. In Italy, they marked Mount Vesuvius, to commemorate its famous eruption, which took the lives of thousands and leveled cities to the ground.
If in the case of the Holocaust in World War II there are some who deny that it ever happened, absentmindedness in the case of Yolanda will turn it into just another typhoon in the nation’s history
The basic challenge facing us here is how to acknowledge this event in our recent past and memorialize it without being trapped in it.
At this point, we are experiencing what all mourners go through, shock over the loss of friends and loved ones. After every traumatic loss, there is the danger of being paralyzed with grief. And the realization also that recovery requires a measure of forgetting. Priests and holy men wisely counsel us: life would be unbearable if the wounds we suffer on life’s battlefields were always raw and gaping.
Historian Carol Gluck at Columbia University makes the case for three R’s: remembrance, reflection and responsibility. “We don’t want to transmit all the burdens of the past,” she says. “We’re not looking for a constant open wound. What we need is remembrance for those who died and the tragic event. We need reflection for understanding how it really happened. We need to take responsibility for the past and therefore the present and future.”
Disasters, no less than loved ones, tug at our minds and our hearts not to be forgotten.
The memorial I propose should strive to attain the following:
1. It should honor and remember the dead by listing them by name, by provenance, and by giving their surviving families a place to visit and venerate them. The more heroic stories should be recalled in narrative.
2. It should tabulate and list the assistance and aid—in money, in kind and in service—that different donor nations and organizations provided during the magnificent relief and recovery effort that showed the extent and depth of global empathy during our ordeal. This should be memorialized in words and pictures.
3. The same listing and narration should be done on our own government’s and people’s efforts in the relief and recovery effort, and the coming rehabilitation effort.
4. It should assemble a documentary record of this unprecedented catastrophe—beginning with the forecasts and bulletins on the super typhoon by the meteorologists, including the media accounts of the perfect storm, the rescue and relief effort. While they are still readily available, copies of the dramatic broadcast reports and the excellent reports and commentaries in print should be secured.
By undertaking this project, government and the private sector can join together in doing something practicable and significant on Yolanda. It will require the active participation and leadership of government. But individuals and civic organizations can also join by volunteering their services and providing contributions.
The project will give the people of East Visayas something practical to do, beyond just regretting their bad luck, it will help the victims’ families to cope with their loss.
The memorial, if planned and executed well, will be fitting tribute to all the victims, to all the ravaged communities, and to everyone who helped us in surmounting this catastrophe.
When fuel prices went up—at the crack of dawn this New Year’s Day—everyone’s blood pressure went up a notch. What another increase?—was the wail heard everywhere.
Shell, Petron, Chevron and Total all raised the prices of their fuel products down the line.
The increases were imposed without explanation. They just happened. The government fuel price regulator did not issue a bulletin; they don’t say anything anymore; they just bow to the wishes of the oil companies. As for the energy department, they say that they just monitor prices.
The public needs an explanation on how fuel prices are adjusted and why. If it is triggered by the slightest developments in the international scene, the energy regulator and oil companies should tell us.
What is the justification for this New Year’s day greeting to us? Is it related to the terrorist bombings in Russia, a major oil producer, which happened just a day ago?
If fuel prices can be adjusted upwards here at home at the slightest tremor in the price of crude, how come they are not adjusted downward just as quickly when crude‘s price goes down?
Are we talking of futures here – i.e. commodities bought or sold at an agreed price for delivery at a specified future date?
I keep seeing this horrible scene in my mind wherein the managers of local oil companies sit at desks and their computers watching for the slightest fluctuation in crude prices, so that they can raise the prices of fuel at the pump.