Monstrous calamities breed Frankensteins, Yolanda should not

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein from her tortured and scarred view of the magnificent Swiss Alps and lakes. It was all rain and darkness, the endless chill so brutal that the year 1816 was called The Year Without Summer. Hordes of starving masses roamed Europe as famine struck across the continent, with landlocked Switzerland the hardest hit.

Shelly drew the profile of the Creature in the novel from those desperate, rampaging and starving masses, whose murderous rage was an offshoot of the anarchy that came in the wake of a continent-wide famine and the resulting breakdown of civilization and order. Even prosperous Switzerland, a haven of civility, was not spared.

The Year Without Summer was the defining ecological moment of the 19th century and for the first time in America, there was crop failure so massive that dislocation became the norm. It was also the impossible year in America in which not a single tree grew, the year of a zero tree growth. Elsewhere, there was the rise of anti-colonial fervor, the start of a cholera epidemic in parts of Asia, and the weakening of ruling dynasties and monarchies.

What caused of all of these was not even a European occurrence or an event in the Americas. It was the deadliest volcanic eruption in known history—that of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, located several thousand miles away. The dormant volcano awakened from 5,000 years of slumber with a big bang, killed over 100,000 people and upended the global climatic balance . The tsunamis that it triggered drowned tens of thousands in the coastal communities of Asia.


Shelley’s novel and Lord Byron’s apocalyptic poetry, were creatures of that Biblical-level volcanic eruption and its pestilential aftermath. They were drawn from real events as chilling, as brutal and as life-altering.

It would be wishful thinking to pretend that Yolanda, the most horrific typhoon to make landfall, would not impact on civility and order, or on the country’s fragile political equilibrium, given that that hardest hit region, the Eastern Visayas, is the third poorest in the country. While no literal 21st century Frankenstein would emerge from the rubble and dead-strewn communities, those managing the post-Yolanda efforts should learn lessons from the deadliest volcanic eruption in known history.

Facts are facts. There would be no easy transitions to normalcy. Bringing back to life the devastated communities would not be as easy as bringing to life the Pinatubo areas. There are many factors and realities that would severely challenge/ hamper the rebuilding efforts.

The Pinatubo areas managed to bounce back despite government and the monster–level official corruption that attended the reconstruction work. The people themselves, propped up by blessings of geography, took matters into their own hands. Of the official corruption, former Senator Ernie Maceda had a full file of that which he named “the grandmother of all scams.” In the case of Eastern Visayas, It would take the opposite. It would need a honest and genuinely caring government as steward of the rebuilding efforts.

Why does it need the steady hand of government? Why can’t people simply take charge of the rebuilding process, as this was the case in the Pinatubo areas. Many reasons.

Eastern Visayas, before Yolanda, had pockets of development, sure, and it had its share of vibrant communities. Still, it is reliant on the coconut industry and agro-fisheries. Mining is a big potential but has yet to be fully exploited. The coconut industry has been practically wiped out and this economic anchor cannot be resurrected overnight.

The region, unfortunately, has yet to fully develop educational and tourism hubs.

The area in the region that is nearest to a major market is in the Southern Leyte/Ormoc City part—which trades with Cebu. But it is not like the proximity of the Pinatubo areas to Metro Manila—the center of everything.

The Pinatubo areas, even with lahar flows still burying many communities, did not wait for one year to revive its poultry and hog business, plus the food processing component, and total gross from these activities even surpassed what could be earned from the traditional crops such as rice and sugar. In fact, it was after the eruption that Pampanga became the single largest producer of hog and poultry in the country, despite the hostile weather.

The proximity to Metro Manila also doubled the OFW placement in the areas right after the eruption. Remittances flowed with a vengeance.

With these absent from Eastern Visayas, the rebuilding and relief efforts have to be undertaken by government. The people may be willing to take the initiative but there are not enough opportunities for them to make a turnaround in a short period.

As we wrote earlier (The Manila Times was first to report that the inflow of money and support from outside would be overwhelming that by itself it would be a big challenge to the Aquino government), the government has to meld the huge inflows with superb management as it rebuilds the Yolanda-battered areas .

Yes, it has to be government as no other sector can.

But it has to carry out the rebuilding work with commitment and integrity. Otherwise, we would see anger, alienation and chaos rise out of the battered landscape. Frayed nerves and fraying social and economic institutions make up the lethal combination for massive unrest.

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4 Comments

  1. I thought all the while that the Frankenstein that was bred but more appropriatelyrevealed by Yolanda are the insensitive tandem  of Mar and Pnoy, with the first saying useless to look for dead victims under the rubbles. Good grief but for all we know there might havec been some still alive then and the latter angry over not attaining a zero casualty castigating those who opposed his view and even firing one.

  2. I’d like to put in my penny’s worth in this discussion. Most people look up to The U.S.A. In terms of development and “social leadership” for lack of a better word. When the US’ economy faltered in the mid 2000, big companies turned to the government and ask for financial rescue. Of the big car manufacturers, Ford is the only one which did not ask for government money. Interestingly, Ford is the one company which came out of the economic slump and got stronger. The farmers of New Zealand developed their own economic plan to come out of economic downturn without their government assistance and came out stronger, compared to Canadian farmers who were subsidize by their government but came out none the better. My point is, while government intervention is essential in the rehabilitation of the areas ravaged by Yolanda, success is probably achievable if well meaning NGOs brainstorm the problem. We have organization who can and are already doing this. To rely on the government, which Mr. Ronquillo already condemned as “incompetent and corrupt” will be a folly. What eastern Visayas needs is a group of well meaning community leaders who can facilitate the president’s announced billions for this purpose but without involving the politicians , local or national. I remember reading an article in a foreign business magazine during FVR’s presidency suggesting that Cebu rose to its level of economic prominence by sending their chamber of commerce leaders to other countries as representatives of “a small island country in the pacific”. They did not rely on the government.

  3. Pampanga the most hit by Pinatubo followed by Tarlac and Zambales mostly rehabilitated themselves with too little help from the corrupt government. The Pinatubo damage is a walk in the park compared to the Yolanda typhoon bomb which destroys 2/3 of eastern visayas. What is disheartening is we now know that corruption is so widespread not only in government but in GOCCs and business monopolies/cartels punishing the people from head to foot. Whom can we trust the rehabilitation? Frankly my dear in theory the rehab should be handled by the imported ones (ex- the builder of ACEH Indonesia) as no known filipino at present has the integrity and competence to handle such responsibility and billion dollar funds to finance it. In theory again the funds should be handled by the Supreme Court being the last bastion kuno of justice (it can be done as this is an emergency). But are they really with integrity and competence? Unfortunately it is Pnoy’s call and unfortunately again with Roxas, Gazmin and Ochoa as his action men everything looks hopeless.

  4. Claro Apolinar on

    On “Monstrous calamities breed Frankensteins, Yolanda should not” by Marlen Ronquillo.

    My first comment is that he, like most people, forget that Dr. Frankenstein is the creator of the monster Frankenstein not the monster himself. Although one could metaphorically call the doctor a monster for going into his unGodly experiments.

    I like most of Mr. Ronquillo’s leftist and pro-people articles though I find him–being obviously a socialist–muddled about economic development.

    Yes, he is absolutely right. Government is needed to lead, manage and coordinate the rehabilitation effort to restore the Yolanda-devastated towns and communities and take them back to the path of sound socio-economic development.
    Unfortunately, The government that is needed must however be honest, competent and efficient, Unfortunately what we mainly have on the national and local levels is corrupt, incompetent and inefficient government.

    Government leadership, coordination and management, in cooperation with the private and foreign sectors (as in Singapore) are also needed to do what should be done in many vital areas of Philippine life.

    These include reviving Philippine manufacturing and agriculture (and fisheries and agri-business), creating a profitable tourism industry, solving the problems of extremely expensive electricity and the coming power-crisis, preventing the water-shortage crisis that is expected to hit us, raising revenues and stopping rampant smuggling. Government is needed in many other vital parts of our country’s economy.

    But when bad government officials take the lead in Yolanda rehabilitation you will get disappointed. The results will be uneven, unjust and corrupt.

    That is because we don’t GENERALLY have in the national and local governments honest, competent and efficient government officials and employees.

    It’s the same as our democracy. We need honest, competent and efficient Commission on Elections officials. And we need voters who are well-informed, educated and moral citizens. We don’t have these. That is why our democracy is so laughably flawed. And our elections produce government officials whose lack of patriotism, honesty, competence and inefficiency guarantees that ours always continue to be failed state.

    What to do?

    Let’s not lose hope. Let’s unite behind reform movements–like those of Social Watch and Alternative Budget Initiative under former National Treasurer Liling Briones, the Automated Election Watch (AES), the People’s Initiative laws proposed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the calls made by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, the proposals made on the pages of the Manila Times by writers like Juan Gatbonton and in some of the Times editorials.