It is difficult to be happy that the weather isn’t so horribly hot and dry when we know that rains mean floods and destruction, and the displacement of thousands to school gyms and churches turned evacuation centers. Never mind that it might just be habagat rains gone on too long, or that the typhoon isn’t even really going to make landfall; it takes so little for our streets to flood, and for too many homes to be rendered inhabitable.
That it takes so little for rains to damage people’s homes, that it takes so little rain to render the metropolis paralyzed, is obvious to all of us who live in this country with eyes wide open.
What one wonders is why and how a government that has funds in the trillions of pesos has failed to actually make disaster preparedness a real priority. What one wonders is how and why this government, which barely survived Typhoon Haiyan, could not make sure that it would never happen again, that kind of government unpreparedness and neglect revealed by Haiyan’s aftermath.
I had also hoped that this government had learned its lesson and would know not to let politics affect the kind of care and compassion it might have for any town or province in a time of disaster.
Might really need to stop hoping.
Quezon in media
Quezon was the hardest hit province by Typhoon Rammasun. We knew before the typhoon hit that it was expected to make landfall in Lopez, Quezon. There was very little news about the rest of Quezon at the height of, and a couple of days after, the storm though, and one can imagine it might have been because our media spread itself out among the areas affected.
But days after, and a week after, still barely anything. For a province that was hardest hit, stories about rainfall and winds, and storm surges if they happened, have yet to be told through mainstream media. There seems to be little or no urgency to tell the story of Typhoon Rammasun and how it affected the province. There seems to be no interest in fact, in the story.
Soon after the storm, there were photographs from ABS-CBN News of Barangay Lalig in Tiaong, chest-deep in floodwaters, of felled trees in Pagbilao; via GMA News, footage of destroyed school buildings in Gumaca, heritage houses in Unisan.
We do know that as of July 19, three towns had yet to receive relief goods in Quezon as per a GMA News Report. These were towns that experienced six to seven meter storm surges. We also know that as of July 21, much of Quezon had yet to get its electricity back, including the towns of Candelaria, Dolores, Lucban, Lucena City, Mauban, Pagbilao, Sampaloc, San Antonio, Sariaya, Tayabas, and Tiaong.
Quezon on the ground
As I tried to find information on various parts of Quezon soon after the storm, I gathered this much: there is no good news.
When I heard that Typhoon Rammasun had made third landfall in Catanauan for example, I could only imagine storm surges from the otherwise pristine sea that this provincial town lived off. I had been in Catanauan early in the year and witnessed this calm and quiet; also its underdeveloped state, and its poverty. I can imagine it going from poor to ground zero given the magnitude of that storm; I wish there were more news on it.
A friend based in Lucena had put up a Facebook status about the strength of the wind on the morning of Typhoon Glenda. I messaged him at the end of the day, asking about how things were. He replied two days after, on July 18, about how everyone was at the mall as that was the only place with electricity; felled trees and electric posts littered the streets. He had spoken to one of the city’s Councilors who told him that casualties were at five, but the injured were at 70. He was told that those at the Dalahican Port were “wiped out.”
I remain unclear about what that means. Is it that the port itself has been destroyed by the storm, or were the people who were stranded there also victimized? One wishes there were news on Lucena, Quezon’s capital city.
On July 17, an uncle traveled from Manila to Tiaong via Maharlika Highway, which passes through Sto. Tomas and San Pablo, Laguna. The road was littered with trees and debris, and it was pitch dark. He passed many accidents on that stretch of highway before arriving in Tiaong, to his home in the middle of trees and fauna. In the light of day, he found the old acacia tree in front of his house uprooted – carrying with it the bahay kubo that had used the tree as shelter.
It is nothing to what was lost by the rest of Quezon, what my uncle and I could only imagine to be the worst kind of loss, because it happens to people who already have so little.
Quezon and PNoy
That the DSWD website barely has anything on relief efforts in Quezon does not mean that they have yet to bring relief goods there. It just also means Quezon is not the place that might be useful for some media mileage on how this government cares for its people.
Because really, this is the place where the Liberal Party lost big time, despite PNoy making it a point to campaign for his candidates for the 2013 elections. And no, he didn’t just campaign here, he employed some good ol’ paninira in the campaign sorties, pointing a finger at the dynasties and the incumbents, to make his own candidates look good.
Candidates who stink of dynasty politics, too, by the way. In 2013, PNoy traveled to towns in Quezon with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and his son Quezon Second District Rep. Irvin Alcala. The older brother of Secretary Alcala was then Vice Governor Vicente Alcala. Uncle Vicente was running for nephew Irvin’s post in Congress, while Irvin was going to run against the incumbent Governor David Suarez. PNoy was also fielding Sam Nantes (son of late Quezon Governor Nantes) for Vice Governor, and lawyer Sheila de Leon for Third District Rep. against Aleta Suarez.
Save for Vicente Alcala, now Second District Rep., none of PNoy’s candidates won in Quezon. Not even when he had made an appearance in far away Catanauan and Gumaca, not even when he employed the dirty tactic of paninira.
Now this is not about whether or not the Suarez dynasty is one that has done Quezon well; this is not even about a President condemning one dynasty and condoning another.
It’s about the possibility that this President does not care enough about a province where his candidates took a major loss in 2013. We saw PNoy do it in Tacloban; what should keep him from operating within political alliances in the midst of this disaster in Quezon?
It could, of course, also be the P750 million given to Quezon under the DAP, money that was labeled “development assistance.” Well, I’m in Quezon regularly enough, and travel to its various towns all the time. I’d like to know where that P750 million went because certainly the poverty in this province is not one that has felt “development.”
More importantly, I’d like to know how this President is helping the province now, no matter that it isn’t his bailiwick.