I WAS away from Manila the past week but not away from the news of how the typhoon and habagat stopped work and cancelled classes, rendering city streets unsafe and public transport useless.
To say that the rains make our already unstable city life even more dangerous would be an understatement. In a country where development is championed, but done unthinkingly; with a government that makes promises but does not fulfill them, the rainy season as respite from the heat of summer is a comfort that does not last for long.
The 2016 elections do not make it any better.
Mar Roxas and the floods
One is hard put to forget the debacle that was Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, and how the Interior Secretary did not only mess up the relief and rescue operations, but also came out on CNN with an attitude unbecoming of an official whose government was so obviously in a state of failure.
This is of course Secretary Mar Roxas, next-in-line to the presidency if we are to believe the Liberal Party, his wife, and his mother. On June 11, 2013, five months before Typhoon Haiyan hit Eastern Samar, he talked about facing the rainy season and floods by doing “flood drills in several high-risk barangays along six major waterways in Metro Manila.” (Gov.ph, 11 June 2013) Early warning systems, prioritizing the sick, elderly and handicapped, were part of Roxas’s program of preparedness.
“Ang disaster preparedness na paghahanda natin ngayon ay isa lamang pansamantalang solusyon dahil may tinatrabaho tayo na mas permanenteng solution,” the Interior Secretary said. But simplistic assessments of the flooding problem might not be what a solution makes. In June 2013, Roxas said: “Simple naman lang ang tubig. Ang tubig maghahanap ‘yan ng path of least resistance, so maghahanap ‘yan ng pinakamababang lugar at doon ‘yan mag-iipon hanggang magkaroon ng paraan na makakalabas yan.” (GMAnetwork.com, 19 June 2013)
But then Typhoon Haiyan happened.
In a May 2014 Flood Control Summit, Roxas talked about how his office’s priority was to relocate those living in priority waterways in Manila. (Inquirer.net, 8 May 2014). In April of this year, the Interior department revealed its Oplan LISTO after the zero casualty rate in Isabela post-Typhoon Chedeng. Of course that was a super typhoon that weakened into a tropical depression, but Secretary Roas was not one to forget to celebrate the local officials of Isabela and the people of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC). He was also taking credit for how Isabela followed the Interior Department’s Oplan Listo checklist – “a deliberate, programmatic, and sustained disaster preparedness and management plan formulated in response to natural calamities.”
He also pointed out how so many officials missed the Easter vacation because of Chedeng, but that this is a sacrifice that the people are thankful that their government officials make. (MetroCebu.com.ph, 8 April) This is part of the narrative of praise that this Liberal Party government likes to create, one that is about patting themselves on the back for jobs they should be doing to begin with.
But then there was Typhoon Haiyan. And sadly for Roxas, nothing of what he has done, or promised to do, so far has allowed us to forget that.
Jejomar Binay and the floods
It is difficult to look into the flood control and disaster preparedness vision of Vice President Jejomar Binay without looking at Makati City. That is his kingdom after all, the city he built – if we are to believe him, and one that for all intents and purposes seems to have always been about the ambition to go national.
And national it is. As Vice President, Binay has actually talked often enough about disaster preparedness, and has layered the discussion with the smarter concepts of climate change and livable cities, using Makati as model, championing himself in the process. To say that he’s been campaigning all these years for the presidency would be an understatement.
But of course all of them have been on campaign mode – Roxas included. Binay just has Makati City as trophy, never mind that much of what might be touted as development is actually borne of the private sector’s hard work. At least in so far as speeches and press releases about disaster preparedness and storms and floods are concerned, the VP seems to have both the experience and body of work to prove he knows what he’s doing, and the conceptual framework that dares level up the discourse.
At a speech for the World Bank in 2011, the VP talked about how in a disaster, it is the “poorest and most vulnerable who are hit the hardest <where> poverty and the lack of capacity to respond routinely <…> unduly magnify the risks. The incredibly wasteful and polluting manner of living, which many moderns have come to equate with modernity, further exacerbates the same.” Binay then goes on to talk about policy that will “enable participatory local planning to mitigate disaster impacts across sectors and turn the huge ship of development towards a safer and more sustainable course.”
But of course Makati is the star of this speech, where while Binay admits that the city has its problems too – like flooding and unstable soil – this is because “prosperity attracts migrants from all over.” But Makati, he says, “is most certainly ahead of most other cities in mitigating the problems of congestion, poverty, pollution, climate change and natural disasters.” (OVP Website, 1 Feb 2011)
Only after he had championed his Makati – and of course himself – did the VP speak of the government he represented at that point. One finally gets a sense of why the President thought it valid to say that they had “allowed” the VP to get his high approval ratings.
Because they had in fact let Binay, at least on paper, use the big words that we rarely hear from our government officials, articulating big development plans grounded in the grassroots, and in notions of disaster risk reduction and sustainability.
Grace Poe and the floods
Well there isn’t much to say, is there?
Where Roxas can actually take credit for whatever improvements have happened as far as LGU preparedness is concerned, and where Binay can take credit for whatever disaster preparedness there is in Makati and how this can be used as model for the rest of the country, Senator Grace Poe, well, has nothing but words.
Then again, that’s also what Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. had when he won as president in 2010.