2009 in review: Philippines survives superstorms
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2009 in review: Philippines survives superstorms


Last September, supertyphoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) wrought havoc in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, inundating all the lies the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo about good and efficient government and made Filipinos realize yet again the power of collective action.

The flooding was swift and near total. Only patches of the metropolis escaped Ondoy. Good thing, internet connections and mobile phone services remained in working order in many places – which became the tools of the trade for people looking for and mobilizing help.

If Ondoy gave anything positive, it is in reviving the spirit of “bayanihan” or collective action of communities. No retelling of the country’s Ondoy experience would be complete without mentioning the lead role of online communities in documenting what happened across Metro Manila and nearby areas and in mobilizing help at a time when the Arroyo government and its disaster czar and presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro were absent. In fact, it was widely known that the national capital was already submerged in knee-deep or neck-deep flood waters by the time Teodoro reported for work on that fateful day.

Netizens used their camera phones and digital cameras to show via YouTube, Facebook and blogs what has happened and the gravity of the problem. They were among the first ones to make a concerted effort to use modern technology to gather credible and confirmed information on persons who needed relief aid or who badly needed rescue, listing and themselves offering their houses, stores or offices as drop-off points for donations, outscooping both the government and media in the life-and-death concern that is disaster relief and rescue.

Entire offices and schools became drop-off centers. Students and office workers went out of their way to volunteer to repack goods at media networks and huge instant warehouses. The relief aid must be repacked and transported quickly because people are waiting. The same sense of urgency unfortunately the Department of Social Welfare and Development did not posses that the online community went into an open revolt on news that there were tons upon tons of relief goods stockpiled in its warehouses amid the continuing humanitarian disaster in many parts of Luzon.

Bayanihan Online Relief Group was born amid the flurry of activity, an informal organization that may soon become a permanent one, with the noble intention of mobilizing the same amount of enthusiasm and hard-core sense of social responsibility when the next disaster strikes. The DSWD owes BORG and the public a bit of gratitude for saving its skin and for volunteering to speed up the repacking of its stockpiled goods. I am certain the international donors who sent aid through the DSWD appreciated the show of volunteerism and vigilance of the online community.

The flip side of this realization is that we can afford not to have *this* government. We can do it on our own or that we would be better off under a new dispensation with a president who actually leads the people in saving the nation and not excels in lying, stealing, cheating, killing and having P1-million worth of good food at Le Cirque.

No wonder the United Nations call for support fell short when it counted the pledges it received. Many of them preferred to deal directly with the disaster-struck people or organizations with time-tested experience in disaster relief and rehabilitation.

Days and weeks later, the citizens themselves again confronted more superstorms that unleashed a fury of rain and wind across Northern and Central Philippines. The posts on Youtube, Facebook and blogs were not as quick and instant – internet and mobile services went down for days in  Baguio – but when they came, we mourned with the great people of the North when we discovered they were using bare hands to dig in the mud for their kin who were trapped in their houses.

As the year closes, Bicol region braces for what could be a big eruption of Mayon volcano. Nearly 50,000 people are now cramped in 27 evacuation centers, according to the Bicol Movement for Disaster Response. We just hope that if and when the majestic Mayon lets out its anger, that people’s lives be spared and that the nation would see the molten lava cascading down its slopes and the fire that comes out of its mouth as signals to once again activate our sense of bayanihan.

For a nation that sits on the Pacific ring of fire and the Pacific typhoon belt, we cannot afford to let out guard down. Eternal vigilance would be needed and as we have shown in our Ondoy experience, Filipinos can survive and triumph over adversity, even when the government is inefficient or callous to begin with.