Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bigger Storms

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was storming last Sunday. After learning that MV Princess of the Stars had sunk while sailing through storm-tossed waters, she called from San Francisco, demanding to know from the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and the Philippine Coast Guard, “Why did you allow it to sail and why was there no ample warning?” She specifically berated Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo, Coast Guard chief: “When did you issue the warning to all vessels (not to sail)?” She said “when” at least six times, as Tamayo tried to explain. The tongue-lashing was broadcast live on national radio.
There is no truth to the rumor that the NDCC replied when asked why it allowed the ship to sail, “We thought you were aboard, Ma’am.”
To be sure the NDCC and the Coast Guard deserved the public chastising. The only thing that left a bad taste in the mouth was the person doing it with the nation as captive audience. You may not demand responsibility when you yourself display staggering levels of irresponsibility. I don’t know if this country still remembers, but the last time I heard Arroyo repeating a word on the phone was when she called up a fellow named “Garci.” The word was not “when,” it was “hello.”
Juan de la Cruz may very well berate her in public in exactly the same terms. The ship of state is floundering, if it has not slammed into a rock and bellied up yet. It has been set a-sail despite the more ferocious storm of public opinion that says the captain steering the ship never got her diploma from the School of Elections and amid the howling winds of public fury expressed in rallies, marches and protests against a ruler who has broken records in lack of acceptance by the ruled. “Why did you sail the ship of state into a churning sea, and why did you refuse to turn back despite ample, angry and strident warnings from the Citizens’ Catastrophe Prevention Center?” “When will you stop plunging the ship of state to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean?” “When will you resign?
Epic as the tragedy of the sinking of Princess of the Stars is, there are in fact other, more alarming concerns that Typhoon “Frank” has brought to light. Concerns that have escaped public attention from the focus drawn on the sea mishap. The first of that concern is the storm itself.
Lest we forget, Frank didn’t just sink Princess of the Stars, it also sank the provinces of Iloilo and Aklan and Metro Manila, and left more than 200 people dead in its wake. I’ve been saying all this time that we are not just facing two crises today of mind-boggling severity and indefiniteness, which are the food and oil crises, we are facing a third, which is natural disasters of even more mind-boggling severity and indefiniteness. Which comes from the environmental crisis, also called global warming, environmental degradation, climate change. It’s happening everywhere as we speak: in the hurricanes that have struck the United States, in the earthquakes that have razed parts of Burma and China, in the superstorms that have devastated Infanta town and Albay province. I do not know which is more frightening, the death toll from those disasters or our factoring of it to a point where we now find a hundred people dead “normal.”
Cold comfort as it is, and at the risk of insulting the kin of the dead from Typhoon Frank, we can at least thank heaven its toll was not as bad as China’s or Burma’s from the earthquakes. I’ve been warning about this for some time: the terrifying prospect not just of the combined effects of the rice crisis and the fuel crisis unraveling over the next few months or years, but of these happening alongside the effects of environmental degradation. Almost overnight after Typhoon Frank struck, the prices of rice, meat and fish soared in all wet markets. As I write this, rice in some parts of the country was expected to reach P50 a kilo.
This is just the beginning. The weather is messed up and has gotten fickle, and life has become fragile in all parts of the world. You don’t know where the next major disaster will strike. Typhoon Frank has just hinted at the shape of things to come, a warning for those who imagine it is just part of normal cycle of storms to visit this country, like those who imagine the food and oil scarcities are just part of the normal boom-bust cycle of the economy. Things are going to get worse, unless we move strenuously to avert it. Unless we produce more food ourselves, change our lifestyle to save fuel or shift to alternatives, and do our share of saving the planet.
Which brings me to the other concern that Typhoon Frank has brought to light. That is the fourth, more immediate and worrisome, crisis we’re facing today, which is the crisis of government. We’re facing a worse situation today than the world did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, the limits were economic; today, the limits are physical. The planet is dying from carbon emissions, and fossil fuel is near to depletion. Only food is a renewable resource. These are the very times when, as I wrote about earlier this week, we need a government that is honest and truthful. These are the very times when we need a leader we can trust and rally behind. These are the very times when we need a Winston Churchill who can inspire people to shed blood, sweat and tears to face a war, or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt who can convince people they can expect a good deal from government as they face want.
That is what we have not got. All we have is someone we distrust and want to distance ourselves from. That conclusion is as inescapable as the fate bearing down on the people trapped in the womb, or tomb, of a sinking ship. Except that I don’t know why we should resign ourselves to this fate.
Arroyo was storming last weekend. Some storms are worse than others.

Source: By Conrado de Quiros, PDI

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