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November 22, 2013

Superpower Philippines Against Super Typhoon

For the last couple of weeks, the Philippines has been trending. The devastation left by Haiyan (Yolanda) triggered an explosion of criticism, speculation, and observation for and against our country. The horrific wreckage that Mother Nature left in our islands brought forth a veritable menu of issues that we can all feast on:

Why was the Philippines unprepared? Why did the people not evacuate?

Why is our government shamefully slow? Why is the logistics of the relief operations so frustrating? How many of our officials have used this catastrophe for their personal agenda?

How can we ever reciprocate the international aid that gave us manpower, equipment, medical needs, shelters, and rescue systems?

Why were the structures weak? Why did architecture fail?

The multi-textured observations from all kinds of people were both demoralizing and inspiring. There were enough stories to turn any neutral human being into an unhinged bipolar. One minute you hear a story of a beggar donating his alms, then a biased distribution of relief of an unjust politician in the next.

shutterstock_10061002Maybe we need a break. Maybe you and I could use a little fiction. So imagine: what if the Philippines was a superpower country?  How different could these events have turned out?

Tell you what, maybe our weather stations would have been better equipped and we never would’ve needed to rely on international websites to monitor our own climate. Maybe PAGASA would’ve been more credible when they classified Haiyan as a category 5 storm and more people would have reacted vigorously.

Maybe every town in the Philippines would have had refuge centers to keep people safe at a time like this—super structures that were specifically invested on, built robustly enough to serve as a fortress, and perfectly suited to withstand a water surge and winds with speeds of up to 300kph.

Maybe every Filipino would have been earning enough to build their families structures of concrete and stone. And perhaps our windows would have been made of toughened laminated safety glass at the very least. We would have had the option to choose durable materials and wouldn’t have had to simply settle with whatever is cheaper.

Maybe our islands would have been able to offer more options for livelihood and our people wouldn’t have had to be forced to become fishermen and live so close to the coastline. And perhaps they would have been able to earn enough to hire architects and engineers to build their families decent homes in their lifetime.

Maybe the whole country would have been under a centralized system and our identities better kept track of—that with one scan we can easily identify those who survived and those who didn’t. And the rest of the world, those who are anxiously waiting to learn of the fate of their loved ones, need not be tortured for so long.

Maybe we would have had the means to deploy manpower, equipment, and our own back-up generators to give electricity back to an entire island. We would have had at least thirty cargo planes, a fleet of helicopters, a number of ospreys, mobile hospitals, and shelter systems at our disposal. Heck, maybe we would have had our own aircraft carrier too.

Maybe there would have been enough housing projects to accommodate those who were displaced and each family can be granted adequate monetary aid to jumpstart their lives, just like the Japanese who were able to build 50,000 shelters following their 2011 Tsunami.

With no less than 20 storms passing our way every year, maybe we too would be able to afford a $20-billion seawall like the one they are building in New York City following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Maybe we would also be able to re-build our homes LEED-certified like they did in New Orleans as a response to Hurricane Katrina. Since all of our islands are under threat, maybe we would have worked up to building mega-structures of reinforced physical barriers all over our coast too. And why not have our own storm floodgate like that from Netherlands?

Imagine what a superpower Philippines would be able to do. Maybe our infrastructure would eventually become a prototype for people all over the world to learn from. Why not? So far, we have been able to meet every bit and squat of almost all of the products of Mother Nature’s rage—earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruptions, and now, a storm surge. Somehow, we have managed to survive and thrive in this dangerous geographical spot for so long. With enough money to rebuild better, just imagine what the experienced experts of this land can do and what practical knowledge they can share to the world. We are a nation who need not simulate in order to understand; we have experienced long enough, repeatedly enough to know what works.

Maybe more people would have survived. Maybe we wouldn’t have to go through such grief and be filled with so much hate and despair.

But the glaring truth has been identified even before Haiyan crashed into our shores. The Philippines will forever be along the earthquake belt, the ring of fire, and the cyclone path. If only we can easily propel 7,107 islands all over the world to find a safer spot to settle on; but we can’t.

We are also not a rich country. We are still developing and have miles to go from here. A substantial number of families are still living below the poverty line. With the frequency of disasters along with what trivial remedy the country can afford, the resolutions are always provisional—that turns into permanent because the intended funds go elsewhere.

If only all of us had incomes commensurate to the hard work we do, maybe this country would be able to keep more people honest and law-abiding. So that maybe, just maybe, something as simple as the building code can be properly implemented and supervised.

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 6.11.09 AMBut the virus is there and has been slowly killing us from within. Those who are in power become even richer; while the true hard-worker subsists on less than a dollar and thus is left without a choice in the danger path. This is where you realize that there is a bigger pattern, a greater battle that Haiyan has exposed for the world to see: that while we Filipinos are resilient, strong, and resourceful; we will continue to stand no chance against Mother Nature’s wrath if our government fails to correct its ills and truly start serving the country.

Yes, the strongest typhoon in history, the earthquake, and any other form of natural disasters are all honorable challenges that we will overcome. But the nepotism, the exploitation of the poor by the powerful, the graft that allows for billions of taxes to go to waste, the corruption that is without qualms, and the multi-woven “poli-tricks” of thieves masquerading as public servants are the real calamities that the country has to be guarded against.

It is not the disasters of nature that cripple our nation. It has and has always been the disaster of human greed that slaughters our people. That’s the reality. That’s our true story.

I have been privileged to live in first world nations. There, I have seen four fire trucks respond to only a “suspicion” of fire. I have personally seen them fix roads no matter how remote. It is remembering times like these when I would wish that my taxes were spent this way and not just on some greedy person’s fourth mansion. I would wish that we didn’t have to live through other countries’ mercy and be reported as almost incompetent by foreign media at times of emergency.

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Photo credit: FamArch

The silver lining is that the ending to our story is yet to be revealed. Whether we choose to keep it a tragedy or not is up to us to decide. There’s a very small window of time until another storm comes along. We no longer have the luxury to accept superficial governance. We need a system that works and we need it now.

So that, maybe, ‘Superpower Philippines’ will no longer be just a fantasy. Let the “CLEAN UP” begin.

Photo credit: FamArch

 Photo used under the Fair Use Exemption of the IP Code.

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