Tuesday, 14 August 2012

FOCUS: images of August


THE DEVASTATION brought by Typhoon Gener to Manila and nearby provinces in the Philippines bears a striking similarity to the destruction dealt by Typhoon Ondoy (shown here) back in 2009. -  Photo by US Navy, Wikimedia Commons
The Recent Floods   
(August 6-9, 2012)

AMONG the recent calamities the country has experienced, none can be more frightening as a harbinger of more disastrous events to come than the recent floods. 

The southwest monsoon, coming as it did at the tail end of Typhoon Gener,  dumped  472mm of  rainfall in Metro Manila and adjoining environs, more than what  Typhoon Ondoy dumped in September of 2009. 

More than 80% of Metro Manila sank. Although it is of small comfort to know that less lives were lost this year (as of latest count - 85) compared to those lost in Ondoy (more than 400), the economic loss from destroyed  properties and lost productivity exceeded those wrought by Ondoy. 

For more than a week, classes were suspended and businesses were shut down, the metropolis was silenced as it stood still. 

The deadly floods were   not just  natural climatic events, but were  the effects of human activities experts say: watersheds have been logged over to make way for housing  projects,  thus more water coming down to the low lands; drainage systems have been  neglected , with squatter colonies impinging the flow of water out to the bay,  the flow slowed /impeded  further by the huge amount of  their garbage.

After Ondoy, local officials promised to rid riverbanks of squatters, but as of recent estimation, the numbers have grown, instead of decreased. Blame it on  officials who need these squatters as voters in the coming elections.  

Sad to say, all these mishaps mostly claim the lives of the poor, who have little options in their lives. 

So, it is galling to hear officials always blaming them for their misfortune - pinagbawalan nang bumalik, bumabalik pa rin; sinabi nang iwan ang bahay pag tumataas ang tubig, ayaw pa ring umalis.

To these blames, the poor would always say: Sir, e malapit sa iskuwela eh, at may kabuhayan kami doon, and to the second blame , pag umalis kami, baka pagbalik namin, may iba nang bahay nakatirik! 

Thus, while I do not condone squatting at all, for sure squatting has its social roots that can and should  be addressed seriously - and thoroughly. The reasons given by the poor is incomprehensible to the non-poor, but makes perfect sense to the poor. 

Perhaps, if we turn the tables, and put government officials on the hot seat, we would also get incomprehensible answers: eh matagal nang may pondo sa housing eh, saan napunta? 

Nagamit ho muna ni Mayor sa iba eh;  bakit kayo magrerelocate dun sa disyerto na walang pagkakakitaan? Eh,  yung malapit-lapit ho na lugar eh ipagbibili daw ho dun sa magtatayo ng mall, mas malaki kikitain ng munisipyo
Squatters come mostly from cash-poor  communities in many provinces. 

There is little  economic activity there except farming which does not pay for school and good only to tide one over for a few months, the rest of the year gutom.

In the city, if one is resourceful, there is cash to be had: be a barker at the numerous jeepney stands, clean shoes, carry employees on one’s back during floods, sell umbrellas at jeepney/bus stops during a rain. 

The next day, bunso has baon for school. Last reported, the government is mulling a P13 billion flood control plan. 

Well, let us not forget the matuwid na daan and countryside economic development! 

They are the sine qua non of an effective flood control plan. We forget those and all of the metropolis would sink every time we have an angry typhoon and an  overly wet and wild monsoon! 

Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right).

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
(August 6 and  9, 1945)

HERE is another circumstance when the common man is sacrificed, in the altar of hubris and human arrogance. Because they could not get rid of an imperialistic emperor, they got the unsuspecting everyman. 

A scientific discovery (nuclear power) intended to improve the lives of men and women (as source of energy), was used instead to decimate and incinerate human lives (very similar to the gas chambers used by Hitler). 

The folly of an emperor being paid by blind, docile followers. A nuclear bomb survivor described what he saw as a young person during the attack: "[There were] people whose eyeballs had popped out their sockets. There were those who held their babies – burnt black; they themselves had no skin. 

There were those whose intestines had come out of their bodies, and confused they struggled to put them back in." 

The imperialism of Japan, resulted in many  lost lives of  soldiers and local people in the countries they occupied;  Japan also lost hundreds and thousands of innocent Japanese people in the nuclear bomb attacks; the imperialism of America took in many lives of Filipinos in the Fil-Am war;  the genocidal   Hitler committed unimaginable evil on the hapless Jews; and now , we shudder at the consequences of an emerging imperial China.   

Even with a no nuke treaty (non-proliferation) treaty, a number of countries rich and poor have developed nuclear arms- Pakistan, India, China, the US, Russia, North Korea! 

Might will never be right? No, it seems Have Nukes Will Travel. The history of humankind writ large in blood - in the blood of the helpless common tao, used as fodder by a crazy few. 

Artist concept of Curiosity land rover after landing on Mars.
Exploring  Mars
(August 9, 2012)

CURIOSITY, the Land Rover sent to Mars by the Untied States, landed on Martian soil on Sunday, August 5 before dawn (US time). 

Landing this one-ton machine slowly and safely on the surface of Mars, without crashing and damaging its the delicate instruments was indeed a marvellous  feat of engineering (they used a parachute and a crane!). 

There was much rejoicing at NASA, and the accompanying press releases “glorified” and even “Hollywoodized” the project’s movers and shakers: that nerdy guy with the Mohawk hair and the American-Chinese data controller who first said the words Curiosity has landed -- are cute. 

Maybe they needed all that kind of attention to save NASA from budget cuts and from scrutiny of their relevance. 

Though a great feat of human intellect, project Curiosity, and for that matter, all projects trying to land man on other extraterrestrial soil, though attended with much hoopla and hype, do not have an iota of human relevance. 

What did it benefit humankind/America when they put man on the moon? Aside from winning the race of kayabangan/power play with Russia (then), and enshrining  the words: “The Eagle has landed”, did it increase the chances of humankind's survival in the planet? 

If Curiosity finds evidence of some form of life in the past or in the present, they say there is chance that Mars can be a habitable place for men. 

Oh? Perhaps we can send all the poor of the earth there, and leave planet earth for the rich and powerful to enjoy. 

Or put all the big-time criminals, bigots, zealots, power-hungry tyrants, and other low-lifers there – Mars as a high-tech Alcatraz! 

The exploration of the space would then have served a purpose for humankind.

A typical scene at a medical mission ... the whole exercise is just palliative but the poor truly appreciate it.

The Human Spirit 

LAST SUNDAY, April 12, we conducted a medical mission to a community affected by the recent floods. 

The waters have receded, and the community members were busy picking up the pieces of their lives, when we came: clothes have to be washed and hung to dry; floors need to be scrubbed and rid of the grime and garbage brought in by the flood;  children have to be bathed, fed, readied for the opening of classes. 

For some, the work  waiting is much more difficult: burying the dead, grieving for the loss- as grief had to be postponed to be able to save the living. 

Others lost everything - their fragile houses swept away, so where to find shelter after moving out of the evacuation center? where to find food for tomorrow after the relief goods have been consumed?  

Our small group tried to give comfort to these who have undergone this misfortune and are still undergoing, one too many hardships because of their station in life. 

We gave out palliative things - medicine for a cough, dressing on a wound, a kilo of rice for the hungry stomach. 

But my brain kept telling me: your efforts  will not change anything; you have done this a hundred times before; you should give up these expensive activities - let the government do these things! 
But my musings were interrupted by a guy who told me: Doktora, ready na ho yung mga tao, tayo na po. 

Ok, I said, and proceeded to start my medical duties. Each patient I examined had a ready smile for me, but the tales they told were sad. 

But nary a tear, nor clenched fists towards heaven for their misfortune. May awa ang Diyos was the expression which I heard from the people over and over again.  

One group of young men huddled in a corner was singing. One group of mothers breastfeeding their babies were making tsismis, and  giggles and boisterous laughter would occasionally punctuate their endless chatter.  

All around, no sign of despondence, of gloominess. Only hope, resilience, forebearance, a waiting for the sun  to appear behind the clouds.  

Explore the outer space?  Nah. I say explore the indomitable human spirit, the space within.

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