|52. Coming from the mountains to the flood plains, after the storm|
|Wednesday, 21 December 2011|
As the rains roared on the yero (galvanized iron) roof and found new holes to pour through, the children just shifted and lifted higher their singing. We were praying for relief from the encantos (mountain spirits) disturbing some of the children at night. Living in the mountains, the rain comes heavy and long.
But with these rains brought by typhoon Sendong (Washi), we knew much would be washed out before we saw it in the morning, though living on an old log deck here in Sitio Bendum in the uplands of Bukidnon, we know we were secure.
Our hillsides and small fields were fine, streams overflowed and old tree trunks were flushed up on the banks. Further down (always by the rivers), the road caved in, leaving only a motorbike track. The Namnam River went from half meter to over four meters given the vegetation caught in the hanging bridge. We don't live along the riverbank where the trees were clearly scoured out.
As I passed the maize lands freshly planted or ready for harvest, there were many slips like melted caramel. These shallow slippages (the deeper soils long eroded) were a repeat of over a hundred in the broader Silae area that occurred last year in the storm. These were leakages of old, betraying a degrading landscape of round-up-ready subsistence farming - another problem, another time.
On the highway from Malaybalay City to Puerto (under repair with its own delays), occasional trees had fallen by the roadside and streams were rushing, heavily laden with sediments. From Puerto to Cagayan de Oro, the impact of the storm was glimpsed at every estuary. Riverbanks were swept clean as industrial compound walls crumbled. The full horror was spread wide, plastered with mud and emerging rows of wood, roofing jumbles of metal frames, furniture, wires, sludge, and cloths being eased to the side. The ooze of mud was overpowering. People waded through it, hauling unusable materials for collection. Houses were buried, partially submerged, or just lined with mud. Mainly work, some patches of sorrow...
Sorrow, pain, loss; why do the poor always carry so heavily the cross? In these times, it is no longer a question. It's a knowing; our condition as mortals and our incapacity to meet as a people our needs before the greed of others - just another human limitation. But what of the stupidity of another mile-long walk, the beautification of incompetence, the superficiality in denial of stark need? Further along, the jumble of government cars in the extended area of the flood bank is a stark view. The new bridge with a new hotel just adds to the displacement of holding water and directly deflected and restricted the flow at that point.
Some of the prayers offered in Church are maddening. They are prayers that reflect only the acceptance and cry to God, while ignoring the graces we have, the intelligence, and need to act. We do not take responsibility to really implement the engineering, the land zoning, the infrastructure planning, the sustainable relocation of people. We don't flex enough our capacity for the common good, in screaming for justice that is within our social and democratic ambit, yet is out of arms' reach.
Frustration on my part is massive. While doing theology, I read the disaster in Ormoc in 1991 and sent staff to review it at that time. Initial photos were taken. A later visit showed that it was more than evident that this was not a freak incident, and the standard was set. Very few seemed to have listened in the last 20 years, as all the blame was heaped on logging, which is a problem by itself, but was not necessarily the only factor. Who takes accountability for the ineptitude? Where can people turn to for hope?
As one Jesuit at the airport said, what do we do beyond relief? Can we adopt one area and help people rebuild, as government is not expected to get its act together and seriously assist in relocation with sustainability and not just eviction without work opportunities? Do we change land ownership, then what do we do? Can we help people allow the flood plains to function, to build some bridges out, build all structures with two floors? It won't be enough and it won't prevent the next disaster, but it is more an adaptation so we are not so totally helpless.
How many years more will we continue to respond this way, how many lives more will be lost before we move towards a safer society? When will we ever learn?