Tropical cyclones 1945 2006 wikicolorseem like opposites but aren’t. There has been a vibrant discussion on social media since yesterday on resilience as a Filipino attribute. A 2013 article by Ninotchka Rosca (link) says:  “To say that Filipinos are resilient is an assurance for those who have imposed upon them – much and repeatedly. It is to say to themselves that we shake off tragedy much like ducks shaking off water.” Miyako Izabel twitters (link) “I’m sorry, there’s nothing wrong with Filipino resilience. Why are you attacking it? Filipino psychology is observable. You can see how Filipinos use tawa to conceal hiya and ngiti to hide takot. It’s our coping mechanism. We process hopelessness and helplessness differently”. Tawa or laughing to conceal shame, and smiling or ngiti to hide fear – I don’t think this is Filipino-specific. Many Asians conceal embarrassment with laughter. Smiling to hide FEAR sounds like a response towards those that one must not anger. In 2014, Shakira Sison wrote (link) that “The problem with our resilience is the speed by which we transform trauma into acceptance. Instead of solving problems, we simply cope or wait for the problem to pass.”

Anong magagawa natin?

Miyako Izabel does add this to the discussion later: The self-projected resilience of Filipinos is a coping mechanism embedded in their consciousness or psyche. The politicians’ dismissive nonchalance–“nevermind Filipinos; they’re resilient to hardship, hunger, poverty, persecutions, killings, calamities”–is an oppressive insult. Just like another netizen tweets (link): “We’re only resilient because we have no fucking choice.” or Inday Espina-Varona who tweets (link): “Walang masama sa resiliency. Helped us survive centuries of disasters (and colonisers and abusive leaders). The important point is, not to rely on it as solution to problems. Resilience is no substitute for accountability and reform.” Anong magagawa natin becomes may magagawa tayo. Indeed the improvisation by private parties and LGUs, as well as the higher degree of preparation by LGUs such as Marikina and Cainta, turned out to be a highlight of yesterday and today. Kudos. The Filipino is not as helpless and hopeless as it seems, after all. The President was hardly missed. Resiliency in the sense of excusing lack of preparation was not at all evident in those doing things.

The bayanihan spirit of spontaneous helping one another (Ateneo, CBCP and a number of other groups launched drives to collect relief goods) plus the contemporary spirit of for example having highly modern evacuation centers in Marikina (link) combined to deal with a perennial scourge. There were some of the netizens who did remember that overbuilding – even over canals and streams as well as natural flooding areas – and garbage clogging drains were part of the causes. Certainly there is more than can be done here, especially to avoid Manila Bay spitting back. Possibly the key is “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”. Another of course is to start with what is necessary, then do what is possible – another basic principle in setting priorities. That easy?

Barangays and polders

Far-flung barangays, especially 500 years ago when the Philippines had only 600 thousand people, relied on their own resiliency to survive. Probably even 120 years ago, with not even 10 million Filipinos, it was similar. One still had to take a steamship to get to storm-ridden Bikol or Samar. The strength of storms hadn’t increased yet due to global warming though, and it could be that people still followed some old native wisdom not to build in certain places. Anywhere one goes in the world, the poorest parts of cities were usually those near the river – even Au in Munich, which in southern German means a low lying meadow near the river. Even scientifically minded people should not look down upon, or underestimate folk wisdom. Tribes on the Andamans and Nicobars survived the 2005 tsunami by moving to higher ground (link). There are stories of Bikol people having similar strategies with storms. For all we know, native healers noticed patterns in clouds and wind before storms came and were the ones who warned the chiefs to keep the village safe. Practical adaptations like houses on stilts were part of a culture which was both ready and resilient.

Need is the driver of invention. A Filipino visitor to Europe recently noted that many trash cans here have no lids and windows have no screens (link) – leading to a lot of flies in the recent heat wave over here. On the other hand, houses here have tilted roofs – to keep snow from piling up. Romans described what later became the Netherlands as a country that was neither land nor sea. Yet the Dutch made the most out of it. Waterschapen or water boards were among their first democratic institutions to take care of water in every respect (link): “Punishments meted out by water boards were fines for misdemeanors such as emptying waste in the nearest canal; however, according to various historical documents, the death penalty was used more than once for serious offenders who threatened dike safety or water quality.” The collective effort of making one’s own land – very literally – can be compared with what it took to build the Banaue rice terraces, or the Inca irrigation systems in the Andes. The Afsluitdijk (link) crowns centuries of work, and fulfills the motto of its chief engineer Cornelius Lely, that “a people that lives builds for its future”.

Up and Down the Country

American officials in the early 20th century described the Tagalogs as one people. There is some sense in that as they spoke the same language with several dialects (like the marked Batangas dialect) already then. Tondo as the settlement at the mouth of the Pasig river in the large natural harbor of Manila Bay existed for centuries, even before Malays established what became Maynila or later Intramuros. Certainly the economic links with the fish-rich Laguna de Bay already formed a country in the sense of people who constantly interact with one another. Probably Spanish times helped spread Tagalog upwards all the way to Nueva Ecija. Certainly if an archipelago is not yet fully united in an abstract sense, ecological and economic areas are practical ways of dealing with common interests and resources. The Pharaohs of Upper and Lower Egypt certainly had an important role in resolving how water was distributed between the fertile delta and the upriver communities. At the very least, leaders should try to work for the collective prosperity of a common area  – unity often arises out of that. For that, leaders need a sense of the whole and the future.

Going up and down the Isar river near Munich, one senses how an entire river was tamed for those who live along its banks. From the Sylvenstein reservoir upstream, whose water is sometimes let out preemptively before heavy rains – in order to be able to keep those from affecting Munich with its 1.4 million people. Canals along the Isar help regulate the river before, in and after Munich, but also have a history as passageways for timber chopped down in the mountains – an old industry. Likewise many small hydroelectric plants – still in use – interrupt these canals, including locks. Munich’s central heating plant takes up water from the river before the city, heats it up and puts int back into the canals after it has heated large parts of the town. The canals and creeks within Munich are laid dry in early spring, before the water in the mountains melts, to clean them. There is a large artificial lake north of Munich to help regulate water flow, additionally clean the water coming from the city – even if Munich has a huge sewage treatment plant which cleans the dirty water from the city before it goes into the river, in a process involving algae and bacteria.

The Babaylan of Christmas Present

Rizal in his novels describes the Pasig River and the Laguna Lake including Talim Island very well. One feels that he knew his terrain, his countryside. Do Filipinos still know their terrain that well? One cannot immediately get to the level of Munich, which is like cleaning a toilet with a toothbrush. But it isn’t impossible to clean up things. Iloilo managed to clean up its river. Could be, or course, that many inhabitants of Manila don’t truly see it as their home. Many people who just came there. Short-sighted, narrow self-interest and greed have not helped. Nor has petty politicking helped.  Previous admins always had their mistakes. But the population density – and the newfound affluence – of today makes strategies that worked for barangays even 120 years ago unrealistic. According to a Bloomberg news report (link), 54 thousand were now evacuated in Metro Manila.

Looking at the cars that landed in the Marikina river hurts. Owning more means more to protect. Filipinos who work in international firms will know the value of the time lost due to those floods. That is a far cry from the sense of time we had in the Philippines of the 1970s, when hours went by. Resilience is good. Readiness is better. Foresight is needed. System thinking. Who will be up to it? DOST Project NOAH, very useful in predicting flood levels, was defunded by the present admin (link) and had to retreat to being a mere UP research project, bereft of its national sensor network.

One may be tempted to dismiss the fake Manila Bay clean-up drive of Manila Mayor Erap Estrada as the foolishness of an old clown. But unfortunately it isn’t that simple. Mila Aguilar, who has experienced decades of Philippine history closely, describes the present situation like this (link):

..Failure to maintain that flood control system in the past two years has been the result of:

1. Focus on divisive politics instead of good government.

2. Extreme focus on a fake drug war that kills instead of rehabilitating the poor, whether they be real addicts or not.

3. Return of gross corruption and 60 percent commissions on road projects, resulting in sloppy work that fills up culverts instead of emptying or building them, and a flurry to start them even in the midst of the rainy season.

4. Utter failure of local governments to clean up culverts and creeks of garbage, the money probably not being there.

5. Widespread demoralization among the urban poor, who because they are the primary targets of killings, price increases and insults on their persons, will naturally not cooperate in cleaning up their surroundings.

The garbage that floats out of culverts and creeks all over the National Capital Region is but a symptom of the vomit that the nation feels in its gut over the present greed..

Babaylans of old may have felt disaster coming in the wind and clouds. Raja Duterte has no seers. Yet this is visible for all to see: a hanging bridge in Rizal demolished by a flashflood. Serious masses of water coming down the river. Anyone who knows rivers knows the sheer power water can have.

Flashflood destroyed the Hanging Bridge connecting Sitio Wawa and Sitio Sto. Nino. Large part of Sitio Wawa is inaccessible by vehicles and people need to find alternative routes by foot to reach their homes. The Barangay San Rafael staffs are already assisting and on the move to help those who are affected.These footages were captured to help the LGU assess the situation and see the extent of the damages caused by the flash flood.Stay safe everyone and lets pray for the rain to stop.

Gepostet von Edzon Sison am Samstag, 11. August 2018

The Babaylan of Christmas Future

Famous author Ninotchka Rosca would probably have been a babaylan in the old Philippines. Her common sense about both the past and the present give her a good sense of what might happen. She says this on Facebook, and it sounds almost like a scary vision of the future to come (link):

Shortly after super-typhoon Hai-yan (Yolanda) hit the Philippines, I wrote a piece for Yahoo on how the word “resilient” was actually an insult; that to apply it to what Filipinos were undergoing was to minimize the disaster which had claimed lives, wiped out towns, villages and at least one city, driving them to starvation and helplessness and the prostitution even of children… And dang, hundreds of Filipinos took umbrage. So dearies, because you are resilient, nobody’s fixing your canals, your waterways; nobody’s stopping construction and over-development; nobody’s fixing your garbage disposal system; and the mega shopping malls are building over what should’ve been rivers flowing to the sea, the mouth of the sea itself is being stoppered through land reclamation… Because being resilient means you can survive the worst and the worst will hence be your condition of existence. .

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.” is Scrooge’s reaction to the future in “A Christmas Carol”. Would a Filipino just laugh?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 12 August 2018