The slogan, “The Filipino spirit is waterproof” used to be descriptive.
When our nation was struck by Typhoon Ondoy and the succeeding tropical storms in recent years, the catchphrase caught attention in social media and was effectively used as a rallying cry for Filipinos to move forward from the devastation. It was accompanied by inspiring images. You can see photos online of Filipinos smiling while braving flood waters or people trying to enjoy themselves even in the apparent inconvenience of being stuck on their rooftops.
Roughly a decade has passed since we first encountered the slogan, when Metro Manila was hit by Ondoy in 2009 and until now, we see the saying resurface from time to time. But everytime Filipinos encounter the saying, a whole new layer of meaning is added to it. From a saying that has inspired action from citizens, it has become a material of contention.
Could it be that the resilience we laud is the exact same reason why we, as a nation, can’t move forward? Rightly so, resilient can also mean impenetrable, incorrigible, and callous. And the Filipino spirit could have been made numb by our very own short-sightedness and inattention.
Natural disasters in the country have turned thousands of Filipinos into spirits
Typhoons, floods, and other natural disasters are nothing new to Filipinos as we encounter about nine (9) tropical storms in a year according to PAGASA. This is aggravated year-by-year by climate change. The Philippines is the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms and this problem is made worse by the fact that we are also among the poorest countries.
Let’s get real. The lack of actual disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) programs causes not only economic loss, but actual loss of human lives, especially that of the poor.
Studies and statistics can never account for the grave suffering the Filipinos go through when we lose a loved-one due to natural disasters. Filipinos shed tears when a poor family gets buried in a landslide caused by illegal logging, when a shanty is swept away by flood waters, and when fellow Filipinos get displaced in times of natural disasters due to lack of mitigation measures.
Or so we think.
“The Filipino spirit is waterproof” fits rightly in the narrative, not of those who suffer the consequences first-hand, but of those who conveniently witness from a distance how their fellow Filipinos lose their lives because of natural disasters. The catchphrase is a condemnation that your spirit is part of the collateral damage caused by the inaction, not only of your government, but of your fellow Filipinos.
Now, the slogan becomes more selective and prescriptive. When you’re poor, you have no other choice, but to keep your spirit waterproof.
When the government can’t put money, where their mouth is, they put the Filipino’s resilient spirit instead
The Philippines is signatory to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and in his first SONA, President Duterte claimed that responding to climate change is a priority of his administration because of his advocacy of “championing climate justice for the poorest of the poor.” However, the policies of the national government do not coincide with these pronouncements.
As reported by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the Status of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (as of March 2018), from the total of P 19.6 billion, only 7.6 billion is earmarked for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Plan (NDRRMP). Most of the fund is earmarked for the Marawi Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program (MRRRP). This is measly compared to what used to be P 40 billion budget for National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
We would like to think that these budget cuts signal a change in perspective, that instead of focusing in disaster response, the government is shifting to disaster mitigation. The Climate Change Commission (CCC), the national government’s arm in policy creation and implementation when it comes to climate change, received an increase in budget from about P 60 million to about P 100 million this year. CCC has also released grants to select Local Government Units that amount to about P 200 million for resiliency-building projects.
But looking closely, there seems to be, if not lacking, no coherent and decisive plan on the part of the national government in terms of responding to climate change and consequently, in disaster risk reduction and management. While there is a budget increase for CCC, the government has shut down notable projects for DRRM such as the Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazard) under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for lack of funding.
While there are numerous planning documents here and there, the decision to slash budgets in government departments and agencies concerned with addressing climate change and responding to natural disaster seem arbitrary, aside from being political.
The need to shift our mindset: from Reactive to Preventive; from Legal to Moral
Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine DRRM Act of 2010 was enacted to 1) address the root causes of vulnerabilities to disasters; 2) strengthen the country’s institutional capacity for disaster risk reduction and management; and, 3) build resilience of local communities to disasters including climate change impacts as stated in its Declaration of Policy. The law also mandates the Local Government Units (LGUs) to take adequate and appropriate DRRM measures and to take it as top priority.
The response of the some local governments in Metro Manila during the recent monsoon rains only highlight that while we are not lacking with the necessary laws and local ordinances to push for DRRM programs, we lack the necessary mindset to go to the heart of the problem.
The LGU of Marikina has been an exemplar in terms of DRRM projects. They have the necessary early warning systems in place to alert people when the river is already about to reach dangerous levels. They have the equipment for rescue operations. They have prepared the provisions in their evacuation centers. Why? Because they have all experienced, rich and poor alike, how it is to be a victim to natural disasters.
This just tells us that more than anything, local governments should start with changing their constituents’ attitudes towards natural disasters.
Preparedness only crosses our minds when disasters are already about to strike. Natural disasters only concern us when we are right on its path. Naturally so, but we do not see how our daily actions contribute to the problem of climate change reflected by how most Filipinos still do not know how to throw and segregate their trash properly.
For climate change and natural disasters, the accountability goes more than being able to point fingers to whoever national or local government official. Our natural reaction of looking for someone to blame points out to a greater societal malady, that we are not able to look at ourselves and admit that we, too, are accountable.
The Filipino spirit is suffering
Any malady is first felt by the body. When it remains unaddressed, the sickness slowly creeps in to destroy the spirit.
This is not the first time that we recognize and call out the lack of strategic and lasting solutions to address climate change and disaster response. Numerous opinion pieces have been published about how the government, both national and local, should be alarmed by the fact that our country and its citizens are among the most vulnerable when it comes to climate change and natural disasters. Still, criticism is never enough to stir government leaders from their gross incompetence.
Any public policy is influenced by the clamor of the constituency. Any political leadership is driven by popular agenda. But why is it that despite the numerous lives taken and put in danger by climate change and natural disasters, the issue just keeps dying once the heavy rains stop and the skies clear up?
Because those who have the influence over public policy are those who are conveniently unaffected and that includes us. While there is no compelling reason for us to take action, just like the government leaders we point our fingers at, we continue the narrative of indifference. Until we come up with something more than a catchy slogan to appease our aching spirit, we can say that deep inside the waterproof Filipino spirit is one that’s crying for help.