SAN FRANCISCO – Now I can empathize with Filipinos overseas and how they feel every time there is really bad news from home. News about a super typhoon that could pass right through Manila can really put you on pins and needles. The fact that weather watch agencies from two or three countries can’t agree on the typhoon’s projected path added to the worries and suspense.
The typhoon is still within the Philippine area of responsibility as this column is being written, but it is no longer the big scary behemoth of a weather disturbance it once was. It also helps a lot that we are in the social media age so that monitoring developments from across the Pacific Ocean is easy and in real time. Indeed, even the abs-cbnnews.com website, which is a pain to access when I am in Manila, pops up almost instantaneously here.
The really good news is that the number of casualties is nothing of the horrific scale of Yolanda. In the province of Albay, Gov. Joey Salceda’s initial report is zero deaths, remarkable given that the heavy rains of Typhoon Ruby triggered mud flow from the slopes of Mayon Volcano. Even Tacloban seems to have weathered this typhoon pretty well.
We are thankfully learning from past mistakes. I guess the bureaucracy took to heart P-Noy’s warning that no excuse will be acceptable this time. (P-Noy should try that approach with DOTC!) The weather bureau performed pretty good too. Indeed, its early projection of the typhoon’s path turned out to be the most accurate. Congratulations are in order for the PAGASA team led by Science Secretary Mario Montejo.
Sec. Montejo is the most quiet and low key of Cabinet members, but has proven to be most hard working in a portfolio that traditionally has been regarded as an afterthought. He worked with IBM Philippines to secure the donation of a super computer which is now being used in weather forecasting, mapping of danger zones, as well as in scientific research particularly in agriculture.
I have seen a demonstration of how the computer is used to project danger areas for flooding, sea surges and landslides. I am not sure if Sec. Montejo is even a PhD as past Science Secretaries were but he has shown how to make science useful to our everyday needs.
I don’t care what some atheists say about the power of prayer, but in this case it surely worked. The faith of millions of Filipinos at home and abroad praying had been powerful enough to cause the typhoon to start dissipating and weakening after it hit land. Earlier forecasts warned of Ruby keeping her strength as it hits the metro area.
It sure had been a scary few days and we can heave a sigh of relief that the worse seems to be over. Now we can return to our interrupted Christmas parties.
The most welcome surprise is seeing government being able to almost smoothly carry out its functions, unlike during Yolanda when there was too much finger pointing and officials running around clueless or like headless chickens. Never mind that Mar Roxas fell from his motorbike and without a helmet at that for which MMDA normally issues a traffic violation ticket. But even Mar proved he can run a good operation too if he sees he has no room for indecision as the typhoon approached.
Now let us see how the clean up and rehab efforts are handled. Hopefully, none of the political bickering that marked post Yolanda will happen again. We have Pope Francis coming in about a month and the country’s honor and reputation will be at stake as the army of reporters covering him will no doubt report on the conditions they see in the Yolanda and Ruby affected areas.
So I guess many people will have the briefest of Christmas breaks as there will be just too many things that needs to be in place for the Pope’s visit.
Poisoning our lungs
Hubert Guevara, was one of the many readers of this column who wrote to strongly agree that government must do a whole lot more by way of cleaning the air we all breathe. Here is his e-mail.
I read your column in The Philippine Star dated Dec. 5, 2014 entitled “Metro Manila is getting uninhabitable.” You mentioned that you were looking down Metro Manila from a hill in Antipolo, and you could not help but notice the gray soot enveloping the tall buildings in the Ortigas area.
Well, I have been looking down at Metro Manila since 2008 from our place in Antipolo, and I share your observation. In fact, as a photo hobbyist, I came up with a project in 2010 called “Metrowatch: What you do not see up close and personal.” I took wide angle pictures of the metro area from my home every Monday at 7 o’clock in the morning before leaving for work, and then I post it on my Facebook account.
Guess what? I shoot the same dark gray soot every Monday morning hugging the metro. I often wonder if the people in those buildings, condominiums and houses in Makati, Ortigas, Quezon City (at least from my vantage point) are aware of the toxicity level of the air they breathe.
Professor Anthony Hedley of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong said that “It’s (soot) a very toxic cocktail. The suspended particulates are so fine that they can penetrate to the very lowest region of our lungs, even cross into our blood circulation and damage our arteries as well as the air sacs.”
After three months, I stopped the Metrowatch project. There was no point taking photos of the same soot in the metro. It would seem from your observation and from the time I started my project four years ago, nothing has really changed. That dark gray mass of soot continues to hover over the metro every morning. It looks like one of those black electrical tapes placed over the metro that you just want to peel off. You have a tendency to hold your chest or cough just by looking at it. It is really that bad.
Anyway, your column may have been widely read by now, and probably moved some people. However, just like my photos, I am pretty sure your column will be archived and left as it is, just a column silently whispering in the dark “We are doomed.” I hope you can pardon me for being a cynic.
You may check my Facebook (“Metrowatch” album).