Stars to the rescue

DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda () - October 16, 2009 - 12:00am

Kris Aquino is the ultimate fundraiser. A day after Ondoy struck, she was on television asking friends, strangers and the public for donations. And the response was awesome. People helped people. What we saw in ABS-CBN’s Sagip Kapamilya was a magnificent display of kindness and generosity. The entertainment industry played a most challenging and fulfilling role in the relief operations.

Gerald Anderson was checking on his neighbors and was seen swimming in the muddy waters with his brother. His neighbors Cesar Montano and Bayani Agbayani also helped people around the area. Although Claudine Barretto and Raymart Santiago’s house was hard hit by the floods, they still took time out to help the victims. Jericho Rosales who came to the rescue of Claudine and Raymart was caught on video with his surfboard helping a grandma, a boy and a dog. Raymart and Echo teamed up to rescue kapitbahay. Claudine said Raymart was in the waters from 12 noon until 10 p.m. Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo were the first to arrive when Gladys Reyes asked for help. Gladys and her kids were trapped inside their house. Arnel Pineda donated $25,000 while Angel Locsin donated P600,000. KC Concepcion was all over distributing relief goods to the worst-hit areas. Everyone has a story to tell about his experience with Typhoon Ondoy. And each one is trying to come up with feasible solutions to prevent another catastrophic flooding.

Last Wednesday, the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) and the Ateneo School of Government conducted a forum titled Rising from the Depths: Living and Planning with Nature. The forum discussed the causes of flooding in the light of Typhoon Ondoy, geohazards in general, Metro Manila’s flood control plan, government action and community involvement. More importantly, the forum provided a venue for the panelists and participants to discuss possible actions addressing flooding and the web of national and local issues involved. The event was well-attended by a lively mix of environmental planners and allied professionals (i.e. architects, engineers, sociologists), students and representatives from the media and academe.

Environmental Planner (EnP) Nathaniel von Einsiedel explained how the flooding occurred and the conditions that triggered the event. He illustrated Metro Manila’s vulnerability by showing a flood hazard map that quite alarmingly puts almost half of Metro Manila at risk.

But beyond the fear are some solutions. Among them is the development of long-term sustainable plans that include the entire Metro Manila and its neighboring areas. Renowned environmentalist Lilia Casanova presented a “Metro Manila 50-year Sustainable Integrated Urban Environment Management Strategy” involving policy, disaster reduction, energy efficiency as a climate change response, security and capacity development.

EnP Anna Maria Gonzales challenged developers and the government to “plan with nature” rather than against it. EnP Ernesto Serote noted the importance of identifying suitable development sites in the context of ecological limits like geohazards and disaster-prone areas.

Lawyer Eunice Cruz spoke on behalf of Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines, which has been pushing for the enactment of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Bill for more than 10 years. The DRRM bill stresses, among other salient features, education, remedial measures like price control, and penalties.

According to EnP Liza Marie Elum, president of PIEP, the half-day forum was only a first in a series of workshops aimed at developing sustainable solutions to the problems left behind by the typhoon.

While this healthy exchange of ideas was in full force, Richard Gutierrez sat in one corner of the room, intently listening and taking down notes on the back of used paper. He was simply part of the audience, wanting to be enlightened like the rest.

The power of celebrity is no longer confined to raking in box-office hits and top rating TV shows. The stories of heroism and bravery of our next-door artistas, the selflessness and compassion they show as they go to communities, constant images of them doing their own bit of work — these strike us mainly because they present a more humane dimension to their celebrity personas.

Ondoy — and now Pepeng — tell us that tragedy and hope are shared experiences, regardless of age, religion, popularity or station in life. Those who have not yet stood up for their countrymen can take their cue from these stars, born with the capacity for kindness and compassion. If they can hand out relief goods for hours without rest, wade in floodwaters to attempt rescue, or sit tight in serious discussion about real, lasting solutions, who are we to say we can’t?

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