Another afterthought in the aftermath
HOT FUSS SUNDAE - Paolo Lorenzana () - October 10, 2009 - 12:00am

After the week of sweating for the blood and tears of others had come to pass, the questions of “What are we packing?” and “What else is needed?” eventually funneled into one: “What happens now?”

Many had consulted the Standard Model of Pinoy Behavior and predicted that after the ominous gray skies had cleared, the lumps in everyone’s throats would disappear, rendering the week Manila dropped everything for its soaked survivors simply a vacation of charitable vocation. That your friendly neighborhood relief center became a holistic getaway where you could tone your muscles from its Power Packing sessions, detoxify your soul of its materialism, and down an organic shot of humaneness. Ahh, now that felt good, those who’d given relief must have said, sighing with relief as their lives commenced on Monday morning.

Of course, you had to be a little foolish for sentimentalizing the temporary shift of social networking to social welfare: the torrent of posts for more donations, more manpower, more help in any way possible. “When was the last time you saw everybody, no matter their socioeconomic class, so unified?” one supervisor at a proudly non-political volunteer center had asked during this climactic call to charity. Composed wholly of concerned citizens, the scene, as in numerous other relief centers, was transcendent of diversity. Hipster student and public relations executive, beauty columnist and NGO vigilante, all inextricably bound by a combination of fear and hope; an ensemble cast representative of romanticized humanity, as in disaster flicks and the first season of Lost. Still, the answer to the question of when we’d last witnessed such cooperation under pressure was Edsa II and, well, we all know how history unfolded since then.   

It’s as if you’re deemed less Filipino, less subscribed to our national realities, if you aren’t a cynic. As if “developing country” becomes oxymoronic when we’re pertaining to this country in particular. The Pinoy in this regard has become incompatible with progress—a paradox similar to that of the tainted ol’ word “human”, which seemed to crop up frequently after September 26 with tones both bleak and buoyant.   

Calamity Change

Two days after Ondoy, a friend had observed how “this whole experience has made us more human.” Even a cabbie who’d agreed to shuttle me to a far-flung volunteer’s center when others had declined to was proof of this upsurge of compassion. And yes, in plight of the displaced last week, it might have been hard to fixate on the Machiavellian misadventures of Blair Waldorf or to scroll down your go-to cool hunting blog; the act of entering a Stores Specialist establishment, an absurd concept in itself. Sure enough, this friend of mine had undergone her own purgation of the unnecessary, having sold off a Louis Vuitton bag, which in turn brought a truckload of canned sardines to survivors. “But this is all good while it lasts,” she continued, negating her first statement with a sordid report on the people who looted, raped, killed, and sold shirts to victims for P30 a pop after Ondoy. “Let’s be realistic. We won’t change. There will always be the evil, the human.”

So what happens after the makeshift relief centers have packed up, the tarpaulins have been restored on billboards, and all those evacuees have been nourished by lovingly packed bricks of Lucky Me? Well, because we’re only human, more so, only Filipino (and God knows how amusedly resigned we are to whatever is “Only in the Philippines”), I guess we’re contractually obligated to forget this all ever happened, aren’t we? Just shrug and make sure we park our cars high enough so the floods don’t reach them next time.

Perhaps the bigger paradox here is the limitation we so expertly place before us after we’ve witnessed how easy it is to surpass it. Even after we’ve gleaned that, pushed to the brink, the Filipino voice is as strong as its action and that more than our characteristic patriot blame games — indeed, our expertise in repeatedly pointing the finger at the leaders who, we get it, are incapable of leading — is our capability to take matters into our own hands.

While a leader’s lies led us to organize during Edsa II, maybe the devastation of actual lives this time around is enough to affect the sort of change that doesn’t go bust. Maybe we won’t need the next five tropical cyclones to remind us, despite the anticipated amnesia, that it shouldn’t be about what we perceive of ourselves. Instead, what we can still do to change that.  

So, what happens now?

After the flood of post-Ondoy articles reporting on “the best of the Filipino in the worst of times”, we get Mons Romulo-Tantoco with a few people and ask, “Is there a chance for change?”

Carlos Celdran, relief center hopper/tour-de-force guide

It’s hard to look at this issue and ignore the context of its timing. It’s right before our presidential election. The issues Ondoy brought to the surface are definitely going to determine the campaign and what people want changed in the short-term — say, May, 2010. Climate change, local government autonomy, the environment, health, and population management will definitely be on everyone’s mind ‘til then — if media is on the ball.

I also believe things will change now because Ondoy was not a politically motivated social event. That’s why we were so united to overcome its damage — its force majeure. And it will hit us again in a majeure way unless we address it. And I have faith we will.

Lourd de Veyra, the bereaved, after losing countless artifacts (books, vinyl records, etc.) to Ondoy/ columnist, atbp. 

We’ll go back to our own wasteful, slothful, apathetic selves, but with a greater degree of self-reliance and the knowledge that government can’t save s**t.

Kristie Kenney, most likable US ambassador to the Philippines

 The extended Filipino family across the globe joined Filipinos rich and poor, old and young in coming together to help those who suffered from Ondoy’s wrath. I hope this spirit will stay strong and united as the Philippines recovers. The truly Filipino talents can be harnessed to rebuild. I saw so many people stepping up to give — of their time, their food, their trucks. Ondoy strengthened the Filipino bayanihan spirit. In the midst of a tragedy, perhaps an even stronger spirit of unity to build the Philippines has been born.

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