Massacre Replays

by Juan L. Mercado

“He meant Bethlehem”, a friend mused. “But Cagayan de Oro and Iligan flood victims are just as dead as those Herod  massacred”. To mark the  “Massacre of the  Innocents” feast today, he re-read Jeremiah.

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,” the prophet wrote six centuries before the first Chirstmas “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

Warned in a dream,  the Magi didn’t tip off Herod on the Child’s whereabouts  “Instead, they returned to their home country by another way” , Matthew tells us. So, Herod’s soldiers killed  about 200 male kids below two.

In  Mindanao, rescuers confirm 1080 died from typhoon “Sendong”.  The final death toll may top 3,000, Inquirer reports   On Christmas Day, there were still 1979 missing. Hope they’ve survived has withered.

There has been a swift response by individuals to, local governments. UN issued an international appeal for P1.2 billion. Churches held second collections to help.

Iligan “has no Christmas lights because there is still no power in most places”;  wrote Sisters John Paul, Elizabeth and Anthony . They’ve worked non stop in the diocese’s efforts to help refugees.  “No Christmas tree because trees were cut by illegal loggers and caused flash floods;

“No belen for the Holy Family because most houses were destroyed. No caroling because children lost their voices crying for help; No ham and queso de bola because food is rationed for survivors who wait for hours to receive their share. No soft drinks because water is running out.

“God dwells among our suffering sisters and brothers” the nuns add. People showed concern and shared with each other. “This will be the most meaningful Christmas ever”.

Consider those bodies and stacked coffins in context.  Relief systems here are strained from previous disasters.  An  “Unseen Slaughter of the Innocents” persisted over the years.

Out of every 1000 kids, 20 never make it to their first birthdays — roughly similar to death rates of Ecuador and  Armenina. That improves the over 56 infant mortality rate of  the 1990s. But it lags behind Malayia’s .8.

“Herods” doubled infant deaths, in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to 42.  This clones Namibia’s death toll in Africa. Medical personnel attend only half of every 100 births here. In contrast, 99 out of every 100 Thais have such personnel during delivery.

There has been little outcry.  Why? Because these shrouds, were in city slum hovels or farm shacks. Shriveling from chronic hunger does not barge it on headlines of TV newscast as do deaths from typhoon fury.  Out of sight, out of mind.

When “Sendong” hit,  more than 870,000 persons in Central Mindanao, were already uprooted by  earlier flooding. The southwest monsoon interlocked  with side-effects from previous typhoons  Dodong to Egay.  Water hyacinths clogged major Mindanao  waterways, aggravating floods in 10 provinces and five cities.  Many sought refuge in public buildings

Affected were the same communities uprooted by armed conflict in 2008, Unicef  notes “Inadequate water and sanitation and congestion are recipes for disease outbreak even as aid flows in. 

Do  these calamities interlock with another tragedy?, asks former FAO forester Patrick Charles Dugan. “This is the  failure to identify principal on-site human activities” that trigged  floods, mudslides and deaths.

“Already (and as usual) media reports, columnists and cartoons point to illegal logging and mining as the culprits. Very convenient. Very newsy. Very superficial.  Very short-sighted.

“Also, very wrong. And (again as usual) most politicians, civil society organizations and others are echo what is reported by media. 

“Any competent person who inspected watersheds draining into the rivers that engulfed whole villages will conclude:  Destructive land use practices, on a massive scale, created conditions that made this disaster inevitable.

“Hundreds of thousands of hectares of steep slopes, within watersheds, were converted into pastures and corn farms. These vegetative cover cannot adequately stem soil erosion. Nor do they hold rapid runoff of rainfall.

“If these land use practices continue, similar tragedies will recur. …“There are no quick fixes to problems that were  decades in the making.”

“The solution? Not simple. Not newsy. Lots of hard work in sustained implementation of practical soil and water conservation measures. Land use practices must allow corn farmers and ranchers to continue making a living without degrading the environment.

Examples? The Sloping Agricultural Land Technology. Mindanao Baptists Rural Life Center won the Ramon Magsaysay award for this innovation.. Another example? Forest restoration through Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR). Forest Management Bureau of the DENR received from FAO the internationally-recognized Edouard Souma award for ANR.

The flood that devastated Matina Pangi in Davao City, this year, was basically caused by improper land use practices and degradation of watershed, writes former FAO econometrician Edmundo Prantilla. “Pat. Dugan is right our planners know the solutions… but  we seem to lack the discipline equal to the task. 

Common to the tragedies in Cagayan/Iligan and Davao City are families allowed settle in hazardous areas.There are five Filipinos today where there was one in 1940.  Is carrying capacity being exceeded? And is this our only response?.
“Then, we will hear again ““Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”


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