Rain With No Name

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I write at the tail end, hopefully, of a very wet no-name rain with a very terrible impact of Metro Manila and several Luzon provinces. It is almost impossible to believe that there was no storm, that this was only another of those southwest monsoon rains. Wow! When I was first told by a high-ranking environmental officer about the meaning of “new normal” last year, I understood the words intellectually but had to experience these last few days to REALLY understand.

What now? Because of the new normal whose range of water volume and impact is yet to be really determined, if at all, what can we do? I was just told that a hotter climate tends to have more evaporation and, thus, the clouds tend to carry more water. And when it is time for the clouds to dump the water, we have more, much more. It now seems that we cannot get away with less rain but only more, unless the world’s temperature drops to levels we were once used to. There is one situation that allows us little or no rain – and that is having a drought that the new normal says will be dryer over a longer period of time. It leads me to believe that having more rains and being more wet is better than having more heat and being more dry. What a choice.

We have to quickly see what the new weather patterns are doing to us, to our towns and cities – highly urbanized areas particularly – because of the higher risk of death and destruction in denser populations. We once thought we would just read about the horrors of landslides far away from the cities, but Ondoy and Sendong targeted the cities and shocked us all with the kind of devastation typhoons can cause urban areas. We learned, but I guess we could not learn that quickly and could not adjust that dramatically. When the rain-with-no-name came last Monday and dumped enough to be eventually competitive with Ondoy, there were warnings enough to the public and government agencies were more prepared. But the sheer volume of water that kept coming, the sheer vulnerability of the metropolis and its millions of residents, simply overwhelmed all preparations and capacities to react.

Truly, there could have been much more deaths had the warnings and preparations were not there. It is but right that we appreciate a newly-discovered readiness that kept most Metro Manilans inside their homes because they were warned. Had they been in the streets like Ondoy, it would have been a virtual nightmare. This experience with no-name rain, however, has taught us lessons we did not really learn before because we just did not deem them that crucial to our own survival. And what are those?

Our poor cannot be allowed to stay in riverbanks that overflow and kill them. Because they are poor and do not have the luxury of choosing safer areas that still allow them to go or find work, then the rest of society, led by government, must give them the means to save themselves. The Philippines as a country and a people must think of poor as priority clients, not nuisances. It is time we prove that we are humane, democratic, faithful Christians or Muslims, and that we are one people, one race, one Filipino. We have to prove it as we are forced to by nature herself. We have to prove it because the time will come when what humanity deserves, to live and to live with dignity, will be demanded by a sector that is too large to disregard and contain if enraged.

It is completely incomprehensible to me that both the Church and State have accepted the state of the poor with shocking resignation. It is as though poverty is God’s plan and defies deconstruction by the government. Yes, when we think of poverty as one whole monster, it can look like Goliath to the eyes of the Israeli army. But poverty is comprised of different parts that can be resolved one by one, not over a century but within one generation. Poverty is landlessness, homelessness and hunger. To dismantle the landless state of every poor Filipino family can take less than 50,000 hectares or the equivalent of three towns divided over 1,700 municipalities and cities. These lands are for home lots, not farms, and home lots can be 50-100 sq. meters each. But each lot means security, means permanence, means every Filipino is NOT born a squatter in his or her homeland.

There are communities with small but sturdy, decent and colorful homes as what Gawad Kalinga builds together with former squatters as part of a community development program that teaches residents bayanihan and love of country. Even if 5 million families are built homes without their paying for them but requires their full participation and sweat equity, the cost is bearable for a society that seeks to transform itself to become truly sensitive to its own people. The cost of 5 million homes is a small investment that in itself pump-primes all barangays, brings new revenues to a number of industries and addresses rebellion in the countryside and secessionist movements in Mindanao.

A backyard greening program planting vegetables is not too difficult to be a centerpiece anti-hunger program of both the Department of Agriculture and the private sector. The Conditional Cash Transfer program (CCT) does not address hunger as almost two years of aggressive application have shown that hunger incidence is not swayed by it. But the CCT proves that there is money to resolve perennial problems if we the people as the “boss” demand that we do not tolerate fellow Filipinos going hungry.

It is natural that being flooded in proportions like what we just experienced can motivate us to take extra steps to avoid the same experience next time. But our personal woes or inconveniences can stay just that – personal – and we forget the greater problems that the millions of poor, even in just Metro Manila, have to go through in live-or-die situations.

I read text messages about how God curses us with floods because of the RH Bill. No, that is too little, too late. We are cursed because we can watch our own suffer and then leave them behind.

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