Shattering Mindsets

by Juan L. Mercado


“Chance favors the prepared mind,” scientist Louis Pasteur taught. Many were unprepared for killer typhoons Sendong and PabloSendong’s death toll  topped 1,453. That made it the “world’s deadliest storm in 2011”. A year later,  Pablo proved the “world’s deadliest” notes “Global Catastrophe Recap”.  It left 1,901 dead  plus  P37 billion in damages. 

Jitters  eased Sunday when Tropical depression Bising swerved. Storm signals for Bicol and Samar were lowered.  Bising could exit the Philippine Area of Responsibility Tuesday”, Pagasa forecast.

This breathing space enables us to to grapple with festering questions. “How do we explain the decreasing number of years in occurrence of destructive typhoons affecting southern Philippines ?” marine scientist and Magsaysay Awardee Angel Alcala asked in Metro Post of Dumaguete.   On average, a storm  slices through southern Philippines every 12 years.


Pablo followed Sendong after less than a year,” he wrote. Typhoon Ruping occurred seven years after Storm NitangFrank occurred 17 years after Ruping. Since  the 1980s, typhoons hitting the country, below the 10-degree latitude, seem to be increasing in frequency at year’s end.

Most typhoons careen on a beaten northward track. This gave Mindanao  a patina  of storm immunity. Sendong’s torrential rains, however, caused floods to rise by 11 feet in an hour.  Illegal logging and squatting on waterways were major culprits.

“The real challenge for the Philippines , over the coming decade unless the world takes tougher action, is certain things will happen that are not good” , warned World Bank special envoy for climate change Andrew Steer. Stronger typhoons, and an increase in global temperature loom ahead.

Sea levels rises by 0.5 to 1 meter by 2100 could affect  cities in the Philippines, among others. We’re one of 16 countries pinpointed “at extreme risk” by   the “Climate Change Vulnerability Index” produced by risk analysis firm  Maplecroft.

“The question about climate change is no longer whether it’s real,” World Bank president  Jim Yong Kim says. “(It) is what the world is going to look like for our children. I have a three-year-old son. And when he is my age, he could be living in a world completely different from ours.”

Kim makes that point in the bank report  “Turn Down The Heat”.  Current efforts to tamp down global warming below a 2-degrees-Celsius increase are faltering, it says. A  4-degrees-Celsius hotter world will wreak havoc everywhere. “Things can get ugly fast.”

Australian firefighters this week, were tamping down more than 100 bushfires. These  gutted houses and thousands of hectares of land in New South Wales , Victoria and Tasmania . “Climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heat  waves, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions,” the Australian Climate Commission said.

We’ve  seen photos of  bloated  corpses to ripped up homes and farms in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. Alcala provides an insight into havoc few notice because coral reefs are underwater. 

Sendong and Pablo “decimated the hard corals of Apo Marine Reserve and other reefs in southeastern Negros”, he says. “These marine reserves had hardly begun to recover from devastation by Sendong when it was hit again by Pablo “It is  uncertain whether  the Apo and Dauin (Negros Oriental) reefs will ever recover to its previous state before 2011, should weather trends continue in the future.

“Low-latitude typhoons destroy  the coral reefs along their paths. Typhoon Nitang in 1984 wrecked reefs in the Central Visayas, notably Sumilon Island Reef and Pescador Island Reef off western Cebu Island. Typhoon Ruping, in 1991,  destroyed Sagay and Catarman reefs. Typhoon Frank devastated coral reefs in Bantayan Island, off northern Cebu Island in 2008.

“Typhoon Pablo has the distinction of killing hard corals and hundreds of giant clams in the Cantaan Giant Clam Sanctuary in addition to reducing live coral cover on Camiguin reefs.   These records are only those  observed or were reliably reported to us. Many more affected reefs in the Bohol Sea , for example, probably have remained unreported.

“(What) is of greater concern is the effect of super typhoons on the biodiversity, including fishery species, of southern Philippine reefs”.  He explains the context: “More coral species and possibly fish species occur in southern than in northern Philippines . The economic value of coral reef biodiversity in southern Philippines exceed that in northern Philippines . The surge of “destructive typhoons in the southern part of the country is frightening because we stand to lose the sources of sea food on which many coastal communities depend.”

RA 10171 authorizes President Aquino to sign checks, up to P1 billion annually, to underwrite projects to (a) beef up disaster response; and, more important (b) spur specially local governments – addicted to pork barrel – to mitigate effects of climate change.

Singapore mandates, for example, low water use in showers and loos, plus higher tariffs to curb water use Other measures, include inclusive green growth, factoring in  value of environment into economic decisions to increasing share of renewable power.

Politicians must first endorse these policies. Then, they need  “to sell them on the basis of benefits they create for their people, not just for the planet.” Such reforms call for overhaul of mindsets.  As  Henry V says in a  Shakespearean play:  “All things are ready / If your mind be so.”


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