Typhoons, Floods, Landslides: New Normal

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The surprising strength of Typhoon Pedring winds and the rains of Quiel disrupted power and then submerged barangays in Bulacan. None of the two were super-typhoon status, yet damage already approximates what Ondoy did two years ago.

I was in New York and New Jersey when Hurricane Irene hit these areas. Hurricanes don’t hit New York and New Jersey, neither do earthquakes. But an earthquake did, and Hurricane Irene followed two weeks later.

If the political climate in the Philippines is ripe for change, it is because the twin phenomenon of P-Noy and volunteerism is seriously affecting the landscape. Ironically, a president that does not have the bravado of a Marcos, the flamboyant flair of an Erap, or the aggressive unpopularity of Gloria, is the one, the only one, who stopped the wang-wangs from shoving ordinary Filipinos aside and had the guts to stop logging completely. Why do I say twin phenomenon? Because it is the spirit of the volunteers, the awakening realization of many citizens that they, too, must contribute to nation building, that is affirming P-Noy whenever he goes against political traditions.

The climate, physical and political, is applying unusual pressure on a people and a country. Global warming is upsetting weather patterns just as P-Noy manages to upset political conventions. Scientists who fear global warning say that a higher heat level provokes more evaporation of earth water, causes more water to be absorbed by the cloud, and drives heavier rain and stronger typhoons as a result. More rain, stronger winds. And P-Noy, in his simple and unassuming way, is proving himself much smarter not only against his critics, especially the hired guns of tri and multi media, but also versus veteran political players. It seems that P-Noy’s capacity to make some decisions that go against the political grain makes him unpredictable to traditional politicians and most other societal players.

In trying to explain unusually strong typhoons, unusually heavier rainfall, resulting in unusually destructive floods and greater number of landslides, weather or climate experts now talk of a new normal. To them, it is clear that global warming caused by polluting acts against nature develop a cycle where there are more and stronger typhoons, more and stronger  rains. There are some who question the prognosis of weather scientists and environmentalists but can only say that what is happening is already part of a cycle, not one caused by the destructive bent of humanity against nature. Whether new or part of an older pattern, global warming is measurably causing a deadlier nature pattern.

What is now normal used to be what was abnormal – wetter or hotter weather than ever before. Typhoons and cyclones pack more power, and more consistently do so. For countries like the Philippines, it means a severe exchange of droughts and storms, of scorched earths and floods. A “new” normal is being defined. It is a state of nature that we best get used to and prepare better against.

A new normal, too, is being defined in Philippine politics, less by politicians and more by citizens – plus a president that volunteers catapulted to office. Democracy has been only a theory in Philippine dynamics, basically because the few who rule dictate to the many who are ruled. P-Noy, however, began his government by calling the Filipino people as his “boss,” a signal that he wants a responsible and empowered citizenry to whom he would defer. As president, Noynoy Aquino wields much power and he will not have that fact changed by law but by behavior. Much power used for the people is beneficial just as much power used for personal gain is abusive.

It is not Noynoy who began a wave of volunteerism in the country, it is the people themselves. Noynoy was its most obvious beneficiary and P-Noy its most cooperative ally. The expectations of Filipinos are necessarily greater because their frustrations have reached all-time highs. Being part of traditional mindsets that had influenced the way presidents govern, many among ordinary Filipinos were anticipating that P-Noy would use power like Mao or Lee Kuan Yew for him to effect change. Instead, P-Noy leans more towards the quiet way that Cory ruled more than the aggressive way that Ninoy had been all his life. This disappointed some of those who wanted him otherwise, and they showed their displeasure by lower approval ratings in a matter of a few months.

But P-Noy’s steadfast confidence that democracy is more teamwork than a superstar performance of one is slowly being understood and appreciated by the population. His high approval and trust ratings are shared by his Cabinet members – which means citizens observe them all working, not just him alone giving orders and everyone else just following. Not content with teamwork in his Cabinet, P-Noy is encouraging the people to be part of the team, too. And they are responding, especially the young. Watch the flooding of Bulacan barangays and see who are helping. It is not anymore just government officials but citizens as well.

I know that, this weekend, thousands of students and ordinary citizens will go to the affected areas of Bulacan for clean-up activities and distribution of relief goods. It is a new normal. I know, too, that we should better understand that stronger storms, heavier rains, more floods – and more deadly heat and droughts – will also be a new normal. It seems to me that another tipping point for great change is here, and it will be our new normal.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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