There are special times when serious topics become hot subjects at the same time, like now. It is almost impossible not to mention Typhoon “Yolanda”. I am now two weeks working online 20 hours a day, taking short breaks for some meals with my family and mass on Sundays. The intense participation of my favorite non-government organization, Gawad Kalinga (GK), in relief efforts has stretched the capacity of workers and regular volunteers, and my assignment is to be one of a few connecting global GK advocates to current realities on the ground.
I may not have the power and the speed of physical movement as a senior citizen, but I have the key relationships with GK people in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. And our brave workers and volunteers in the Visayas update our headquarters and me with photos, videos and short stories. The main theme always is heroism, the heroism of people who are battered but refuse to surrender, and the heroism of GK workers and volunteers who refuse to leave the victims by themselves.
Relief and rehabilitation work is nothing new to GK. The landslides of Pinut-an Island in Southern Leyte, followed by the horrific Guinsaugon landslide a few years later – both destructive to lives and property. In late 2004, a series of typhoons hit Bicol, Mindoro, Quezon and Central Luzon and the Northern provinces of Luzon, four of them in a three-week period. Then, we had Ondoy, Sendong and Pablo, the earthquake in Negros Oriental, and the earthquake in Bohol where GK held relief activities for two weeks. Then, super typhoon Yolanda, the monster who broke all records.
If people had seen Infanta, Guisaugon, CDO, Iligan, Cateel, New Bataan, there would not have been much difference with Tacloban. All these experienced unusually high death tolls, all these changed the landscape of the towns and cities they battered. The main difference is the massiveness of the areas that Yolanda inflicted great losses in lives and property. Yolanda had five landfalls. That is equivalent to having five typhoons, all deadly.
The post-Yolanda scenario is proving to be its sixth landfall. The instant focus of global attention on the Philippines, especially Tacloban, generated sympathy and generosity from the community of nations and Filipinos all over the world. But it also became a battleground of perception, mostly from people who cannot still imagine what the reality was on the ground in the first few days. Much negative news flowed despite the awesome support of the world and relief groups courageously helping on the ground. Thankfully, the sentiments of the majority were to set aside animosity and work on achieving something.
Then, the PDAF gets a fatal wallop from the Supreme Court. It is declared unconstitutional despite two previous Supreme Court decisions affirming it. It is another great topic to write about, not its demise, but how the spirit that gave birth to the PDAF and those that came before it will express itself in the years to come. The Supreme Court can kill a form but it cannot kill a spirit. Only the people can do that – if the people know what precisely to kill.
Those who were against the PDAF are now jubilant, believing they won a great battle. In truth, the people did. But greater battles are ahead; make no mistake about it. The PDAF represented only about 1% and everyone’s attention feasted on it. What about the 99%?
The power of the purse of Congress is the check and balance of the Executive. In my understanding, it is the greater power than the law-making responsibility of Congress. Approving or rejecting the national budget, or parts thereof, is where the rubber hits the ground, is where hard ball is played. The Executive needs a budget that can make it achieve its goals. The Legislative needs to review programs and projects that are rolled out in designated districts where its members are its representatives. No matter what, and place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, discussions and debate will end up with each side finally agreeing to a compromise.
Yes, there are measures that can be taken to ensure greater transparency – if the people are interested enough to monitor or participate. And if majority blocs in the House of Representatives and the Senate have a meeting of the minds with the President, Congress will approve what the Executive proposes, with some compromise reached, of course. And the Supreme Court will run out of reasons to call Executive-Legislative agreements as unconstitutional.
In the end, the final and sustainable answer to what citizens fear— that elected and appointive officials will steal the people’s money – is to elect and appoint honest public servants. In a democracy, governance is by representation, the few who are elected govern the many who elected them. But the people retain its superior power when it represents itself.
What connects Typhoon Yolanda and the PDAF? The poor, the poor who always die when there is a natural calamity, the poor who elect our public officials and then are used by them. Our poor, in the tens of millions, are the common denominator of political typhoons or Yolanda hurricanes.
A representative government follows the majority and the poor comprise the majority in our nation. If we want change, the good change, we have to raise the poor out of poverty and their vulnerability to manipulation. It is not about giving them lectures about voting wisely, or good governance. It is about giving them back dignity, it is about giving them security, it is about giving them opportunity.
We cannot keep feeding our poor to calamities, just as we cannot keep feeding our poor to corrupt politicians. But that is what will continue to happen unless we give our poor the value we give to ourselves and our families.
That is the story of Typhoon Yolanda, that is the story of the PDAF, that at its core is the story of poverty. If we do not know that, and if we do not break that, then tens of thousands more will die as climate change disturbs the earth, and the PDAF will persist with a new name, or with no name.