IN the late 60s until the 90s, Baguio had its own problem of flooding, particularly at the City Camp area where a waist-deep lagoon that could be blamed on negligence had turned into a perennial scene during the typhoon season.
At the lowest sections of the lagoon, floodwaters could reach as high as 10 feet or the second floor of a house as shown by water lines on the structures after the flood had receded. The same flood and the same people are affected in different years.
I understood then why my high school buddy in the 70s who lived with his parents at the City Camp Lagoon had very new notebooks when we were already in the middle of the school year. His school gear always got wet in the flood so that he had to buy new ones.
Our paths crossed again in Tabuk, Kalinga after college. Having coffee with him after a long absence, he recounted the past and the year-in, year-out government neglect of the perennial flooding at the City Camp Lagoon.
After getting married, he had to move to higher ground on Santo Tomas Road where he built a house. To me, that was his way of showing how pre-emptive evacuation, an important move during calamities, should be done. Although, he did it in a more permanent method.
Leaving City Camp Lagoon and the perennial flooding is the opposite of what calamity managers hype about as Filipino resiliency. But while there are calamity victims who look for solutions to improve their conditions, others just endure the bad weather and wait for it to go away, until it comes again next year.
There are families who badly need food and other forms of aid during calamities. But in contrast, there are calamity victims who anticipate and look forward to receiving relief goods and free meals every time the waters rise which is no longer Filipino resiliency.
Then in several instances, we find people listed as landslide or flood victims enjoying the flood waters and having their pictures taken while receiving food packs and medicine. And since local elections come in so short a time, politicians inconspicuously capitalize on the situation.
For barangay officials, the most that they can do is to see to it that they get their allocation of calamity assistance for their constituents, wait for instructions from higher authorities and wait for the water to subside because they know that it will.
Except for their roles as frontline responders to emergencies, barangay officials lack resources in implementing solutions to flooding and landslides compared to the national agencies. That is why they are at the mercy of politicians who provide aid during calamities.
For children and the innocent who were now used to living in flood-prone residential areas, they would neither ask why there are floods nor find out if it will ever be prevented from happening again. But they anticipate the distribution of relief items because that has become the mindset.
The national disaster management office said last Thursday that the death toll from Tropical Storm Paeng has risen to 150, with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), particularly Maguindanao, accounting for 63 deaths. Some 128 were injured and 36 were missing.
National news reported that damages to houses, agriculture and infrastructure respectively reached P17.2 million, P2.44 billion and P2.83 billion. All of these were the aftermath of the heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides brought by typhoon Paeng that buried communities in mud.
After these were presented in a face-to-face briefing with President Marcos in Maguindanao, it was assessed that partly to blame as to why we have damages and casualties was because we fail to recognize previous factors that lead to disasters which should help us redirect our strategies and minimize losses.
The president said during an aerial inspection that most of the areas devastated had thinning forest covers or had no trees. This, of course, is manmade. With that, he ordered massive tree-planting to be incorporated into the government’s flood-control strategy.
“It’s not a small matter,” he said. He noted that many will say that tree planting will save the environment but “no, it is more than that. It is to save lives. If there were trees in the uplands, the disaster would not have happened. We keep on cutting our trees,” said Marcos.
He is correct. By the style he spoke, I sensed that he was angry but he talked nicely. The factors that led to the flooding of water and mud that killed more than 60 were already known prior to the heavy rain brought by Paeng.
I believe Marcos was told that the portion where the mudslide occurred was previously deforested but he held back the bad info at the briefing. I suspect he held back his anger even while he knew that the ones responsible for tree-cutting were inside the briefing room.
“One important lesson that Paeng gave us is that water runoff from deforested mountains can cause siltation, flooding, and landslides. We don’t need advanced warning for this, we already know it.” He was angry, but he did not show it.
With those lines, Marcos hinted that the typhoon damages cannot be attributed to the warning system devices of the government because we knew that these needed improvement. What should be blamed is the act of deforestation which we previously knew.
Then he asked government planners to study the region’s flood-control infrastructure and river systems and do something about the deforested areas, “otherwise we’ll just be suffering from the same floods again, and again, and again.”
What was pleasing to hear was when he said that the people, particularly the indigenous peoples in the forests should be the LGUs’ partners in safeguarding the trees because they will protect them since they own them.
On many instances, Marcos stressed that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and LGU officials should join forces and maximize their resources to improve relief operations.
The president knows that BARMM and LGU officials do not see eye to eye in terms of performing their roles during calamities and in many other aspects. I was told that the two bureaucracies are fighting about who should implement programs within the region.
I am mystified about the role of BARMM during calamities. It is a duplicity of roles already being performed by the national line agencies, and an additional bureaucracy of salaried employees. That is what happens when the primary objective of self-rule is to profit from exploiting the region’s natural resources. It is not a solution to perennial disasters.