November 16, 2020
For many of us living in Luzon, Typhoon Ulysses came as a rather unpleasant surprise. Unlike Typhoon Rolly, which was dubbed as the strongest to have hit the planet this year, Ulysses crept insidiously and caught people off guard, leaving behind a trail of mud, submerged houses, and devastated families.
But the sun shone as soon as it left. The storm had passed; the worst was over—or so everyone thought.
A day after Ulysses wreaked havoc in Central and South Luzon, social media was hit by another “storm” and flooded our newsfeed with cries for help from people in Cagayan Valley. One particular video caught the nation’s attention where people’s desperate voices echoed through the pitch-black night as they fought for survival.
Typhoon Ulysses brought back haunting memories of Ondoy and other super typhoons that hit the country.
September 26, 2009—the nation was surprised when Ondoy caused massive floods of historic proportions and literally submerged much of Central Luzon and the National Capital Region in less than a day.
I was lucky to be home that day. Hundreds of students were stranded on campuses as floodwaters rose. Thousands were forced to sleep in fast-food outlets and malls as they waited for the rain to ease and the flood to subside. Major roads were submerged underwater, forcing people to wade through high floods and walk hundreds of miles to find temporary shelter.
As the storm passed, it claimed the lives of 241 people and more than 12,000 buildings were completely destroyed by the flood.
Three years after Ondoy, another deadly typhoon struck the nation.
On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in the Visayas region. It was, in fact, one of the deadliest and strongest typhoons ever recorded in Philippine history.
Yolanda littered the streets with dead bodies and turned villages and communities into lands of both the living and the dead. The gruesome images of death and destruction will forever be etched in the memory of those who lived through it. When Yolanda left the Philippine area of responsibility, it took with it the lives of at least 6,300 people.
The unspeakable horror and trauma that Yolanda caused is still felt in the communities that were directly hit.
Now, for someone like me who witnessed and experienced these calamities, the aftermath of these recent typhoons caused an unpleasant déjà vu.
Narratives about Filipino resilience and the demand for accountability sound like a broken record. Truth be told, the clamor for change and accountability will eventually subside as the floodwaters subside and the sun starts to shine again. Calamities like this are bound to happen again, and history will only repeat itself if we refuse to take action and drastic measures to avert future disasters.
Remember Ondoy. Remember Yolanda. Remember Rolly. Remember Ulysses.
Remember the images of dead people being taken out of muddy waters.
Remember the cry of the people who lost their loved ones, friends, pets, and homes.
Remember the people who perished in the floods—people who had dreams, families, and a future that was taken away from them.
Keep these memories alive because that’s what it will take to make us say, “Never again!”
For it is better by far that we remember and continuously feel the pain than we forget and be lulled by a false sense of comfort and find ourselves drowning in the consequences of our negligence yet again.
Catastrophes happen for a reason.
(Yes; God definitely has a reason for allowing things like this to happen, but that’s not what I’m talking about. We will talk about this topic in another article.)
In light of this recent calamity, one thing that many people on social media have pointed out is this: The massive flooding is a result of our negligence, whether directly or indirectly. Let’s not just blame it on 2020. It’s the result of our own doing and undoing.
On a larger scale, it’s the result of illegal logging, indiscriminate mining, and wide-scale malpractices in the fossil fuel industry. Unsustainable business practices and utter negligence of the environment by major corporations also contribute to this.
But most, if not all, of us have made our little contributions as well. The tiny wrappers we threw on the street; the plastic cups and bottles that we did not dispose of properly; our irresponsible usage of electricity at home; or the trash we refused to pick up—all these things played a part.
How much more of these catastrophes should devastate our land before we finally come to terms with the inconvenient truth that the earth is in a desperate state?
Haven’t you noticed? Gone are the days of seasonal and natural flooding that are fun for playing bangkang papel. These days, floods can make cars and real boats float into the streets and storms can drive huge ships against houses.
We are all guilty one way or another, either by commission or omission. Therefore, the responsibility of turning things around is also every Filipino’s duty.
It is the government’s duty to protect the environment and our natural resources by enforcing environmental laws, punishing violators, and enacting proactive measures to prevent or mitigate the effects of climate change. It is our leaders’ job to fund research and projects that will help us be more prepared in dealing with disasters and natural calamities.
It is the duty of our academic institutions to educate the youth about the reality of climate change and create a sense of urgency to address it. It is the academe’s role to educate young people about sustainable practices and environmental protection if we want them to take ownership of this nation.
It is the responsibility of the business sector to regulate their own ranks, level up their social responsibility, and implement environmentally sustainable practices. As they benefit from our natural resources, it behooves them to protect the environment and implement initiatives for environmental protection and community development.
It is the role of the Church, God’s people, to disciple people to become more socially responsible and to take an active role in protecting the environment, God’s creation.
Matters of faith and environmental issues are not mutually exclusive. If we believe in a God who created the world and entrusted it to our care, then we must obey His command to take care of creation, to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)
If we believe that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to redeem it (John 3:16), then we must, all the more, honor that sacrifice and care for the world that He created and purchased for Himself. Part of advancing God’s kingdom on earth is protecting the environment until the day Jesus returns in full glory to restore creation and inaugurate a new Heaven and Earth.
Ultimately, caring for the environment is the role of every human being. It is not just a social responsibility but a moral responsibility. For every trash we throw on the streets, we become responsible for the floods that destroy homes and affect thousands of households and families—something that can otherwise be prevented.
While we must definitely demand accountability from our leaders, we must also hold ourselves accountable. May we see this as an opportunity to learn, mend our ways, and be proactive, not just reactive.
The sun might already be shining on us now, but those who lost homes and loved ones still feel the biting cold and emptiness the devastation brought.
As the sun shines on all of us who were not directly or gravely affected by the storms, the victims still feel the pain of losing their loved ones, the tremors of the rushing waters, and the trauma of holding on for dear life.
For us, it may be business as usual, but for them, everything is still far from usual.
I hope that as the flood subsides, we will not be quick to move on, enjoy the sun, and forget that there are those who need our help and support. Our prayers and donations matter. But it is far better to correct our errors so we can avoid these catastrophes in the future.
(photo by: Dan Tan)