‘Ondoy’ was great equalizer

By Neal Cruz – Storm “Ondoy” was a great equalizer. The flood treated everybody, rich and poor, equally. It didn’t play favorites, exempting no one. It made everybody miserable. Celebrities and the influential suffered along with the poor. The rich in their gated communities suffered just as much as the squatters in their shanties. The relatively well off Provident Village in Marikina was among the worst hit, with floodwaters reaching the rooftops. Many residents waited on their roofs for rescue that did not come as they watched in terror the water rise higher.

Many were angered by the slow rescue efforts of the government. It was clearly unprepared and caught flatfooted. Ondoy (international codename: Ketsana), after all, was supposed to be only a baby storm with winds of no more than 80 kph near the center. However, it made up for its lack of strong winds with plenty of rainwater that swamped almost the whole Central Luzon. If you were perched on your rooftop, with everything around you under water, and the water inching higher and you were crying for help but no help came, you would naturally be angry.

On the other hand, let’s try to understand the rescuers. The floods were so high that even trucks could not negotiate the streets which, to make things worse, were blocked by vehicles abandoned by their owners when they conked out in the floods. Much as they wanted to, the rescuers could not reach the people they wanted to rescue. They could be reached only by boats, but there were not enough boats to reach all the people that needed rescuing soon enough.

The government tried to make excuses by comparing Ondoy with Supertyphoon “Katrina” that struck New Orleans. The US government was also castigated by the Americans for its slow response. The rains dumped by Ondoy, the Philippine government said, were more than that dumped by Katrina, as if that would excuse it for its shortcomings.

But that’s beside the point. Katrina was a supercyclone, while Ondoy was a baby storm. Both the US and Philippine governments were caught unprepared. One man’s mistake does not exonerate another.

So what does that teach us? As I said in my last column, we should, like Boy Scouts, be always prepared. Maybe we should make Scout Master Jojo Binay our president.

We have the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), we have provincial and municipal disaster councils created for just such emergencies. What have they been doing? NDCC chief Gibo Teodoro is understandably busy with his presidential candidacy. But what about the others?

If Teodoro cannot cope with a baby storm like Ondoy, how can he cope with much bigger national disasters if and when he becomes president?

With climate change upon us, there would be more storms and higher floods. Since roads would be impassable with flooding, shouldn’t every barangay (or at least each municipality) in flood-prone areas have rubber boats on standby in case of floods? Barangays get millions of pesos in internal revenue allotments funds every year. Each one can afford a rubber boat. Better to invest some of the money in rubber boats than pocket them, which many barangay officials are doing now.

In Candaba, Pampanga, which is flooded every rainy season, each family has a banca tied under the house. In Malabon and Navotas which are flooded every time there is high tide, with or without rain, boats are also a necessary means of transportation. In addition, World War II amphibious trucks which are used to transport catch from the fishing boats to the fish market, are used for rescue and transportation during floods.

I am sure there will be much blaming and finger-pointing after the government was caught unprepared in the recent floods. There will be calls for reforms, etc. etc. Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro has already started it. He said the NDCC and the Department of National Defense, which he both heads, should be separated. But I am also sure that when the floods are gone and the sun shines and the evacuees are back in their homes, all the needed reforms will be forgotten. Until the next flood.

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