How we can all win from tragedies like Ondoy
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-10-01

Tropical Storm Ondoy revealed many losers and winners among Filipinos. The biggest loser, of course, was the national government as Ondoy showed just how flawed the national preparation is in coping with what can be called “The Perfect Flood” — as applied to the worst that a tragedy could be.

A good friend of mine commented that a good sign that the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) headed by administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro was overwhelmed by the Ondoy tragedy was the low visibility of Teodoro compared to his second in command, Anthony Golez. The Ondoy reality contrasted with what Teodoro had been projecting in his television infomercials.

Opening the security paranoid Malacanang Palace as a relief goods center dramatizes the concern of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) over the political fallout of Ondoy. GMA has good reasons to feel scared of what Ondoy could unleash.

When added to the many sins associated with her administration and her immediate relatives as well as the misery level of the poor before Ondoy ravished Luzon, such a magnitude of human tragedy could well be the precursor of a political upheaval. Ondoy’s effects could shake the foundations of a popular administration. With an unpopular GMA, Ondoy could easily be the coup de grace.

My good friend Conrad de Quiros texted me that GMA is lucky in that there is an election where people can express their rage. Sans such an outlet for the people’s collective outrage, we can start fearing the unthinkable.

The Filipino people were easily acclaimed as the winners during the Ondoy tragedy. Filipinos who showed that there is always something to share despite the little they’ve got once again displayed the best human qualities of a great nation that has the misfortune of being the worst led.

Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon as Philippine Red Cross Chairman was a winner. Another winner was Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte who was immediately on the job as soon as affected areas were accessible. By early afternoon of Sunday, Sonny was already reporting on what were the conditions in the affected areas of Quezon City and what were already being done.

Media were big winners, especially the live coverage of ABS-CBN which became the funnel of the desperate pleas of affected people. For the most part of last Saturday, ABS-CBN was the only institution accessible to the people.

MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando (BF) looked like a winner when he was just about the only cabinet official to ever admit that he was the person to blame for the failure of government in the wake of Tropical Storm Ondoy. Flood control is under BF’s agency. But we wonder though if BF was attempting to shield Gilbert Teodoro with whom he is hoping to tandem as Vice President in 2010.

A saying was attributed to the Dalai Lama to the effect that we become winners when we learn the valuable lesson of our failure. Sadly, our people show very little of having learned this priceless lesson as we somehow manage to entrust the most sensitive positions of public office to the most unworthy characters. Many of our elected public officials have more reasons to be in jail than sitting in high public office.

Just look at government policies from the time of the Doña Paz sea tragedy up to the sinking of the Princess of the Stars. It looked like we never learned anything from all the sea tragedies that happened between those two maritime accidents.

Poor Filipinos pinned their hopes on Joseph Estrada in 1998 that he would usher them into a golden era. Instead, they discovered that their idol was no more powerful than the Golden Calf which got the ire of Moses. Despite his conviction for plunder and in the light of testimonies linking him to the Dacer and Corbito murders, look at how many Filipinos are still willing to vote for Joseph Estrada in 2010.

Although Estrada does not really threaten the 2010 presidential election leaders like Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar, still it is depressing to see that he registers a double digit rating in the SWS and Pulse Asia polls. One wonders if these folks who will still vote for Estrada in 2010 are the suicidal types.

More than what our leaders and their relatives plunder, more than the man-made and natural calamities that befall us — our biggest tragedy as a people is our inability to learn the precious lessons of our mistakes. Had we been cognizant of these lessons of our past failures, then we would not have suffered the twin tragedies of the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regimes.

Many of these lessons that we have to learn are found in the historical truth that very few Filipinos really know. Our national hero Jose Rizal was right that the person who does not know where he came from will never get to his destination.

Not knowing our real history and the precious lessons of our mistakes, we are like the Israelites who kept wandering in the desert. We wander the world to look for a job and we wonder if there is indeed a Promised Land for us.

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