By Raïssa Robles
After the electricity went back on and the winds died down, I watched the BBC coverage of Typhoon Nesat which we call Pedring.
Why – the well-coiffed anchor woman demanded to know – can’t the Philippines prepare for typhoons if these happen yearly?
Her source on the program tried to explain to her that one cannot really prepare to cope with the forces of nature because their effects are so vast in scope.
How, I wondered, have typhoons shaped the Filipino?
The typhoon and the lack of Internet and mobile signal made room for thinking.
I have lived with typhoons all my life. Some are so-so. A handful are very bad.
During one typhoon, filthy black water forced our living room door open without knocking and crept halfway up the stairs. It was the only time I found the strength in myself to hoist a huge refrigerator upstairs together with a helper even smaller than I was.
It took three people to bring it down again.
Maybe, I told my husband Alan after hearing that the storm surge from Manila Bay had wrecked the bay wall – maybe we did try to build structures like Angkor Wat but typhoons simply wrecked them.
Like this storm wrecked part of the Manila Bay wall which is thick and looked impenetrable:
And then we got to thinking how three of nature’s most awesome treats are often on display here in the country – typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic explosions.
My hubby’s brother, Freddie, told me how Malaysians come to the Philippines to study and experience all three because they haven’t got any.
Last week, my cousin Gilda got to visit awesome Angkor Wat in Cambodia. She learned there that Cambodia has no earthquakes, no volcanic explosions and seldom has typhoons.
That got me thinking that perhaps, our ancestors may have built something magnificent, using stones, but these were all destroyed by typhoons, earthquakes or a volcanic explosion.
My hubby Alan and I started chatting about it. He shared with me what he had read about how the Spaniards kept building stone structures that kept falling down due to earthquakes.
It’s hard to explain to the BBC anchorwoman how hard it is to prepare for typhoons even if they now seem to average 25 yearly – more than double the number of months in a year.
You just don’t know when they will hit. But still you try to plan your life.
Take for example this week.
I was prepared to cover two conferences – one on energy and the other on Filipino migration.
Unfortunately, both are occurring in venues near Manila Bay which today look like this in the photo taken by Marian Pastor Roces below:
Thank you for letting me use your photo, Marian.
Today, water from Manila Bay breached the protective wall and caused up to waist-deep flood in the area. It even entered Hotel Sofitel (the former Westin Philippine Plaza).
Just two weeks ago, I was at the same hotel to attend a mining conference. A portion of it looked so pretty that I snapped this photo of it below:
Unfortunately, the conference on migration was to have opened today at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) just opposite Hotel Sofitel.
The energy conference opens tomorrow at the Mall of Asia complex which was also hit by the storm surge.
Just think, months of preparation down the drain.
Those weren’t the only gathering hit by the storm. University of the Philippines Professor Leonor Briones, the former national treasurer, wrote on her Facebook page today:
now i feel how a bride feels when her wedding is postponed on Big Day. We had been planning the “Pinoy Solutions to Corruption” for months. participants were invited from all over the country. The printing and posting of the study was finished in time. arrangements were made for food, funding for out of town participants. our power points were ready. we invited the press and got confirmations. a few hundred students were coming from metro manila in addition to those from the province. i woke up this morning to learn Pedring was pommeling metro manila. thank you one and all for wanting to attend! will announce new date soon. in the meantime, the preliminary study is already posted.
For me, the last three sentences sum up what I want to say in this piece.
Let me explain.
It is true that the Philippines has no grand, ancient monuments to boast of. That our pre-Spanish past seems to have all been wiped out except for a skull or two.
But the fact that WE EXIST to this day, and we are populating the world, is a testament to the Filipino spirit.
Natural and man-made disasters keep hammering us down, but we just keep getting up. That is our character as a nation.
P.S. I do believe we should develop an eco-tourism package featuring our natural disasters. I mean, if people all over the world go to Nepal and risk sudden death just to climb Mount Everest, why can’t tourists come over to experience their first tropical typhoon, which other parts of the world call a hurricane or cyclone?