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?
Ryan Flores says
One of my German colleagues once said after experiencing a monsoon downpour – ” For Europeans this is raining jaguars and wolfs instead of cats and dogs”
Take note that she experienced only the early morning/afternoon monsoon rains!
I believe people really don’t understand how unpredictable the weather here is, and how much rain we have. I found it funny New York was submerged after receiving a downpour less than half of Ondoy.
Casiano Mayor says
I think the best answer to the anchorwoman’s question if Filipinos cannot prepare for typhoons is a counter question: Have the Americans prepared for hurricanes and tornadoes?
During my elementary years, studying at Herran, now Pedro Gil, I already heard that Roxas Boulevard was just reclaimed area, its former name was Dewey Boulevard. Whoever it was that taught us to taunt nature was not of good spirit. So others followed suit and reclaimed more– ha ha -the edifice queen, wanting to hide the slums of the metro built Dagat-Dagatan which has left Malabon and environs in perpetual flooding. Hey it was not plastic that is the original cause of flooding.
Rallie F. Cruz says
As I read your article, the same question also hovers in my mind, why seasonally, the same Cities and States in USA are always hit by heavy floods and tornadoes.
In the news, I always see the same type of buildings and houses being brought down. Considering how advanced and wealthy is USA compared to our plundered nation by every leader who handled it in the past decades. Yet, every year, USA is often faced with the same challenges that contribute largely to its economic worse situations. With federal reserves still manageable and added by some private contributors, I also see that disasters here in USA are resolved in time (most of the time).
In the case of the Filipinos, we often depend on help from NGOs and neighboring countries to fill up the meager disaster relief that I always hear a portion (sometimes large portions) often go to those who were not even a victim of calamities. In the midst of all that however, it has become clear how great is our Filipino Spirit that we always stand up and keep smiling even if we know that typhoons of the same kind may come again soon while no concrete solutions as to how we can handle it safely have been drawn.
Sadly, there are still victims of typhoon Pedring who were also victims of the typhoon Ondoy whom because of lack of means to find a better place and opportunity may repeatedly be the same victim of similar disasters.
Marian Pastor Roces says
Hi Raissa, I’m giving a special curator’s tour of the gold collection at Met/Central Bank on October 7 at 10-12 am. I imagine you’ll be too busy to take this time off….so…whether you can find the time or not, yes, I;ll write something for your blog next week! Cheers. M
GA Pelina says
First I heard the idea of selling typhoon to the tourist from Sec Jimenez of DOT. I think its going to be a sell out if they able to stand in the safest ground.
Marian Pastor Roces says
hi raissa. i like your take on the filipino spirit, but have to suggest another reason for our lack of inclination to build a borobodur. our traditional political units were small — barangays — and no supra-barangay formation lasted longer than a couple of decades.
Kudarat’s maguindanao and sulayman’s maynila were not big enough nor enduring enough to have managed a mega engineering project. it wasn’t the typhoons that removed traces of pre-hispanic philippines. there were no cities, no big buildings to demolish; not even in fabled butuan from where all that gold jewelry was extracted.
but we have managed to thrive and populate the world!
you’re so right about that eco-tourism package!
Thank you, Marian, for the explanation.
I think you’re right about having too-small political units.
I would love to read more about Butuan. I’ve seen the exhibit at Ayala Museum but the literature that went with it was scant.
If you write one, I’d love to post it here on my blog.
My american boss was facinated to experience his first real earthquake, typhoon, and seeing floods for the first time in his life during his assignment here in Metro Manila.
For us Pinoys, such “events” are just a way of life that we easily dismiss as common occurence.