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DRRM: Disaster Resilience Romanticization and Management

Disastrous events are not a time to romanticize the people’s resilience and heroism as it only justifies the incompetence and neglect of our leaders’ duties and furthers the unjust service of the government to the people it serves.

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Being an archipelagic country sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is a hotspot of calamities. In fact, the past year ended with a Typhoon right on Christmas day wrecking regions in the country’s central islands. And in less than a month, Filipinos again faced another catastrophic event to kick-start their New Year, the eruption of Taal Volcano in Batangas after half a decade.

In times of calamity, Filipinos were known to be resilient. The spirit of bayanihan manifests greatly in these times, giving us hope despite all the other problems keeping the country apart. Many photos of Filipinos helping wash cars covered in ash, kids cleaning cars, food vendors offering free food, and a lot more acts of helping and resilience are now drawing attention in the news and  online—which happens every time a catastrophic event hits the country.

There is also this interview with a fisherman in Batangas who went to his house a day after Taal Volcano starts to erupt only to find his house destroyed and his farm animals dead. We have also seen people giving out free face masks, while some stores drastically increase the price of these necessities due to its ‘high demand.’

It is upright for us Filipinos to be resilient, brave and helpful, but it seems that we have been stuck in this situation of being left with no choice but to adjust to the failure of those who should be doing all these acts of service and do their job instead.

Those kids helping clean cars should not be doing that in exchange for a little amount of money. Those vendors should not give up their sales to offer free food to calamity victims, or be forced to go back to dangerous areas just to sell and earn for their daily needs. Farmers affected by the ash fall should not only be offered with loans. Every Filipino should know the basics of disaster risk reduction. No Filipino should be forced to buy basic needs at a very high price which should actually be given to them for free.

These people who are commonly the victims not just of disasters, but of abuses too, have become resilient because they have to survive after being neglected. And in these times, they are the ones who took over the responsibilities of the institution which neglected them. What Filipinos need is genuine service, proper education, proper healthcare, and safe and decent evacuation centers in times of calamity.

These acts of bravery and service performed by common Filipinos are the responsibilities of the government to whom we pay taxes. But to our misfortune, the top leader of our country is nowhere to be found in times of distress, a common thing for many of our elected leaders.

In his press conference yesterday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo is still uncertain when he will be meeting with the President to talk about national concerns including the disaster brought by Taal Volcano eruption in parts of Luzon including the nation’s capital region after the President’s weekend vacation in Davao.

Just last year, the calamity fund, for rehabilitation and risk reduction in times of calamities was again cut by P4-billion which is now P16-billion. When he assumed office, President Duterte already cut the calamity budget allocation by half from the budget allocation of the past administration. In this year’s National Budget, the Transportation Department had the biggest loss and the Public Works and Highways had the highest gain. 

Meanwhile, the Palace’s intelligence fund got a whopping P4-billion—only for confidential intel funds which seems to be resorting to poor research and editing skills.

The budget cuts for the immediate service of the people is an insult to these people who worked for those budgets. The country’s top leader not giving a word after all the disaster faced by the people strongly shows the government’s failure to offer its genuine service to the people it serves. 

Disastrous events are not a time to romanticize the people’s resilience and heroism as it only justifies the incompetence and neglect of our leaders’ duties and furthers the unjust service of the government to the people it serves.

Since the colonial period, Filipinos have been adjusting to the inhumane governance of opportunist leaders who ruled the country. We have withstood many calamities and wars through our resilience and helpfulness. But have we ever thought of when will our government—which we pay and which should serve us—perform its duties genuinely and be with us in our bayanihan?

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Social distancing’s more than one meter

There is something almost sacred about Duterte’s absolutism: his iron-fisted governance must be upheld at all costs because blind subservience to his authority is the only way to survive.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is recommended to maintain a meter of distance from someone who’s coughing or sneezing. We call this social distancing. Alongside other safety measures, we do this to prevent ourselves from contracting the new coronavirus.

However, social distancing kills the ordinary Filipino; it breathes life to the greedy and the unjust at the expense of our lives.

A picture of a barangay captain beside a dog cage filled with curfew violators circulated on the Internet a few days ago. Although it is already gruesome at first sight, the existence of the coronavirus pandemic makes the picture look worse. Another set of curfew violators are bound to be seated on monoblock chairs under the heat of the sun. If coronavirus won’t kill you in that scenario, heatstroke will.

How about jail cells filled with prisoners? Given the situation of prisons and correctional institutions, there’s no way wardens and prisoners could survive the pandemic. How about public hospitals full of patients waiting to be tested? How about our ate and kuya GrabFood drivers who courageously go back and forth just to deliver that Jollibee Burger Steak you ordered yesterday?

Meanwhile, various government officials are being tested despite the majority of them showing no signs of symptoms. Some celebrities and social media influencers are treating the pandemic as a way to “reconnect with nature” and to “spread good vibes”. Those people we are supposed to look up to are reaping the benefits of their privilege while being detached from the struggle of the majority.

This is another manifestation of social distancing—a barrier of apathy that divides the fortunate and the damned. 

When President Duterte declared the enhanced community quarantine, an obvious disregard for a pro-people provision was evident. Those who are bound to lose jobs due to the quarantine are left empty-handed in their homes. Health workers are reporting shortages in personal protective equipment, only to be “debunked” by House Speaker Cayetano as fake news. We lack assurance from the national government because they are disconnected from the people who elected them in their respective posts. 

Moreover, Duterte’s request for emergency powers is a decision worthy of scrutiny from us. Despite being approved by the Congress and the Senate, the ‘Bayanihan’ bill raises a lot of questions due to his track record of inefficiency. We have seen him handle the Marawi crisis through a three-year martial law in Mindanao, but peace and order in that region remain unsolved. How sure are we that Duterte’s newly granted powers can save us?

This is a cycle in Duterte’s governance. When all else fails, he seeks absolute power to provide a solution. Instead of governing through a progressive social praxis, he alienates his constituents away from the government. His draconian approaches are a result of his apathy; his failure to empathize makes him demand obedience without question instead. His privilege has blinded him to become an effective leader during this crisis.

Despite being devoid of social analysis and empathy, Duterte finds himself surrounded with an unrealistic mob of supporters on the Internet. Even a number of your relatives are still fixated with his junta-like leadership. Probably it is due to his “strongman image”— a continuous showcase of dominance. By aligning himself with the gods, he consolidates a near-absolute power in today’s era, where the divine right of kings is far from a legitimate doctrine. 

The current administration is a false religion of its own. Duterte and his lapdogs can’t hear our prayers. No matter how far-fetched the solution, you are required to obey. There is something almost sacred about Duterte’s absolutism: his iron-fisted governance must be upheld at all costs because blind subservience to his authority is the only way to survive.

But even unwavering obedience can’t exempt the masses from suffering. One test kit wasted from a VIP is one test kit deprived from a person under investigation. Your fanaticism to Duterte’s antics won’t help you reach that ten-kilometer grocery due to the cancellation of public transportation services.

While it is not your fault that you are spending the quarantine binge-watching Netflix series, we become contributory to the oppression when we fail to recognize that not everyone is as financially secure as we are. By failing to acknowledge the root cause of the problems plaguing our society, we become enablers of the status quo. Recognizing our part in the greater scheme of things is always a good step, to begin with.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing has remained a fixed variable in the context of the Philippine society—the ever-growing disparity between the rich and the poor makes the former thrive while the latter succumbs into hopelessness. 

However, the revolutionary Filipino spirit remains a nightmare in the fantasies of the elite. If criticism and dissent are heresy to Duterte’s religion, then we are unbelievers cast away from their “salvation”. However, no cult can deliver salvation. Only the masses can genuinely dictate their own fate.

The masses giveth and the masses taketh away.

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The worst holiday ever

The holidays often become an avenue of discrimination. Instead of celebrating love and reunion, it becomes a time for our families to insinuate statements that attack our viewpoints and our individuality.

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A while ago, there was a group of teenagers who came to my grandma’s gate to sing their Christmas tunes in exchange for coins. It was accompanied by a guitar and with voices that are impossibly good and unfair that only a whole neighbourhood would hear them. Their notes hit the perfect places and strung chords right on my heartstrings.

My cousins could not help but to spare a couple of coins to give for their outstanding performance. After their short-lived gig, they moved on to the next house to bring their harmonies to another household. With this, I realized that Christmas is indeed approaching.

The holidays are a time for celebration, love, reunion, and happiness. This season matters greatly to everyone especially to Filipinos. Some would even book plane tickets to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Some would stay on video call for several hours to celebrate it virtually in events where they cannot physically convene with their loved ones.

Filipinos are also known for setting up Christmas decorations months before the season. This has become a tradition that has never faded among Filipinos. Their value of the holidays contribute greatly to the spirit of Christmas would like to bring.

Not every Christmas is perfect. A relative would be sick, the milk put on the fruit salad might be expired, the gift for our nephew might be delivered as the year approaches its end, or someone else is still stuck in traffic. And last to mention, comments from our family. In retrospect, how harmless could those be?

For over the past couple of years, I have not been the subject of my family’s comments on my identity and viewpoints. I have been a mere spectator of these happenings in Christmas as I slowly indulge on the smoked salmon at the far end of the table. I once was the victim of the harmless, “may boyfriend ka na ba?” as I was approaching legality.

My family saw me grow up as a slender heterosexual woman as what I am now. In today’s society, that still constitutes and individual as a perfect being because it is what’s dictated to be desirable these days. My cousin who is a few years older – young, beautiful, and slender – has not been a subject of these comments. I feel lucky to be invincible of those comments yet; I feel that there is a responsibility I have to do. Not because I am who I say I am but because there’s something wrong with how we converse during the holidays.

A few Christmases ago, I overheard my aunt exclaim to my cousin, “Macaria, ang taba taba mo na,” and as if that wasn’t enough, she added, “Mag-diet ka nga!”. My cousin simply dismissed it by nodding at the remark.

This has been a recurring practice every holiday. It would often serve as an insult on a day to day basis. In the long run, it has been normalized. I noticed that she does not mind about it anymore but who am I to know what she actually feels about it? I’m a perfect person after all.

Macaria is two years older than I am. We are the same except that she is curvy and I am not. She does not fit the embodiment of what a perfect person is because of her figure. I know my family means well but the comments get disparaging from time to time. It has been been baneful to the spirit of Christmas. But Macaria’s situation is not the only case that I have heard of this problem.

My friend’s sister brought home her significant other for the holidays to introduce to their family. One of my friend’s relatives would comment on the flamboyance of her cousin’s significant other and press on the person if he is of the homosexual persuasion. The person made it clear that he was not however, her relative still made such remarks to insist that they are right to further poke on his sexuality.

To pay respects and to avoid conflict, he just smiled and my friend’s sister just gave out a sigh. Their relative changed the topic and carried on with the ignorance of their actions.

These comments would be thrown out of the drain the next day. It would later be recycled for the next holiday (or perhaps, it could’ve been “improved” as something else more). It would seem like the nature and spirit of the holidays are still intact because most of us—people in our generation, would prefer to stay silent to not stir up the pot of contradictions our families would throw us.

To be different and to side with what is right—whether be it topics on rights and equality—is simply seen as wrong by our elders.

The holidays often become an avenue of discrimination. Instead of celebrating love and reunion, it becomes a time for our families to insinuate statements that attack our viewpoints and our individuality. Some are lucky to be accepted by their families without a sliver of judgement.

Many of us wish to receive acceptance as a gift instead of material things. It is difficult to celebrate the holidays with that very disposition. In cold weathers with a hot chocolate drink and where everybody is together, we crave for home and the feeling of it.

But the question we must ask is: where is home in December? And most importantly, does it have to be somewhere else when it is already in front of us?

The spirit of Christmas is strong within us Filipinos. We know fully well the value of family and belongingness and we know for a fact that Christmas does not have to be celebrated this way. So this Christmas, I want you to ask yourselves, what better gift can we give apart from a handful of blue bills and expensive clothes?

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PH education: A microcosm of high society

In an educational institution where teachers treat students as numbers, it does not in any way promote a wholesome learning environment.

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Following the results of 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released on December 3 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Senator Cynthia Villar proposed to “disband” low quality schools and give high rewards to high quality schools.

The 2018 PISA results show that the Philippines is the lowest in reading comprehension and second to the lowest in math and science performance among the 79 countries who participated.

Villar’s intention is coming from sheer embarrassment that Philippines falls to another ground-level in the world rankings. It is expected. So, is giving incentives to top-performing schools and disbanding poor-performing schools the solution to our failing education system?

Similar to the K-12 program, a stick-on solution to widespread unemployment, Villar’s proposition is a futile attempt to mask what the Philippine education is forsaking: the incapable.

Article 14, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution says that “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” In other words, education is everyone’s right.

That is not the case in the Philippine setting where education is a privilege.

In the Age of Information in which information is said to be accessible to everyone, being knowledgeable about every subject matter is a prerequisite. One is to be blamed, when faced with judgement, if he does not know his basic rights or anything about the law.

This is where the problem lies: in this poverty-stricken nation, access to education and knowledge requires the resources—either money or intellect—and frankly, not everyone has one or even both.

Attention being given by the government only to top-performing schools dooms the poor-performing schools from the start. Incentives need not be given to schools anymore because world rankings already show which ones excel. Competition encouraged among the schools is obsolete, but for all of them to equally achieve the quality education they deserve is quintessential.

What is needed is to attend to the inadequacies of the schools who fail to provide high-quality education. These smaller institutions may have always had the goal in mind to improve the quality of education they can provide their students, and perhaps if given adequate resources, they would not settle with the low-level rankings. They need funding for facilities, learning materials, and the salary of the teachers. These are the micro-aspects that impedes them. Disbanding them is not a solution but is just an easy way out.

In a nutshell, Philippine education system caters to only either the well-off or the exceptional. If one is neither of the two, he would have to strive in order to reserve a spot. The premature K-to-12, which promised a better quality of tertiary education and employment-ready graduates, ended up as a failed experiment and has only doubled the burden of the students.

In an educational institution where teachers treat students as numbers, it does not in any way promote a wholesome learning environment.

Studies have already proven that the number of academic workloads and financial-related stress play a part in the rising mental health problems and poor performance of the students. Suicide rates among students is another looming issue and if remained unaddressed will later seed a bigger setback in educational institutions.

“How can we expect to perform in assessment tests if the government continues to turn a blind eye on the perennial problems of shortages in the basic education system?” ACT Teachers Representative France Castro asked.

Perhaps the government should finally address that the root cause of our failure in PISA is much more than the lack of competence among schools and is found in the often-neglected facets of the learning system.

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