Deadly Descent

AMID OMPONG’s devastating howler that has left a swathe of destruction in the affected areas in much of Northern Luzon, including our region and city, now is just a good time as any that we get to revisit our own disaster reduction plans and check-mark how prepared are we in the worst circumstance.  Have we in fact adapted to a world whose climate swings have been behaving rather harshly, punishingly if you will? Have we been thoroughly prepared in meeting nature’s retributive act, now made hurtingly manifest for all what Mankind has in fact been doing doing in the last centuries?

Last Saturday, we woke up from an overnight of fateful, frightened vigil as Ompong lashed out in relentless fury. We rose up from social media posted scenes  that made us realize how puny we all are in the face of nature’s vengeful wrath. A flooded downtown Baguio, landslides occurring in vulnerable places, evacuation centers overflowing with scores of humanity whose kinfolk made the right choice of leaving precious possessions in favor of precious lives to protect. Out of harm’s way for the time being, even amid real-time uncertainties of what’s in store in the next days.

Nearby Itogon became a household word in a matter of hours as news besieged everyone’s consciousness of people buried under tons of muddied earth that cascaded down in a deadly descent. At last count, the fatalities are over 20 retrieved after days of struggle, while over 50 more remain unearthed. Ompong rampaged across the Cordilleras and the Ilocos regions in just a day’s lethal swing, but the devastation left behind has been a relentless siege ever since. By global standards, Ompong was not anyone’s average super storm, but it pummeled much of our hapless communities to stark submission.

For us in Baguio,  the casualty count of ten deaths may be on the low-end, but anyone’s death is everyone’s grief. Sure, Ompong’s death toll pales in comparison to the 1990 killer quake and the subsequent huge typhoons that caused widespread damage not just on lives lost but on economic activities that ground to a halt from dislocated infrastructure systems. To this day, the decade of the nineties still presents a grim reminder of lessons learned and sadly, seemingly forgotten. Just the same, presenting Baguio’s eerie scenes, post-Ompong’s day-old siege, just refuse to dis-materialize, they linger to this day because those of us who have cared enough for Baguio still care enough to feel sorry about what’s happening, why lessons have not been learned hard and strong.

When the earth let out a mighty heave on July 16, 1990, doomsday scenarios immediately loomed life-size as 26 seconds of roller-coasting movement rocked many of us to our knees. Casualties by the thousands were record-high simply because buildings of recent vintage were erected on vulnerable mountain slopes and awakened fault-lines. To this belated day, we remember loved ones gone, but we forgot how better built structures can save more lives, how adaptive to today’s climes we could have been. To this belated day, construction works still go on frenziedly, characterized by the traditional shortcuts and without regard to geohazard risks.

Landslides take place simply because our mountains have lost enough forest cover that would have served to stabilize mountain soil. The trees have long been felled, and nothing had been planted to keep the grounds intact. Human settlements perched perilously on mountain sides in place of felled trees and people were simply allowed to settle on unsettling places.  Geo-hazard alarms have in fact been sounded over a decade ago, as blithely narrated by embattled DENR officials, but simply the words of caution have been ignored. Places such as Itogon were just disasters waiting to happen as everyone looked the other way when illegal small-mining activities continued to be perpetrated and permitted to proliferate by the glitter of gold.

Somehow, in any post-event analysis after all the anxieties of the day have somewhat ebbed, going back to basics should make sense. In today’s climes — when events of greater force and ferocity are taking place with impunity, when super weather afflictions quickly develop in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans — that makes super sense. Too bad, we quickly forgot all about that, and by our inaction these recent years, we continue to bask in search of gold, even at the cost of a national anguish that we’re all doing now.  In a matter of days, we’d be back to our old merry ways, ignoring what has clearly become a bad habit , only because business as usual is always good for business, while being bad for the rest of us puny inhabitants of the only planetary home we have.

True, nature has its own way to take its course, but we have the option not to allow inaction to breed from our own indifference, or insensitivity to grow from our own folly. Leaders may come and go, but people is constant. There will always be victims among us. But we can opt not to be willing victims when natural disaster inflicts its deadly force on vulnerable communities, including us and our nearest neighbors. We can lend a voice to the global cry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have caused, for centuries now, much of the global warming that our planet has absorbed from our own economic activities.

It’s time to do more in acts more than one, in ways more than two, to reduce our contributed carbon footprint through self-chosen activities that disengage us from our motor vehicles, even if a bit of a time each time? It’s time we tell ourselves in a united yell out to everyone, enough is enough. It’s time we tell our leaders and every other messiah we have that we be more serious in alternative energy use, to firmly commit national policies that veer away from coal-powered energy — the very culprit why too much carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are polluting the atmosphere, why our polar icecaps are melting, why our seas are getting warmer, why Ompong and other forthcoming signature weather aberrations quickly develop into signature catastrophic events?

It is time, simply because time is running out on us.

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