Misfortune Amid Merrymaking

DECEMBER 2017 may well be the most disastrous month ever. Water, fire, and road mishaps took place with seeming impunity. Four days before Christmas Day, the MV Mercraft 3 sunk off Dinahican, Quezon, leaving at least 5 dead in a maritime tragedy brought about by a passing storm. The mishap, caused by huge waves spawned by wind-swept rains, ploughed the overloaded seacraft under water.

Storms in December? Just two of them, first it was Urduja, then Vinta, two moderately strong weather disturbances that may have been ignored, but surprisingly swept roughshod across the Visayas and Mindanao just days apart. Over 600 persons perished from the storm’s onslaught, with nearly 100 persons still unaccounted for. Over in Davao City, a mall fire took the life of 38 youths, trapped by engulfing flames and suffocating smoke. In nearby La Union, an uncanny road mishap claimed over 30 fatalities, all because a contracted passenger jeepney went over his side of the lane and collided with a bus.

Tragedy knows no rules to abide by, no traditions to respect. It just happens.

In a world of fast-changing climes — yes, it’s all about climate change, dearie — it just takes places, regardless of time, place and circumstance. And when it does, as it did, it merely provided a grim contrast to the season’s prevailing merry-making mood. It merely gave sudden birth to a painful pause that has left an indelible imprint in the national consciousness.

In a nation such as ours, tragedies like this are so unfair, given our proclivity to mark the Nativity with fervent passion and anticipation. For a people such as ours, given our largely Catholic upbringing, it’s so distressing that Divine Intercession may seem to have missed its mark at the most benevolent period of the year.

Amid the gut-wrenching episodes we watched these recent days, there’s no mistaking that the December Disasters would have been less of a heart-breaking tragedy if past reminders of ever-readiness had been heeded. Obviously, something went wrong, very wrong.

Several issues cry out for retribution. Clearly, government safety regulations had not been followed to the letter, as in the case of the mall fire. Clearly, disaster officials were not as alert-conscious as before to give due notice, to issue timely warning alerts, to put people in danger zones out of harm’s way. As it happened, the victims went about their usual ways in living their downtrodden life, heedless of the coming storm, more concerned in squeezing in a day’s earning to close the day.

When will we ever learn lessons of life that could have been deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of everyone? When will we ever realize that disasters are lesser of a risk when the to-do’s are sternly followed, when everyone mandated by a sense of responsibility does his job the best it can be done?

It may be comforting for a nation’s leader to shed tears and share in the grief of a lost kin, but it would have been more to the point had righteous anger been unleashed, had heads been made to roll in the wake of obviously errant ways, more so in the way we alert our people to an impending tragedy.

Grief and anguish over the painful tragedies may salve in time, justice may be served in the end, but if we keep on repeating wayward deeds that result in costly loss, then lessons have not been willfully learned from one set of tragedy to another.

For us here in Baguio, the recent tragedies should spur us, leaders and constituents alike, to take stock of what we are in the national life, lest these misfortunes take place, and they certainly will unless proactive measures are made. Landslides and flashfloods are natural after-effects of a passing storm, happenstances that can be mitigated. Road mishaps occurring along mountain highways are a dime a dozen in a year, given the dilapidated, worn-out motor vehicles that are allowed to ply our road networks. Mall fires can also take place, as it did in the 80s when nearly 500 hotel guests perished in the Pines Hotel inferno.

But these days are more characterized by the traffic mess we’re all in. Sure, Baguio remains a topnotch holiday destination, made even more appealing as north-bound expressways became a reality. The nightmarish tragedies that happened down south did not seem to be anybody’s business over here; residents and visitors simply went about their holidays striving to survive the ghastly traffic snarls.

As Baguio lured vacationing tourists to spend the holidays in our midst, they came in monstrous numbers, loading up the city’s already over-stretched loading capacity to further strain. The traffic jams have been simply chaotic, beyond the mere bumper-to-bumper levels. Obnoxious fumes competed with obnoxious words spewed out with vitriolic ire. Traffic enforcers pounced on the expected choke points and applied directional signals that proved helpless as vehicles converged in a first-me attitude.

These traffic tragedies readily acquired national notice. Just last night, it was part of the evening news stuff. No wonder Baguio oldtimers who now live elsewhere are now besieging city relatives why this has become that bad, why living in the city has had to allocate one-fourth of daytime activities just stuck up on the road, why this norm has become the now normal thing.

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