In the aftermath of tropical storm “Sendong” last year, with its death toll of close to 1,500, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) fell under heavy criticism for its failure to complete and/or distribute its geohazard maps that classify areas according to low, moderate, or high susceptibility to floods, flashfloods and landslides. Well, no one can blame the DENR now. Early this year, it reportedly distributed the maps to every city, municipality, and province in the country, and made these accessible to the general public in its website.
Comes now typhoon “Pablo,” whose arrival was announced well in advance. And the fatalities, if not as many as Sendong, are over the 300-mark, and could even reach over 700 if the people reported missing turn up dead. Tragedy, indeed. And an even greater tragedy, if one considers that most of those deaths could have been avoided—had the local governments, already forewarned, done their jobs, including, where necessary, forced evacuations.
Take the province of Compostela Valley (Governor: Arturo Uy; 2010 population: 667,000), specifically one of its hardest-hit municipalities, New Bataan (Mayor: Lorenzo Balbin; population: 45,000). How many were killed in New Bataan? The report I read quoted a figure of 101, which means about one-third of the current total death toll of Pablo.
Apparently, there were existing maps in 2003 that showed the impact of climate change on Compostela Valley, including the possibilities of flooding, landslides, and drought. No one paid heed. In any case, engineer Leo Jasareno, director of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau, noted that the geohazard map of Compostela Valley shows that several areas (including those in New Bataan) were already classified as “no man’s land.” The meaning of the term is literal: No one should be living in those areas, precisely because these are prone to floods and landslides. But no one paid attention, apparently. Not the local officials, not the residents.
Not even when Pablo’s impending arrival was announced, which should have sent these officials and residents scrambling. Thus the large death toll. In areas that heeded the advisories, according to Jasareno, such as Surigao Norte and Sur as well as Cagayan de Oro City (I guess it learned its lesson the hard way), casualties had been kept at a minimum.
Contrast the situation of Compostela Valley with that of Albay Governor Joey Salceda has by and large achieved Albay’s objective of “zero casualties,” in spite of the fact that his province is squarely in the path of typhoons that visit the country with great regularity (the Philippines has the dubious distinction of being the country ravaged by the biggest number of natural disasters in 2011—33 of them, including Sendong), not to mention that it is under constant threat of volcanic eruptions. One wonders where Governor Uy of Compostela Valley was when Salceda convened summits of local government officials—three of them—which resulted in commitments of local government officials to mainstream disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in development programming.
I don’t know which is worse: having local government officials who ignore, if not actively participate in, the scamming of their people by Ponzi schemes, or having local government officials who take such a cavalier stance when it comes to their people’s lives. And in this case, let’s face it, the blame lies not on the national government, but on the local government. (Would you believe that the New Bataan municipality located its evacuation center squarely in the path of the predicted flooding? Why? The reason they gave was that it was in the town center, as if being in the town center would automatically exempt it from nature’s wrath.)
And speaking of nature’s wrath, an explanation has just been offered by one of our good bishops—Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo—which will probably rank as one of the most ill-advised remarks made by the Church hierarchy in recent times. It is positively anachronistic—something that perhaps would have been acceptable during the time of Galileo. And so totally out of sync with a God whose love passeth all understanding.
The good bishop, and I use the term “good” with utmost sincerity, because Bishop Pabillo’s record in the pursuit of social justice is otherwise impeccable, declared in a much-quoted interview over Radio Veritas that Pablo and its wake could be (he at least was not categorical, but that’s a consuelo de bobo) a message from God not to further consider the Reproductive Health bill, or a punishment from Him for doing so.
Let’s look at the implication of Bishop Pabillo’s speculation. It means that we have a wrathful God, rather than a loving God or a God who is synonymous with love. It also means that not only do we have a wrathful God, but one who is not just. While He presumably is angry with, in particular, those legislators and others who are advocating for the RH bill, He directs his punishment randomly at others—the 325 or so who died, the other 300 who are missing, not to mention the damage to infrastructure and to livelihood.
If God was angry with the RH bill and its advocates, why not a lightning strike at Malacañang, or at the House of Representatives while in session? Does that mean that maybe our Divine Master is losing it?
Methinks Bishop Pabillo has unwittingly done his Master (and mine) a great disservice. And himself, too.