On compassion and other thoughts at Christmas eve

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

As we celebrate Christmas, dear readers, let us extend our collective hand of solidarity to the survivors among the thousands of families, mostly the very poor, who have been ravaged by floods and landslides triggered by tropical storm “Sendong,” especially those in Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City, and Negros Oriental.

We grieve with those who have lost their loved ones. More than 1,000 bodies, most of them unidentified, have already been recovered. But countless others remain missing, and further search may take more weeks. We wish them eternal peace. And we share the agony of those who have lost their homes, personal belongings, and livelihood.

But more than the compassion, let us join hands and continue to help these hapless people find their footing and move forward once more. Let us put unrelenting pressure on the national and local governments to ensure that their lives and their communities are rebuilt under better conditions than before.

More importantly, the national government must see to their future safety — and that of others in similar situations elsewhere in the country — by sincerely addressing the main causes of the devastation. Foremost among these is the denudation of the forest cover by indiscriminate and illegal logging of the watersheds, irrefutably documented by photos of the logs from the Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte mountains, swept down by the rampaging floodwaters and piled up on the seacoast.

Even as we enjoy the traditional festivities of Christmas, let us be mindful of the civilian, police and military personnel and the many volunteers, including NGO workers, as they struggle to help the survivors with the limited resources at their disposal. Let us pay homage to those among them, including police officers, who lost their lives while trying to save others.

We hope that the monsoon rains and thunderstorms predicted to continue through the Christmas holidays will not cause more floods and landslides — and further destruction — in Mindanao, the Visayas, and the Bicol region. But if they do, we hope that the disaster risk reduction and management officials and local government units are now better prepared to cope.

It is heartening to know, even to witness, directly or through the mass media that people, young and old, from all walks of life have been contributing voluntarily whatever help they can afford, in cash, goods and services. Besides the usual means of soliciting donations, many groups and individuals are effectively using the social media to mobilize people, raise funds, and collect donations in kind.

It has helped a lot that some transport outfits have volunteered to deliver, for free (via air, sea and land), relief assistance from the national capital region and from other transport hubs to various distribution centers in the calamity areas.

Also commendable are the initiatives of local governments and disaster-management groups in the regions usually visited by typhoons, or had suffered similar devastations before, to provide financial and other forms of assistance. May such initiatives become the norm in dealing with future disasters.

For instance, the provincial government of Albay donated P1 million in cash to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities. Along with the Bicol regional disaster risk reduction and management council, it also dispatched experienced sanitation and medical teams to work in the calamity areas.

Also, the government of Ormoc City, where 5,000 people were killed by flashfloods induced by Typhoon “Uring” in 1991, is donating P1.5 million to the two northern Mindanao cities and to Valencia in Negros Oriental. Aklan, inundated for weeks by Typhoon “Frank” in 2008, donated P400,000.

Most of all, it’s inspiring to reaffirm through what’s happening now the key finding of a study done in 2006 by the Social Weather Stations and Ventures for Fund Raising: that “the poor give more than the rich… and it’s not because there are more poor people than there are rich people.”

Without scanning the details of that study, one can logically surmise that the poor, more than the rich, keenly feel the deprivation and anguish suffered — and the pent-up rage harbored — by the victims of calamities as soon as they learn about it. Inured to making do with so little, and being all too often the usual victims of all sorts of calamities, misfortunes and official neglect, the poor immediately give whatever they can grab from what they have to help those in an even worse situation.

Genuine compassion resides among the poor; this is a lesson that social activists learn from them day after day. Consequently, hope for a better future largely lies in their hands, especially as they learn to organize for self-help.

These thoughts can make one’s heart feel a bit lighter while contemplating the barrage of bad news over radio, on television, and in print media about the pitiful deaths, the indescribable pain, the hunger, and the widespread devastations brought about by Typhoon “Sendong”.

Surely, there must be accountability for these destructions and sufferings, and in due time we ought to deal firmly with that matter. But definitely the victims are not the ones to blame.

A sober, meaningful Christmas to all!

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
December 24, 2011

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