By: Alfred-Charles Co 许有泉
BEIJING—(October 22, 2010—M4relay) — An average of 20 typhoons devastate the already politically and economically problematic Philippines every year. 2010 not only continued the tradition but brought about a typhoon of rare in magnitude which once again tested the mettle of the Philippine government and the people.
Just like any other trying time, this typhoon can be used as an indicator that determines a nation’s well-being.
Decades of darkness
It is generally well known and even taught in Philippine academia that there is a prevailing taste for mediocrity and lack of drive for improvement that pervades in Philippine society. Violations are talked over rather than penalized, sub-par performances are almost always tolerated until mediocrity has become the standard in every facet of life.
These qualities among others have proven more than detrimental for the development of the country.
Typhoons come and go in the country causing massive floods which increase in magnitude by the year, flattening hundreds of houses and claiming lives. It has become so common, almost routine that people unaffected by these calamities such as the rich and middle class people – those who hold wealth and power have numbed to its repercussions. It has become “just another day in the office” or a much welcome holiday for quite a number of them; but many of those who see the problem feel helpless and see it as an insurmountable fate that the heavens have bestowed upon them.
Some people in the private sector who clearly see that they cannot depend on the government take it upon themselves and their limited capacities to muster all the donations and relief goods.
The government on the other hand, has historically either been too inept, too indifferent or too impoverished by corruption to be responsive to the pressing needs of the people.
Just a couple of months ago, something happened in the Philippines that had not happened in the past nine long years: a new president was elected: Benigno Aquino III a candidate who belonged to an opposing party to the administration won a landslide victory for his image of piety and honesty reflecting the people’s general distrust of the previous regime.
That at least some slight changes for the better were going to happen became instantly clear a few days into Aquino’s reign. Within the first few days upon assuming power and responsibility (at least so far), Aquino sacked then weather Bureau Chief Dr. Prisco Nilo for an “unacceptable” performance after a typhoon forecast which was way off the mark.
Getting it right this time
If Philippines was to get things right and salvage its much battered credibility for management then Typhoon Megi, a super typhoon of rare magnitude even by the Typhoon curse Philippines should be handled competently.
The government was more prepared to rise to the occasion of this rare super typhoon which first ravaged Thailand before crashing into the Philippine boarders.
Finding the much awaited rigor and confidence
The Philippines’ weather Bureau made an “every-hour-on-hour” monitoring of the super typhoon, this together with more coordinated communication across government agencies and from the government to the people allowed people to be prepared days before the typhoon hit the country according to Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul.
Yumul said that this newfound rigor and steadfastness of the young weather bureau officials helped the Philippines give a better forecast than even international reports.
“All the international centers and all the numerical models showed that [Juan] would hit northwest and hit Cagayan. But the every-hour-on-the-hour monitoring of PAGASA (The Philippine’s weather bureau) showed that it already dove that it was going southwest,” Yumul said.
“They said it would not hit Cagayan but Isabela. Then, lo and behold, the young people were correct,” he said.
“At 10 p.m. [on Sunday], PAGASA was the only agency that showed Juan is not going to Cagayan. It will actually hit Isabela,” he added.
Yumul said PAGASA began to monitor Juan’s path as early as Friday on Mr. Aquino’s orders and is moreover continuing to monitor it as it leaves for China in the case that it might come back to the Philippines.
Reaping the fruits
Among the initial casualties reported are 15-20 deaths, 80 percent of the houses in the impoverished towns that were hit and 2,000 sacks of rice in a government house.
“I am very happy to report to the public that everyone has delivered. The thorough preparations of all concerned agencies are in marked contrast to the official helplessness of the past, and at present, we haven’t had to ask the public to contribute outside resources,” Aquino said.
“The good thing about this is you saw a tremendous typhoon entering the country but the loss of lives—considering this is the strongest in the world—was basically minimal,” Yumul said.
Change has come to the Philippines?
Learning from past mistakes and a responsive leadership bore decent results from Philippine’s most recent crisis management. Whether this is one of the first steps to a sustainable path to recovery or whether this is just a “one-night-only” vintage performance by the Philippines remains to be seen and ultimately lies in the hands of the Filipino people.
*Alfred-Charles Co is an international reporter at M4 Media