The shocking destruction wrought by Milenyo exposed the weakness of our physical infrastructure system. Metro Manila can tolerate floods, traffic and air pollution. But swinging electric posts, flying roofs, crashing billboards and overturning trucks are not part of our daily hardships. They are disaster spectacles we only love to watch in the safe distance from our television sets.
Milenyo provides a poignant reminder that our Enchanted Kingdom (formerly known as Strong Republic) rests on shaky grounds. Before creating super regions, shouldn’t it be a paramount concern that communities are (always) prepared to deal with disasters? An effective government ensures that the requirements of a dynamic economy: efficient transportation system, communication, power distribution and water supply are provided, especially in cases of emergency. In fact, a strong typhoon is not an excuse to justify the unsatisfactory relief and rescue program of government agencies and utility companies since the Philippines is ravaged by more than 20 typhoons every year. To paraphrase Sen. Miriam Santiago, we eat strong typhoons for breakfast. So why do we still have a weak infrastructure system?
Milenyo offers an opportunity to make the Charter Change debate more relevant to the people. If many of our countrymen are alienated by the ‘change the system’ mantra, then perhaps we should reframe the discussion by raising issues that really matter in our lives. For example, can charter change prevent massive loss of lives and properties every time a natural disaster hits the country? Can it strengthen our roads, railways, electric posts and roofs? Can it stop flooding, landslides and mudslides (in the urban areas)?
Scientists have a bad news. Global warming will continue to wreak havoc in the future. This means strong typhoons and long periods of drought. More people will be forced to flee their homes because of environmental disasters.
Perhaps the key to save more lives is not the type of government or constitution we have. What we need is a responsive bureaucracy, responsible private sector and united barangays. We have to underscore the role to be performed by communities in providing quick health and relief assistance and the prevention of looting during natural calamities.
Milenyo confirmed our status as a Third World nation. It also highlighted the sorry state of our vital infrastructures. Some may argue that we may be complaining too much. Even the mighty United States could not prevent hurricane Katrina from destroying New Orleans. But if this will always be our reasoning, then we will never be a great nation again.
First online press conference, my blog entry for global voices online.