Today’s View : Are calamities about resilience, or injustice?

Nov. 10, 2013

comment on CNN

By Hyangelo Henry Hao

“Unbelievably resilient, long suffering, good natured, uber friendly, loyal, ingenius, and a bunch of survivors(sic)” (a comment posted on CNN’s website on why Filipinos survive calamities year after year –editor’s note)

The first two phrases (“unbelievably resilient and long suffering”) can, at some point, be anti-virtues. Why not strive to be able to avert threats to your existence and have to ability to avoid suffering instead? Isn’t adaptability one of the primary evolutionary advantages of humans?

We know we live in the Pacific Rim of Fire so we should expect strong earthquakes. We know that we live in the path of Pacific typhoons so we should expect strong typhoons. Perhaps we should enact and enforce building codes with these two facts of life in mind? Perhaps we should also have standard evacuation routes? In the southeastern states in the US, most cities have evacuation route signs all over the place. People actively prepare for a hurricane. I spent almost two years in Florida with no hurricanes making landfall but people prepared every time nonetheless. What sort of preparation do they do? Well it varies from the standard “bottled water + flashlights” to the “zombie survival pack” as I call it (essentially stockpiling every possible thing).

That said, your ability to prepare tends to correspond to your ability to spend. With a minimum wage that’s only a few notches above slavery and an unemployment rate that’s really high, our country’s poor simply do not have the means to protect themselves effectively. When people say that natural calamities are great levelers, they lie. No one should expect someone like, say, Henry Sy to be in any real danger from any kind of typhoon. The more resources you have the greater your chances of surviving. So with this in mind, natural calamities are actually just another form of social injustice. One only has to do a survey of casualties as a result of natural disasters and you will see that they tend to be from the lower income classes.

These are facts that most don’t even bother to think about. Most Filipinos would rather pat themselves in the back for being “hardy” and “surviving” a typhoon with only several hundred dead – no analysis and no indignation at the injustice.

These traits are nothing to be proud of about after all. They are the kind of traits that, if evolution had its way, will result in extinction.

(Hyangelo Henry Hao was co-editor-in-chief of Atenews, the student publication of the Ateneo de Davao University, in 2008-2009. He currently works at in Seattle, Washington, USA.)

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