Why ‘Magtulungan na lang tayo’ isn’t enough

Dec. 01, 2020

Thanks to the DDS binary rhetoric, we have come to a point where we have to explain that we aren’t Dilawan just because we exercise criticism of this government, that we do not prefer trash just because we think the dolomite sand in Manila Bay is a waste of public funds, that we do not expect Duterte to brave the storm just because of our collective sentiment reflected in the hashtag, #NasaanAngPangulo. Surprisingly, they bring us to a lower plane where they attempt to convince us: “Magtulungan na lang tayo.”

Though seemingly harmless, this rhetoric poses a danger in understanding this crisis because (1) it invalidates the necessity for criticism, (2) it absolves the government from accountability which consequently perpetuates impunity, and (3) it obscures the primary cause from being identified which in turn keeps the crisis unsolved and very likely to recur.

Sending donations and volunteering to relief operations without seeking accountability deprives humanitarian efforts political consciousness. This practice sees donations and volunteerism as an end, instead of putting an end to the problem by asking: “Are my taxes being spent on reasonable projects?” “Are there protocols in place to readily respond to disaster victims?” “Is the people’s welfare a main priority in government decisions?” Demanding accountability is an important component of relief efforts, for one, because it helps assess our government’s performance in disaster risk management.

Pre-disaster, government assured that concerned agencies and the military were on heightened alert for relief operations and forced evacuations. However, the press briefing for the strongest typhoon in the world this year (Rolly/Goni), was held only on November 1, the same day it landed in Catanduanes. Duterte was absent in the briefing.

This lack of urgency and foresight became much visible in the emergencies that came after: media coverage and rescue operations got delayed in Cagayan during the massive flooding as well as in the relief operations in Catanduanes both due to COVID-19 protocols. Had these scenarios been prepared for, such protocols would have automatically been lifted.

While Ulysses (Vamco) was sowing destruction, Duterte was in an ASEAN virtual meeting which he eventually cut short as #NasaanAngPangulo trended on social media. He tried to explain his way out by saying he would have swum too in the flood had his staff permitted him to. Yet again, an empty expression of concern, just like the infamous promise to jetski all the way to West Philippine Sea, when all we needed was an assurance that things were being handled accordingly and that help was on its way. Would we have worried so much that night of November 13 if we had confidence in this kind of leadership?

Post-disaster, Duterte conducted aerial surveys, something that could have been done using drones. Instead of praising the relief efforts of the Office of the Vice President, he warned Robredo not to compete with him, as he accused her for the one responsible for the trending hashtag. Victims were being blamed for allegedly not heeding disaster warnings. But what other form of help was there besides the warning, and where would they go given that their area was already a relocation site?

Meanwhile, local governments of hard-hit cities have claimed they are out-of-funds. Many barangays in Marikina and Rizal have yet to get back on their feet. Concerned individuals and organizations have stepped up in the relief operations despite getting continuously red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), an agency which suspiciously seems to never run out of funds.

Activist Stum Casia articulated a point when he said, “Kung hindi natin pipigilan ang mga proyektong sumisira sa kalikasan, habambuhay tayong magrerelief ops.” (We will perform relief operations for the rest of our lives unless we oppose projects that destroy the environment). Other than exercising assessment of government efforts, seeking for accountability also enables us to see the bigger picture which come into play.

In Luzon alone, there are at least three environmentally hazardous projects nearly underway: San Miguel Corporation’s 2,500-hectare aerotropolis in Taliptip, Bulacan, Chinese-funded Kaliwa-Kanan-Laiban dams in Sierra Madre, and Oceana Gold’s open-pit mining in Nueva Vizcaya.

To be erected on a reclamation area, New Manila International Airport currently displaces hundreds of families, destroys mangrove forests and marine life, and is expected to cause flooding in neighboring low-lying areas in Bulacan.

Likewise, Kaliwa-Kanan-Laiban dams threaten to displace communities, especially the indigenous Dumagat-Remontados, destroy biodiversity, and cause massive flooding in communities living downstream.

Enabled by the Mining Act of 1995, Oceana Gold has been wreaking havoc in Nueva Vizcaya for years: having plundered thousands of gold-copper concentrate, cut down thousands of trees, and polluted the rivers.

All these while we are being conditioned to believe that it is us, not the big corporations which have the funds, machinery, and manpower to exploit natural resources, who are primarily responsible for the climate crisis. We switch to sustainable options and do our best to improve our lifestyle only to realize that no amount of bamboo toothbrushes or tote bags can compare to these corporations which plunder whatever is left of our lands and waters.

There’s a higher plane where seeking for accountability can take us to, such as contemplating about socio-political systems which allow such adverse projects to perpetuate, about who really benefits from them. This saves us from the simplistic, ignorant, and cliché narrative of citizen-blaming. If there is one thing we can be blamed for in the middle of it all, that would be refusing to fight against the real perpetrators of this climate crisis. (davaotoday.com)

Roma Estrada has taught for ten years in different high schools and universities. She also writes for Gantala Press, Ibong Adorno, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines. Currently maintaining a column for Davao Today, she also co-edited LILA, a poetry anthology by women, and Kult, a collection of capsule critiques. Her other works can be read in the anthologies Umaalma, Kumikibo (Gantala Press, 2018) and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines, forthcoming from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press. Reach her at romaamor01@gmail.com.

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