Monday, September 27, 2010

Continuing Recovery

Amidst the commemoration of what was the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy (International name Ketsana) and all the talk, the lip service being paid by politicians everywhere in Metro Manila, Rizal and Laguna, our family shared dinner while politely shrugging off what we preferred not to talk about over God's blessings yesterday evening. Me and my siblings were all too familiar with the routine and have heard it all promised only to be disappointed again and especially last year. Our first experience of floods was in the 1980's when the first of what came to be frequent floodings in our area was a chest high flood when I was in first or second year high school. These occurrences were blamed on creeks and streams covered by newer subdivisions in our area. Our village, after all, used to be surrounded by rice paddies that used to absorb the water. The excess were drained through a network of streams eventually leading to the Pasig River or to Laguna Bay. Many of these waterways were covered and were claimed to be replaced by canals and drainage systems constructed by developers. I just wonder if they really did their jobs by designing such drainage systems to be capable of carrying the waters from downpours they were supposed to have forecasted back then. But then I remember that environmental impact assessments weren't mandated back then and developers are not at all afraid of any sanctions or penalties for their poor designs. Come to think of it, that practice remains today unless there happen to be groups who would stand up for the communities affected.

The floodings stopped when the Manggahan Floodway was completed. Everyone rejoiced for the engineering solution, an ultimate one as proclaimed at the time, was realized. A few years later, however, the floods came back. These were not as serious as the previous ones and subsided faster than the floods in the 1980's. Still, there were the floods despite the floodway and they seem to be there to stay. And that was when it was finally decided to modify our house. I was in Japan by then (around 1997) and my brother was already a freshman in Los Banos. It was easier to have our house renovated in phases where our family didn't have to move out of the house entirely. The renovations was successful and our family got to sleep comfortably well. That is, until Ondoy came and shattered whatever sense of security we had for the last 10 years. Hopefully, Ondoy is indeed one of those once in 40 or 50 years type of events.

The evening ended on a happy note as is usual before we said goodbyes for the week and went back to our respective homes - my sister and her family now lives in Pasig with their two delightful children. We now live in Antipolo but not up in the mountain but in the plains below and adjacent to Cainta and Marikina. We all experienced Ondoy in what we now called home where we thought we'd be spared from the worst floods. We also hope that we won't experience something like it in the near future or ever.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Catharsis

This time last year, the Clairvoyant and I were watching a movie on DVD in the comforts of our living room while not being mindful of the rains that poured outside. I had earlier awaken to see that there was a slight flooding on the road and immediately arranged the parking of our cars so that no vehicle will be on the curbside and in danger of being partially submerged. It was, after all, not an easy task to take a car for detailing particularly when the floor carpets are drenched. At the time, we also assumed (later to regret it) that the flood will be typical of the worst we've experienced in the village. That is, the waters will not reach our garage. Little did we know that it was already the manifestation of an inundation never before experience in Metro Manila and its adjoining areas. The Marikina Valley and Rizal towns in particular would be submerged in unprecedented water and mud.

That was last year and a year after we could only hope that a lot of the lessons learned in the deluge have resulted in better preparedness not just for rescues but for infrastructure as well. I am not comfortable knowing that heavy rains in the last few weeks have resulted in flash floods including in our village. A lot of cities and municipalities conspicuously have not addressed drainage or flood infrastructure concerns often seeming to dismiss Ondoy's rains and floods as things occurring only every 50 years. And many village associations choose to be in denial of the fact that Metro Manila's and other cities' drainage systems are inferior and unsuitable for rains to be expected from weather systems attributed to climate change. Such attitude and treatment is only an invitation to further disasters, many just waiting to happen.

And so here I am in another city that was ravaged by floods by another typhoon (Frank) and has learned its lessons well enough for the city to build a floodway and improve its drainage to prevent another disaster. Iloilo holds a special place in my heart most especially since it is a city I've visited so often during my childhood and it is in the province which I consider home. Cabatuan town, where the airport is located, is my father's hometown. And I have spent a lot of time there as a child and a teenager there during the summer break, with the occasional visits to the city with my cousins. Those summer vacations were always opportunities to recharge my batteries after a year in school and I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and welcomed the sounds of the rural life including chickens serving as my alarm clock every morning, and crickets and geckos announcing bedtime at night.

It felt reassuring that the weather here in Iloilo was terrific the past few days. Never mind that there was not enough free time except maybe this morning to go around the city to take photos here and there. Perhaps I shall visit again soon but not on official business but for leisure. It's been a while since I last recharged my batteries here like when did in my younger years but I guess that will again have to wait for the right time. I will just have to be content that my visits here have provided me with the change in environment that I wanted to stave off the onset of burn-out that I have been feeling the last few days. A change in pace is always good and Iloilo never failed to provide me that break I needed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

1 A.O. (After Ondoy)

It's been almost a year now since Ondoy ravaged what is commonly termed as Mega Manila, that is, Metro Manila and its effective influence area. The rain started pouring on a Friday (September 25) and didn't let up until the following day. We knew that there was a typhoon arriving early morning but the information only indicated the wind speed, which for most typhoons in the past was good enough for people to prepare themselves. After all, the most destructive typhoons in memory seem to be those that were categorized by Signals No. 3 or 4, including a recent one that brought down a lot of billboards. If there was one info that seemed not so important at the time for the general public it was the estimated rainfall from the typhoon. The local weather agency also did not bother so much as to inform the public of the potentials for inundation; partly because it had limited capabilities (i.e., no Doppler radars). Little did we know that it was the most critical information for that typhoon. Cities and the metropolitan development agency were caught flatfooted and the armed forces were exposed to tasks they were trained for but not in the scale of the devastation that started manifesting itself on September 26.

Today, I still get a bad feeling from looking at photos the Clairvoyant and I took during the rise and recession of flood waters. Then there were also photos showing our cars during the various stages of the flood. Deep inside, I still sense my own sadness for the loss of my car, which was the first big purchase for me not counting my contributions to our house in Cainta (the devastation there is much more hurtful considering memories lost and too difficult to recover).

I no longer depend on the forecasts of the local weather agency. In fact, right after the floods I was able to find a reliable source of information on weather including rainfall. The Weather Underground site provides up to date information that includes terrific visuals and forecasts of typhoon strengths and paths. It also provides daily and even hourly forecasts for weather conditions based on satellite data and info from local weather stations like Ateneo's Manila Observatory. It reminds me of the reliability of forecasts in Japan where the chance of rain and the estimated intensity has allowed me to plan ahead (umbrella? coat? water proof shoes?) when going outdoors for my commute or other trips.

Perhaps, after watching news features of cities having rescue units prepared for Ondoy-type typhoons, we should feel secure that there will be help or assistance ready in case of another similar situation. Cities and the national government claims to have spent a lot to build capabilities for dealing with the impacts of typhoons. However, what I am worried about is the inaction in dealing with the root of the problem of flooding. The root or roots after all are within all of us in social terms. We still continue to pollute our environment - filling up our waterways with garbage and other wastes. Esteros being transformed from their navigable state to something where we could practically walk on due to the density of flotsam. We still do very poorly on ensuring that the same waterways are freed from the constriction of squatters (I prefer to use the term for people settling in these areas rather than on idle lands) whose structures have effectively dammed critical rivers, streams and even floodways and have led to floods that were actually preventable.

Preventable, it is perhpas the mother of all key words when talking about disasters. Its one thing to mitigate impacts of disasters. It is another thing to prevent disasters from occurring. Earthquakes and typhoons are inevitable. They are not disasters per se. Disasters are what occurs due to years of neglect and indifference to the potential for disasters because of our actions and policies. Are we really prepared for another typhoon because we have trained rescue units or resources that can be tapped and deployed to mitigate impacts? Perhaps we should revisit preparedness by seeking out what can be done to prevent such disasters from happening in the first place. Then we won't have to rescue anyone, do we?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Recovery

Last week, my father traveled to his hometown of Cabatuan, Iloilo. My siblings and I sponsored the trip that coincided with the town fiesta last September 10. I was glad to see my father's eyes twinkle when I offered to pay for the round trip plane ticket and my siblings pitched in with pocket money. It was not as if he needed the money or couldn't travel because it was expensive. Plane fare, after all, was cheap these days given the competition among airlines led by Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (never mind the labor problems). He could go if he wanted to but I guess it was a form of lambing that he asked us if we could sponsor the trip. We obliged, noting that it had been almost a year since he last visited our aunts, his sisters. That last time was post-Ondoy when he was probably searching for answers to the disaster that befell us. It was not the best of times and the situation was complicated due to one aunt in Iloilo passing away just after Ondoy inundated our Cainta home. Perhaps it helped my father to return to a place that he associated with stability. After all, walking along familiar streets and meeting up with relatives and close friends are activities that are truly cathartic.

Last year, I remember writing about how it was like a healing experience for me to visit Singapore (twice and only a few weeks apart) after Ondoy. Perhaps I associated stability with my previous experience of living in a developed country (Note: I lived in Japan for 3 years while I pursued my doctorate.). Those couple of weeks in Singapore allowed me to make sense of things and recover my wits. It was critical for me to recover if I was to share my optimism and outlook with the Clairvoyant.

A pleasant surprise came out of my father's homecoming. I called him up on the eve of his return to Manila and discovered that he was browsing over old photos in my aunts' albums. He was with my aunts and two of my favorite cousins - Rebecca and Rhodora, who were a critical part of my growing up years and education (but that's another story). He mentioned that he remembered sending copies of photographs to Iloilo during our younger years. I also remembered sending not a few photos including evidence of my travels in Japan. That phone conversation led to a light bulb moment and I proceeded by asking my father to borrow the photos and bring them back to Manila. My objective was to scan these photos and recover whatever part of my past was recorded. Unfortunately, it was too late to determine if other albums with my cousins in another part of their town contained other photos (and I'm sure they had old photos including those of my uncles, aunts and cousins stashed away somewhere). These will have to be checked later. For the meantime, I am quite satisfied and very happy to get the photos.. In fact, I have scanned all the photos and will be posting a few in future blogs as I relive what I remember regarding the photos.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/11/01

I was in Japan at the time of the attack and didn't know about it until we came back to the international dormitory and saw the students gathering around the television at the lounge. There was a mixture of shocked silence and people on their cell phones speaking in their native languages to what appeared like family or close friends, reporting or relating what they were witnessing live on TV. At first, we had some difficulty taking in what was on TV but when the image of a plane crashing unto one of the twin towers appeared on TV it suddenly hit us that this was no fluke, no joke, and definitely not a disaster movie trailer.

The first thing that came to my mind was to call my family back in the Philippines. I was lucky that the lines were not that busy, considering that most of Japan and Asia probably have not learned of the attack on New York due to the difference in time zones. In fact, when I succeeded in contacting my family it was the sleepy voice of my father who greeted me and was quite surprised I called late in the night. I had to ask them to turn on the TV just so they can be updated of what was unfolding on the other side of the globe.

After watching the collapse of the twin towers, I decided to return to my room and continue watching the news from there. I was not totally in shock but started to think about the repercussions of the attack, including what could be, for me, the start of a global war that no one could imagine how it will end. After all, similar lesser events did start wars including the Great War (WW2 was an entirely different affair that probably was just a continuation of WW1). This was much more serious than a previous experience when Japan went on full alert after North Korea launched a missile past Japan and infiltrated Japanese seas in the late 90's.

It was a relief later that the war that was eventually waged was of limited scale and focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. The rest, as they say, is history. I just hope that we will not experience another event of such evil, such horror in our lifetimes. Let us instead live according to principles and morals based on love and care for our fellowmen rather than on hate and greed, fighting for things that upon deeper examination are actually selfish and contrary to what we claim is taught by our religions.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Defining moments

The Philippine President stated in his press conference today that his administration will not be defined by the disastrous hostage crisis last August that claimed the lives of Chinese tourists. Unfortunately, with still less than one hundred days logged in since his inauguration, there seems to be no other major event that caught the attention of both Filipinos and foreigners, including that "major-major" event following the hostage drama where Ms Philippines was 4th Runner-up in the Ms Universe pageant. By event I refer to both accomplishments, incidents or even appointments from June 2010. The crisis seemed to be an abrupt end to what may have been an uneasy honeymoon period, wherein critics have raised questions about almost every move the administration was making including the appointments to sensitive positions of persons regarded as the "new" Kamag-anak, Inc. - Classmates, Inc.

Is it a case of malas (misfortune) or maybe the mishandling of the press? Is it an early indication of incompetence or unpreparedness for certain people in government? We can only hope that it is not and that it is more of an example of people being caught off-balance rather than being ill-prepared for such situations. Perhaps it is time to focus on other more important issues including one that was big enough to sway minds away from Ondoy due to the horror it generated - the Maguindanao Massacre. Solving this case and giving justice to the aggrieved will surely erase doubts about the competence and commitments of this administration.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Shaving foam, gel, cream or oil?

Last Christmas, a friend gifted me with a pack of what looked like beauty products. It wasn't actually for me alone since some of the products in the package were obviously for women, hence, for the Clairvoyant. At least 3 products though were clearly usable for men and one was particularly useful for me. These three products were a shampoo/body wash, a facial wash, and shaving oil. The last was most useful for me as I had to shave every other day (unless I happened to want to grow a beard and moustache - mostly when I found the growth pantay and wanted to see again what I would look like with balbas and bigote).

I've heard about Human heart Nature from friends, particularly those who were into organic or environment-friendly body care products. The Clairvoyant has also mentioned that the products were available in a store in Serendra in Bonifacio Global City. She has passed by the store more than once but procrastinated on making any purchase, always thinking twice if she'd wanted to try some of the products. So it was a very welcome gift this package in Christmas that contained a sampling of Human heart Nature products.

I've practically tried all kinds of products to make the shaving experience an efficient and pleasant one. Since I've started shaving when I was a freshman at university, I've usually applied shaving cream or foam lent to me by father who taught me how to shave. The most popular brand then and now is Gillette, the same brand of my razors. The only thing with Gillette's cream or foam was the packaging. In the old days, the foam (which I preferred) was dispensed out of a large can. As I grew older and more aware of the environment, I became conscious of having to throw away large cans even if this was done every other month. Plastic tubes for shaving cream also wasn't so envi-friendly. But then I didn't like to use cream on my face as it felt oily and whenever I used cream, they have the habit of sticking to my razors and making them difficult to clean after every shave.

I first tried using cream again when the Clairvoyant bought a tube from a popular store selling products that did not employ animal testing. I quickly re-discovered why I stopped using cream in the first place, wasting maybe a couple of razors before I decided to give away the cream to my brother who seemed not to mind using it. Fortunately, I found that my preferred brand came up with a gel that turned into foam when it was rubbed on your face. The cans were significantly smaller than when they contained foam, obviously the outcome of a more innovative way of storing the product.

My preferred brand, though, became more expensive through the years and I couldn't bring my can on trips as I was afraid they'd be confiscated if I happened to forget to place them in my check-in baggage. So when I went on trips, I had to bring a new disposable razor - again usually from my preferred brand (though nowadays I happen to use another brand I discovered when I was studying in Japan). That way, I was sure I wouldn't get nicked by an old razor.

I was pleasantly surprised when I started using the shaving oil in the gift bag and found it also lubricated my razors that they became much easier to clean. The oil was also based on virgin coconut oil (another pleasant surprise as I didn't read the label when I started using the oil) and that scored a few points considering I supported the renaissance of products derived from coconuts. My use of the oil resulted in what I believe was the best shave I've had in years. In fact, it also moisturized my skin and had this nourishing effect on my face. I am quite happy with my shaving oil and I hope that they continue manufacturing this product so that there will be more smooth shaving days ahead.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Arrival of the 'ber' months

I checked my posts on Septembers past since I started blogging and saw that I never wrote about this month being the start of what is perhaps the longest Christmas season in the world. As far as I can remember, some radio stations start playing Christmas songs from the 1st day of the month. Certain radio stations play it as part of their regular programs, others to humor their listeners about the arrival of the 'ber' months.

The entry of the 'ber' months also signal the beginning of months when temperatures become more comfortable. Rains during August and September tend to cool the ground and the environment in general and as nights become noticeably longer, they also become noticeably cooler - often with a gentle breeze in areas where the urban heat has not affected climate. December through February are typically the coldest months in the Philippines, thanks to the cold winds coming from Siberia and other cold areas in the north.

Of course, last year September brought in Ondoy and Pepeng towards the end of the month, and expectations for Christmas quickly turned into feelings of despair. The joyous season eventually prevailed, seemingly showing that even powerful typhoons and their aftermaths aren't strong enough to overcome Christmas. This year, people are more watchful after the weather bureau declared the end of El Nino and the beginning of La Nina in September. Perhaps this watchfulness will be a saving grace for most or many, a watchfulness that will eventually transform into anticipation that is the hallmark of Advent. After all, it is always important to remember that Christmas is that joyful season when we remember and celebrate the birth of Our Lord.