At some point – now I don’t remember when – on Friday, I decided to glance at the headlines. So much happening in the world lately…as much as the news depresses me, I’ve been trying to stay up-to-speed. Right away, I noticed a story about a typhoon in the Philippines…this is nothing too shocking, because, as many of you will have heard and read in the news over the last few days, typhoons hit the Philippines several times a year, particularly in Luzon, where Metro Manila, with its 11.5 million people, stands at the as-ready-as-it-can-be year on year. But this headline said “Southern Philippines,” which was unusual.
Mindanao, the second-largest of more than 7000 islands in the Philippines, is called the breadbasket of the Philippines for good reason. Fruits, vegetables, and fish are abundant there, but also minerals and hard wood, with the potential to bring a weighty income into the country. Of course, it has never played out that way – all the resources of the island are routinely exploited by the “haves,” while the “have-nots” are tasked with honing the skills and producing the labor necessary to line the pockets of foreigners and a few very wealthy Pinoys. Without a doubt, extensive logging and mining take their toll, and most recently that toll has been human life and livelihood.
We are all now aware that Tropical Storm Washi – not a typhoon – hit primarily in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. The former is the city in which I spent a significant amount of my time working; the latter is where we lived. At the last count, the Philippine Red Cross was confirming 652 dead and 900 missing. Other estimates I’ve read put 100,000 people homeless, and 50,000 children “affected.” Many of you will have read that the victims are largely women and children.
And of course, on the comment threads, I keep reading about “preparedness”…and I do not disagree: what made me angriest about Katrina, for example, was that the local and national governments knew it could happen and did nothing to prevent it. Of course, the many opinionated with comments like that rarely refer to that disaster. But these are areas – particularly Cagayan – where storms like this are unheard of. Sure, we can all prepare for the worst, but that hardly seems reasonable. However, there are conditions that have made this disaster far worse than it could have been.
Once, at an event in Iligan, I was introduced to a soldier – somebody important, like a captain or something – and his wife. He was stationed in the mountains, where conflict has been waged for many decades between Visayan Christians and Mindanawan Muslims over land disputes. Illegal logging is a major issue in those mountains, but on that subject he had this to say: “The problem is not illegal logging. The problem is legal logging.” Indeed – what can possibly compare to the many thousands taken legally each year by foreign corporations? Food for thought. And the mining operations are certainly legally sanctioned, in spite of their tremendous impact on the environment, the miners and their families, and the profound lack of profit they produce for Filipinos as compared to the international corporations who make a killing off of them every year.
I am selfishly relieved to know that – from what we’ve heard so far – none of our friends in Iligan have perished. One friend – a woman I consider extraordinary on so many levels – lost her home and all her possessions, although she was able to grab her laptop and guitar as she escaped, which makes me a little less sad for her. We’re still waiting on further news from Cagayan. However, even if all of our friends are safe, they have all lost family and loved ones.
Christmas is extraordinarily important to Pinoys, who refer to it as Pasko. I have never seen so many decorations and celebrations in any country as I did in the Philippines; Christmas music can be heard from shops and carolers from mid-November. This will indeed be a tragic Christmas for so many. I realize it is late, but if you haven’t finished your shopping, and if you fancy making a donation in the name of a loved one in lieu of a gift, the Philippine Red Cross is a good place to start. And if you’d like to donate more directly, I’d be happy to help connect you with smaller organizations