Photo: DUSK BEHIND THE ASHFALL. The clouds of ash expand and cover the skies of Calamba City, Laguna, Its plume can be seen dispersing northwards, affecting Northern Laguna and Cavite.
Editor’s note (December 11, 2021): The article has been updated to reflect the views of the author more accurately.
2020 starts with a bang. Instead of fireworks burning the midnight oil, Australia faces the worst bushfire season in the continent’s history, a reported drone strike sparks mass panic over a possible third world war, and Japan, Mexico, and the Philippines are at the mercy of the always active Pacific Ring of Fire.
But this was not the first time ashes from the Taal Volcano fell over the country. There have been a total of 33 eruptions recorded according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS). In fact, the deadliest took place in 1911, when 1,335 people were killed in the disaster.
However, as the blaze rages on, there are those who happen to be much more cruel than any force of nature. Our world is on fire, and those who take warmth in the chaos thrive somewhere else: those in the national government and disaster capitalists.
Some like it hot
Smackdab in the middle of the firestorm was Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, as childlike as he always is in the face of crises. Instead of mobilizing the national government’s forces with utmost urgency, he snickers and jokes that he can eat ash and use the volcano as his personal urinating bowl.
Duterte’s out-of-touch and juvenile display very much represents how his regime and his allies’ view the eruption. For them, every bit of ash that falls is a potential peso sign. Demands for N95 masks skyrocket and necessities such as easy-to-cook food and clean water are sold out like hotcakes. As supplies drop, prices rise. Tensions heighten over who gets to buy the best supplies and who gets to keep more for the sake of “having reserves.”
Everyone else? Left to simply pray for a good Samaritan to hand over freebies, hoping that the bits of glass and granite don’t kill them first. Such is the logic behind disaster capitalism, an all too familiar and tragically still prevalent threat.
Enforcing this notion is the overzealous belief that Filipinos are resilient enough to push through hell and back. It is through this that disaster capitalists justify their crimes and that the most naively optimistic cling too much on false hopes.
Indeed, praise must be given to those who walked through the fires and persevered, but the myth of Filipinos being immortal must be trashed. Just because there are those who have the capacity to lend helping hands and just because there are those who are lucky enough to thrive through it all, neither negates the fact that there are lives and properties damaged or lost.
But how prevalent is disaster capitalism in our lands and seas? Although there may have been more instances before, one only has to look back at what happened in Typhoon Yolanda to have a more well-lit view on the subject.
Rain of fire
It was November 13, 2018 when Yolanda stormed the Philippines. When the dust cleared, the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that nearly 6,300 lives were lost, almost 28,000 injured, and per a separate World Vision report, more than P5 billion worth of properties damaged. While the storm was undeniably a powerful one, the Philippine national government still had a hand in the carnage, due to responding slower than a drizzle of rain on a sunny day.
But when the rich and powerful reach their hand to help those in need, they put the people in a chokehold. In Sicogon Island, Iloilo, more than 1,400 families fear being displaced by the Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO) and the Ayala Land Corporation. These are two corporations that seek to convert the residents’ lands into tourist attractions instead of properly restoring the homes and livelihoods of many of the storm survivors.
A representative that was quoted in an Al Jazeera report mentioned that the signed 2014 agreement between them and the residents would be worth the latter’s time, especially since they would be given about $3,000, possibly new homes and farmland even. A deal was signed and years later, the residents of Sicogon Island only had a deal that is now collecting dust.
This alone manifests, as explained in April Porteria’s 2015 research paper, how powerful parties’ continued influence on major decisions such as disaster response and rehabilitation continues to bleed in future years. Here we see that if corporations and other concerned parties saw human lives instead of currency even before Typhoon Yolanda, then we would not be drowning in a rain of fire.
Hitting critical mass
Human safety is not a privilege and it should never be in the first place. Though the Department of Agriculture (DA) is offering to provide loans of P25,000 to affected farmers and fishermen and though the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) called for donations (despite having access to government funds to procure necessities), no amount can compensate for what has befell the Land of the Orient.
In this trial of fire, however, we see a spark of hope in the people. Much like with what happened in the numerous protests that came after Typhoon Yolanda, we also see today how men and women come together and pick each other up from the ashes. While businesses have since chosen not to open shops to ensure that workers get to be with their families, those donate and clean in whatever way they can.
To quote a Facebook post, this proves that people do not have to be governed if everyone is willing to play a part in the grander scheme of things. Personally, this should be a wake-up call to all disaster capitalists to put aside their finance-fuelled desires, and place empathy back into the equation.
With all immediate needs being addressed, one has to wonder what lies ahead when the dust clears. Even though nobody most certainly caused Taal Volcano to spew steam, we all have to make it our responsibility to care for the common man as the world burns. [P]
Photo by Juan Sebastian Evangelista