Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We, Pinoys, Have a Choice!

I have always thought of the name “Philippines” as a memorial to our painful colonial past and a demeaning vestige of our being diminutive copies of a vile Spanish monarch. To call ourselves “Pinoys” further emphasizes our not-so-amusing self-wounding tendency. My use then of the above title is more poetic than honorific. (The title actually came to me in a dream; so, what writer can resist an inspiration?) Besides, it adds a slight sarcasm that might help awaken us to finally claim a better nation with bigger dreams and, preferably, a better name (read: reputation, also). Not a bad choice at all.

After Ondoy, Pepeng and a taste of Ramil’s Lupit, we squat on the muddy ground like hungry flood-victims shivering in wet clothes, waiting for some help from generous souls. Dazed and cold, we seem not to know where to go. We eventually stand up and tell people that we must do this and that to rebuild our towns and our homes and to prepare for more disasters.

We go through a disaster and get ready for more! This is how we forget how to live a full life. We have not done what we should have done a long time ago and so we pick ourselves up every time calamity comes around. And yet we do not really improve our lot. We simply live and survive. The cycle is too obvious to miss.

The 1972 flood in Central Luzon brought us down. We built dams afterward -- great! But we failed to provide wider channels or protect our forests to prevent future floodwaters. 2009 brings us Ondoy and Pepeng and we blame the dams for the flooding! Then, the July 1990 earthquake struck Luzon and we shuddered with the Earth. The ill-prepared government did its best and the people simply suffered through it all. Laws were passed to limit heights of buildings in Baguio; but, soon, high-rise buildings mushroomed. They might be strong; but they still pose real dangers and deduct from the city’s quaint resort-image as well as its dwindling resources. And gauging from our response to Pepeng, we still are not prepared to face the coming Big One. Landslides and road cuts isolated Baguio as they did in 1990. Earthquakes or rains deliver the same disastrous effects; but we fail again to deliver deliverance from them. We must not be learning at all for us to fall into the same rut every time.

Then, Mt. Pinatubo dealt us its near-apocalyptic wrath in 1991. Central Luzon became a wilderness and continues to suffer from lahar flows, if not, faces the danger of the volcano’s crater collapsing. God forbid! In spite of assurance from Phivolcs, we must do what is necessary to prevent a big catastrophe. Who would have thought before 1991 that Mt. Pinatubo would erupt? Who are we to say that its crater lake is as safe as a water tank atop a tall building? Water pressure is not the only natural force that will cause its crater walls to give way. Another strong tremor can bring all that water down. How do we prepare for that eventuality? Who was it who said that anything that can go wrong will go wrong? We can’t go wrong if we do what is right as early as we can.

We need not talk about the many shipping disasters, mudflows and fires that come our way often. Natural or man-made, we have them all. It seems we do not really have a choice but to hunker down and face the howling winds and the rampaging waters.

But we do have a choice! We, Pinoys, definitely have a choice. In spite of the dark picture we paint here (something that TV, radio newscasters and even movies cater ad infinitum), we remain masters of our destiny.

But how do you prevent a typhoon or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption from occurring? We cannot. But we can prepare our lives and our cities to mitigate effects of disasters. Now, we know how to prevent flooding in Metro Manila; but can we do it without so much corruption slowing down the process? We found ways to diminish the danger of lahar flows; but it too became a source of corruption, a disaster of sorts equally draining on our souls. We found ways to allay fears of structural failures during earthquakes, but people readily violated laws -- another disaster waiting to happen?

The point then is not merely to say we know what we must choose to do. It is not even a question of actually doing what needs to be done. The issue requires assuring the next generation that they will receive a priceless heritage from us by our making a disciplined and moral choice now. Without that hope burning in the hearts of the youth, I fear that this country will have lost its chance for greatness.

Discipline covers all aspects that its meaning implies, from military to academic to spiritual. The discipline of soldiers, artists and scientists is the lower limit, while the discipline of saints is the higher limit. Average that and we have a citizenry that is not only trained, creative and aware but also inspired, compassionate and sacrificing. A disciplined choice is one then that tries to encompass the wealth of intellectual, scientific, social, economic, cultural and spiritual wisdom -- quite attainable now through our integrative management systems. Our colleges, universities and public and private corporations have some of the smartest people capable of synergistic thinking. What they may lack as a whole is the capacity to incorporate higher moral values without which plans and decisions turn into nothing but inane or inanimate, lifeless, if not, immoral ventures.

Can we, at least, make these criteria (trained, creative, aware, inspired, compassionate and sacrificing) as among the basic requirements for our elective officials? Never mind if they are college undergrads as long as they have heart and soul to start with. As long as they qualify the next requirement, they should be given a chance to prove their worth as public servants.

Moral choice, of course, refers to right behavior based on certain ethical standards. As a predominantly Christian nation, it would not be presumptuous to make the essential principle of Christianity as our guidepost: Love for God and for others. That should include all faith-systems without causing ill-will or prejudice among any of them. The important thing is that we make the choice to agree that THAT is the only way we can live with one another, nothing else. For if one says he loves God but harms his neighbors then that choice violates the communal peace and stability.

LOVE. As simple as that.

Religious differences have no place in this effort to make disciplined and moral choices in rebuilding our nation. In whatever way an individual or group worships God or practices his or her religion, it should not detract from our common goal of achieving a disciplined and moral society. A biologist goes about his work of studying animals and plants while a geologist, that of understanding the Earth. So why cannot a Christian live her life as one, the same way a Muslim can? In any island, province, city or town, this must be possible as long as we keep in mind the common good.

Withholding our tendency to highlight the minor issues that cause divisions among us (whether religious, cultural or political) and nurturing the desire to fulfill the “weightier matters of the law” will go a long way toward patching up the wounds and aches that separate us as a people. Indeed, we can converse and contend to our hearts’ delight, but must end our dialogues with a group-hug or a high-five. Absurd? No, quarreling and fighting are absurd and stupid. As Jim Wallis stated in his book God’s Politics, “Ideologies have failed us; values can unite us, especially around our most common democratic visions.”

Even as early as now, we already feel the heat of the election fever rising. AH1N1 has nothing compared to the boiling partisan passions that can cause more deaths than any virus can inflict, as seen in our long list of political assassinations and violent conflicts. “All You Need is Love” and “Give Peace a Chance” may be corny themes for this Beatle-fan to bring up; but they simply echo the need of the hour. Under such dire and tragic circumstances as we have, flared up political sentiments are the last things we want our people to hear and see in the news. No matter how sincere one’s thoughts or motives are, no matter how diplomatically phrased our words are, if it involves partisan politics, expect divisiveness to thrust its morbid head.

But in our country, an election seems like a disaster we cannot prevent and find hard to avoid. Hence, we push for a disciplined and moral way of going about choosing our leaders as well. How? Choose those people who truly lead disciplined and moral lives (remember our definitions) and campaign for them (you must) in a disciplined and moral manner. Use your phone, the Internet and your conversations as calm venues to highlight your candidates’ qualities, not the failures of others. This is the least we can do to attain our bigger dreams. Avoid rallies for they are subject to inordinate passions and to mob rule. (To candidates: Use YouTube to campaign or, if you feel the need, to sing or dance.) Watch them on TV if you must, but only as if you were watching a movie, a concert, a documentary or a reality-show and not as a way to glorify anyone. Be a fan but do not be a fanatic. Be a believer but do not be a blind follower or voter. Idolatry is both a political and spiritual mistake. Why adore would-be public servants? The last time people cheered servants was when they fed them to lions. Ironically, it’s you they are feeding to lions. For more often than not, they are the lions!

We can have disciplined and moral elections if we choose to, not the noisy, dirty, violent and shameful ones we have had for so long. If we can hack it this time by electing disciplined and moral leaders, we could have fewer disasters (or, at least, one disaster less). God is not asleep and knows how to care for obedient followers. Ultimately, God’s way is our choice.

Passions, then, must give way to disciplined thinking and living. Know what is true and right and work toward perfecting the craft of living a righteous life. The Japanese Samurais attained perfection in their way of life, albeit violent for common taste; but if we acquired the same discipline in our moral lives, imagine what we can do as a nation. Let other people herald their deeds and their promises. Our common duty is to show everyone that we want a better deal in the way we build our cities and towns and that means a better deal in governance. Let us choose to lead as individuals by having disciplined and moral lives and even our leaders will follow us.

Pinoys – as one -- have a choice. Unless and until we make this idealistic and uncomfortable choice, we will end up where we find ourselves today: in a looping, disaster reality-movie. Seeing our country-folk on CNN or National Geographic as real-life actors in tragic events is not only embarrassing and humbling; it is mentally, emotionally and spiritually torturous. For such gentle, God-fearing and self-effacing people to suffer so, there must be something wrong with how we behave and that God does have something to tell us that we fail to heed. For if we did what was right, sin, terror and death would not be right behind our doors knocking every night.

Ours may not be the only country going through the same fate but we have no time to understand others’ lot. Let us make our own choices and chart our own course first before we deal with helping others. We have so much to correct in our own backyard that once we accomplish what needs to be done here, we can have the desire and capacity to extend whatever good influence we may have. For now, we need to look inward and begin a real revolution within us.

We, Pinoys, have a choice! A disciplined and moral choice. This could be our last chance.

(Above photo: Engr. Cesar Yniquez, left, of UP ACES (Assoc. of Civil Engineering Students, Alumni Chapter), assisted by Mang Nonoy of UP Admin. Division, joins the group's tree-planting project at the University Avenue grounds last Saturday, October 24, in anticipation of the UP College of Engineering Centennial in 2010.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Damming Evidence

In response to Mrs. Monsod’s "Analysis" on, I have these to say:

1. Timing of the release was dependent upon attaining the end-objective of dam operators which is to fill up the dam. You do not release until you have enough water in the dam. The five days or more of waiting was exactly the time the dam needed to do that.

2. When she said NPC “panicked” and released so much water which caused the flooding, she did not take into consideration that Pepeng came back twice and wreaked havoc upon Northern Luzon three times and, hence, poured an inordinate amount of water than anyone can handle. Common sense will tell us that if you have a full dam, you have no other choice but to “release” as much water as you can to prevent causing damage to your structure. The “panic” came because there was no other move but to “let pass” (not anymore “release”) the surplus water Pepeng delivered.

3. The rate of “release” was not dictated by dam operators but by the amount of water falling into and passing through the dam. It was reported that at first the rate was 500 cu m per second and progressively increased to 600 cms, to 2,500 cms and then to more than 5,000 cms. That, in simple terms, is the better and only logical option than all the water of the dam bursting through a broken dam.

4. Finally, considering that Pangasinan has a total land area of 5,368.8 sq km or 5,368.8 million sq m and San Roque Dam’s watershed area is 9,500 hectares or 95 million sq m, we have a ratio of about 56.5:1. Using official estimates of 80% of Pangasinan as having been underwater, we derive a flooded area of 4,295 million sq m. Using this conservative figure against the watershed area of San Roque, we still have a ratio of 45:1. Meaning, more than 40 times the amount of rain that fell and collected into San Roque Dam eventually and actually fell upon the entire province of Pangasinan and coursed through the waterways, part of it joining the comparatively smaller volume coming from the dam’s spillway and the bigger part going directly into the towns that got submerged. You might feel the sting of a cup of water spurting from a water pistol; but it will not fill up a basin the way 45 cups poured slowly into it will. To put the blame of the flooding on the dam alone is to say that the last straw broke the camel’s back.

Generally, rains fall evenly upon the land, whether up on the mountains or over the plains. That is why meteorologists measure the amount of rainfall by inches or millimeters per day. Area, then, determines volume. This whole issue has not highlighted this fact, but rather focused on a part which is much smaller than what reality presents.

Again, I say that with or without the dam, there would have been flooding because for so many centuries we failed to work within the signs or warnings given to us by Nature that the land can only absorb so much water and that we must allow the rest to flow over wide channels and direct them to the sea without causing damage to lives, lands, farms and properties. A dam mitigates flooding by storing some of the rainfall. It is not a miracle-solution to eradicate our neglect in preparing the land so that it will be spared from disastrous floods.

(Photo above: Calm Subic Bay -- while Typhoon Ramil (a.k.a. Lupit) threatens Northern Luzon, beach lovers were treated to this vista of friendly water, mountain and sky, so far away from the tortured memories of another time, place and story.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dam if You Do, Dam if You Don’t

Even in the aftermath of Ondoy and Pepeng, our country continues to reel and roll like an empty steel barrel careening on a rampaging river fed by a monstrous tropical typhoon. Also, it seems those two killer visitors brought out the many hidden cracks in our already weakened foundations of our society.

In an effort to find out what happened, many voices – official and unofficial, wise and otherwise – have expressed exasperation, anger and hopelessness over the government’s neglect, mismanagement and unpreparedness in the face of disasters. One major target of public indignation was the NAPOCOR engineers’ supposedly untimely release of waters from San Roque Dam. That is, the flooding in Central Luzon was caused by delayed release of water. Lawmakers and critics were quick to release their own putrid floodwaters upon those beleaguered engineers during a Senate hearing.

Flood us and we will flood you!

But the engineers did exactly what they were supposed to do, for several simple reasons:

1. A dam’s purpose is to, well, dam water in order to store as much water as possible for future use. As the rains fall, dams are filled up to their optimum carrying capacity.
2. When there is more rainfall than needed to fill up the reservoir, water is allowed to spill over to protect the structural integrity of dams.
3. The timing (when) and the rate of release (how much per minute) of water from a dam is left for engineers to determine. Obviously, on the side of certainty, engineers would have to assume that a typhoon’s rainfall is the last chance it has to impound enough water to capacity level. Hence, the time of release would be that moment just before or, possibly, when capacity has been reached. Again, that would be a decision based on the rate the dam is filling up. So, whether we have a fast-filling or a slow-filling rainfall, the amount of water to be released will be computed based on when the rains (assuming it does not cease) will fill up the dam.

To make it simpler, when taking a bath using a pail and a tub, you take out as much water from the pail at about the same rate the pail is filling up. This is to prevent the pail from overflowing. One may get water as fast as possible to keep the water low. But in the dam’s case, the rain may not stop and the release of more water becomes inevitable. It fills up and water has to be released. Hence, the rate is both determined by the rate of the rainfall and how much water has been stored.

4. Furthermore, the rate of rainfall – hence, the corresponding rate of release -- is complicated by the added effect of water runoff within a dam’s watershed (the enclosed area that captures the rain and collects all that water behind the dam). The less forest cover there is, the greater the rate a dam fills up.

In brief, we see that dam operators base their decisions on their objectives of storing water, of releasing water to feed irrigation canals as needed, of generating power and of alleviating (not preventing) flooding during the rainy season. The tricky nature of the fourth role puts the operators between nature’s unpredictable ways and people’s unsavory opinions.

Flooding, when there is more rain than the land can absorb or handle, is inevitable and is further aggravated by the denudation of forest covers in the dam’s surrounding watershed and the failure of waterways to drain waters readily to the sea. To blame dam engineers for flooding is too much to ask from these people who must work only within the reasonable parameters that nature will allow. If they must be blamed, blame also the other engineers who fail to dredge creeks and rivers, the politicians who allow people to build houses along water channels and the illegal loggers who destroy forests.

Maybe we can blame nature for its unpredictable ways. But why blame anyone or anything at all? Are engineers such clueless and heartless creatures that they should take all the blame?

There is a simpler way to look at this issue graphically and more clearly. Look at it this way: If there was no dam, would there have been flooding? Of course! In 1972 when Central Luzon was flooded, there were still no San Roque or Pantabangan Dams. Who did we blame way back then in the absence of dam engineers? They built the dams, precisely, to alleviate flooding. The fact that the dams are there should be reason for us to be thankful that the flooding did not reach Noahic magnitudes!

There is a corollary illustration which will finally bring home the point and help ordinary readers to put the blame where it should put or, if not, thrown where it should be discarded entirely. This was brought to my mind while I traversed the Candaba Viaduct along NLEX. Cruising in a bus above the glistening floodwaters that covered the Candaba Swamp, one can appreciate the unchallenged prominence of Mt. Arayat over the Pampanga rice fields. I almost felt like Noah seeing Mt. Ararat itself rising above the receding Great Flood. What is this anomalous mount doing in the vast expanse of Central Plains of Luzon? It looks out of place. It should not be there at all!

During Ondoy’s visit, Arayat town in Pampanga was flooded and remains so at the present. But what if Mt. Arayat had not been there at all? Would there have been a flood? Of course! The mountain – like a dam – absorbs or stores as much rainfall as it can through its soil, its underground aquifers, its trees, its animals and its vegetation. Beyond that, the rivers carry the excess water to the lowlands. Anything not stored on the mountain or underground and carried away by the river to the sea, will remain as floodwaters. If Mt. Arayat had not been there, imagine how much worse the flooding would have been in Arayat and its neighboring towns?

A dam then is a veritable mountain that stores water. It holds visible water while a mountain hides it. Humans built the first; God provided the second. Let us be thankful we have dams and we have forested mountains like Mt. Arayat that can still absorb enough water. Maybe, just maybe, we could blame sin for the flooding that occurred. It has happened once or twice before. But that might not be something an engineer should say. Yet, as one, I would gladly take the blame for I, too, am a sinner.

We have some of the most diligent and intelligent engineers in the world. Many of them work in the best companies in Asia, in the Middle East and in the major industrial countries. To make them culpable for a disaster that they did not cause is an injustice. To accuse them of wrongdoing in spite of their having done their work well is pitifully foolish.

If there were no politicians or journalists who spoke as if they already knew the conclusions before the technical people were able to explain fully and clearly how civil works functioned, or, who listened and failed to understand as they should have, we would still have a society that would operate. Perhaps, it will function even much better.

(Photo above: Floodwaters in Candaba Swamp.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

What Images of Ondoy’s Damage Teach Us

View this Music Video Tribute to Ondoy-Ketsana Flood Victims

The images made the heart succumb with unbelief and horror: cars floating in the flood current or piled on top of one another after the flood; people huddled on rooftops, unable to reach safe ground or unreachable by rescue teams; and, the most terrifying of all, people standing on what seems like floating debris on a rampaging river rushing at such speed that all one can do is weep and wave goodbye.

The final scene reminded me of that time when I lived in Marikina (yes, the same town in the news today) in a subdivision which turned into a lake after an hour or two of continues rain. After one particularly heavy downpour which submerged all the streets and left our driveway and the rest of the house dry, I stood behind the post of the gate surveying the Venice-in-Marikina panorama.

As the water flowed past our house, I saw this fiery-red clump of trash floating lazily by. When it became clear that it was a colony of giant red ants, I suddenly had this childish urge to drown them. This was long before I became an environmentalist (read: before I had gained enough common sense in dealing with nature and life). So, I threw a stone at the ants hoping to displace them from whatever they were floating on. Only to find out that there was nothing between them and the water! The ants had floated by sheer self and common buoyancy. Or for some other reason. The colony had formed a pyramid to float to safety. (Whoever taught them to do that, I raise my admiring hands and fold my humble knees to.) Scattered on the water, the ants scampered to find a foothold on solid ground. They swam (walked on water actually!) toward the nearest object they knew would give them refuge – the post I was leaning upon. An army of vicious ants was now attacking me!

Well, I was bigger and smarter, I thought, and got some matches and old newspaper. If water spared them, fire will not! Many ants died that day, fried and frittered on the floodwaters. War brings out the worst in humans oftentimes, even against the most innocent and helpless creatures of God. In my viciousness, I felt triumphant.

Several days later, I came home and noticed a trail of red ants crawling up from the garden where I had my previous battle, upon the house façade and all the way beneath the roof. The ants had survived water and fire, not to mention my mean ways! How did I react? I gained so much respect for the ants and their Creator, I let them live with me and my family for as long as they wanted to.

I don’t know what happened to those people who rode the river on nothing but flotsam and a flickering hope that someone would come to their aid. God, Who gave ants such instincts and survival skills must have a reason why He would allow humans – gifted with greater wisdom and abilities than ants, supposedly – to perish in no less cruel a manner, so it seems.

Almost 300 people died from the devastation that Typhoon Ondoy caused in September 2009, a month to be remembered for its many dire stories and its heroic scenes. As a nation tries to recover from the grief and damage, one can only stop to think what precious and practical lessons that can be learned.

First and foremost, of course, is culled from this nursery song: All things bright and beautiful, creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. Like the ants and the cockroaches which we as children (and even as adults) somehow learn to despise, everything has a purpose in the circle of Life. That includes the trees, the rivers and the mountains. Kill or destroy any one of these and we also kill and destroy ourselves and our homes.

Floods, like taxes and cancer, have been with humans for as long as we can remember. Perhaps, we cannot give humans all the honor of causing floods. The dishonor belongs to those, among others, who continue to court disaster by building structures and living beside rivers and thereby eventually constricting the flow of water. The shame goes to those planners or officials who have not given enough space for water to flow down from the hills and mountains and let it reach the ocean with as much volume and violence as it wants. We can certainly control its flow with modern technology but only if we first learn and respect its ways. In the meantime, is it at all possible to enforce the law (I know there is one) or enact one that provides a 50-meter (make it 100 meters) open zone along beaches and the banks of rivers and lakes? No houses or buildings, only parks, bike-lanes or promenades. No malls or factories, only trees, flowers and grasses. No human structures expect, perhaps, dikes or walls to keep away the flood.

Yes, we have flood control systems properly designed and constructed within the limits provided by existing urban realities. Mangahan Floodway is located near one of the most populated areas in Metro Manila – Pasig City, near Marikina and Cainta (another town badly hit by Ondoy). It was designed to allow some water from Marikina River to be diverted to Laguna Lake and thereby alleviating flooding in Metro Manila. But what happens when Laguna de Bay, which finally drains into Manila Bay via Pasig River, overflows? The catastrophic answer was provided by Ondoy: Water from the mountains and from a large lake beside the Metro flooded the towns located right beside the rivers and the lake, such as the towns of Tanay, Pateros and Taguig City. Perhaps, the better plan was to build another outlet for Laguna de Bay that is deeper and wider than the constricted Pasig River.

We “destroyed” the rivers and lakes by building around them such structures that prevent them from breathing and moving with freedom and clarity: subdivisions (Provident Village in Marikina was one of those worst hit), malls (whoever thought of building a shopping mall beside a river?), hotels and amusements parks (Riverbanks in Marikina was submerged), factories (again, those along Marikina and Pasig Rivers) and commercial buildings along the bodies of water.

The amount of rainfall as a major cause of flooding was not -- or is not – totally unavoidable, contrary to common belief. The past heavy floodings in the Metro should have been enough to convince us that the worst was yet to come. With relatively fewer people and structures in the late ‘60’s, we should have done a massive and unforgiving flood control design that will prevent constricting the bloodlines of the megacity; but we did not. This is the primary goal before we can make any sensible design. Moreover, this objective will not be attainable without addressing other related issues such as: population control, enforcement of urban zoning laws, relocation of informal settlers and, most importantly, restoration of estuarial areas to their rightful owners – the creeks, rivers and lakes and not to private individuals or companies.

When I first arrived in Mandaluyong in 1965, my cousins and I played with the ducks on a shallow, sandstone-bed creek behind the houses. There were trees along the banks and the water was clear and clean enough to wade in. But signs of urban blight slowly crawled upon our town and the surrounding districts back then. I remember a flood there in 1967, I think, which was inevitable for the government-owned residential area (it was called a squatters’ area then) was located beside the creek. With the burgeoning population in the Metro, officials allowed more and more people to occupy what should have been estuarial areas off-limits to human habitation. (By the early ‘70’s, the creek – murky and stinking -- had disappeared from view when shanties sprouted along and on top of it.)

The main point is that the greatest amount of water or an extremely high rate of rainfall within a short period of time – worst-case scenario, they call it – can always be assumed before making any design for a flood-control system. Provide enough open and wide channels (like the ones in Makati) to convey the water and everyone can sleep easy through the night. The closed canal they built underneath España Extension is obviously insufficient. So with many channels we have built. Time to redesign and to rebuild! Ondoy has shown us the way.

This is not blaming but assessing what we have and projecting ourselves into the future. This is not crying over spilt milk or, more to the point, merely seeing the mess as water under the bridge. It is precisely the best lesson we can learn from Ondoy, one we must accept with humility, if not remorse. And there are so many more lessons which we will come to know soon enough. Unless and until we face this problem squarely, we will continue to float in a wet limbo.

Open, wide and unobstructed channels that can take in as much water as it can from an angry Nature. Oh, yes, did we forget to say that Nature is on a rampage to repay all that we have done to her or neglected to do for her for so many years? Yes, it is an expensive proposition; but any monetary value is nowhere near the real value of Life and of Nature which sustains that Life.

All things wise. . ., wait, doesn’t that include us humans? Are we not wise enough to figure out what is right and necessary to make our lives so much better than what we have now? God made us indeed; but as it is, we make Him not so proud of us. In fact, as in the days of Noah, He could be angry – really angry -- at us. If Noah could spend more than a hundred years building the expensive Ark to save the world, how much are we willing to spend today to save our own lives and our cities? (In one of life’s fateful twists, I missed watching the musical N.O.A.H.* at the Meralco Theater last Sunday because it was flooded out. I had just released a new book on the same theme of Noah and the Flood and eagerly wanted to compare notes on the story’s relevance in our times. Talk about timing and relevance!)

A nation remains poor, languishing and subject to destruction because it fails to spend for things that are truly of value. Like ants, humans will survive, but only by God’s grace. Are we not much more valuable than ants? Then, why do we allow ourselves to die like helpless infants? Ants know how to work with Nature and survive; but humans continue to work against it and reap the consequences.

Yes, it is the time to go out and help the afflicted survivors and assuage their suffering; but it is also the time to remind those who have the ability to prevent more suffering to do their job. Our Christian duties of healing and of convicting go hand in hand. We have two arms: the right to hold the sword that makes us do righteous deeds and the left to hold the shield against evil attacks. To leave ourselves defenseless while rebuilding our homes will make us easy victims to the predators around us. Time no longer allows us the luxury of being nice to those who wantonly destroy for selfish reasons.
Rebuilding requires destroying such things that prevent us from progressing. No, not by destroying wicked people but by removing the mess they have done in our midst. A flood teaches us to clean up – really clean up -- our lives.

(Photo above: Muddy road and loads of trash after Typhoon Ondoy in Marikina City.)

*"No Ordinary Aquatic Habitat", a Trumpets Family Musical