Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Singapore is an aberration of sorts. But it is an aberration in a nice way. Compared to its ASEAN neighbors, it is a city-state, so unlike the archipelagos that are the Philippines and Indonesia and the nations located in the Asian mainland like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. In fact, her history tells us that Singapore was originally part of Malaya, which was for some time under British Rule and part of the Empire where the sun never sets. It seceded and declared independence back in 1965, establishing its identity as a distinct nation and eventually setting the standard for economic development in this part of the world.

Some people would say that Singapore would always be suspicious and to a certain extent paranoid about Malaysia. After all, the former is still quite dependent on the latter for water and other essential resources. In recent years, however, such paranoia has been lessened as the Malaysian economy grew and with the latter experiencing a measure of prosperity that itself is a deterrent to unrest.

Singapore will always be an exceptional case for Southeast Asia. For one, it never had to contend with population growth and rural concerns like its neighbors - with the exception of another rich state, Brunei. Thus, it is not surprising that in academic fora, some care is applied when mentioning Singapore in the same breath as Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Such exceptions notwithstanding, the city state is a fine example of how a city with limited resources must develop. It has reinvented itself, using technology as a tool for leverage in a very competitive world. It has provided excellent template for urban planning and development including welfare and healthcare in the sense that it has evolved into a people and environment friendly haven that should, in spite of its size, be emulated by cities claiming to have similar targets.

A friend always mentions that he doesn't mind visiting Singapore as long as he didn't have to live in the country. The city is "too clean," he says - pointing to what many would term as sanitized, too orderly. He even proceeds by comparing Singapore to Tokyo and other first world cities that seem to have more (much more) character than the city state. Perhaps Singapore's weakness is also its strength. While being a model for stability, it is too sanitized, too perfect for people who are used to the hustle and bustle of "regular" cities. While being a welcome destination for people is search of order and stability, it is also often taken as a symbol of artificiality and a reminder of something that would just be too difficult to attain, unless you had a leader like Lee Kuan Yew.

Nirvana it might be for people seeking to escape from such turmoils as that brought about by recent inundations. I myself welcomed the trip to Singapore a couple of weeks back and almost right after the floodwaters receded in Antipolo. Singapore will always be a necessity in this part of the world where chaos and change are part of the norms of life. It is always a welcome alternative to a country that evolves according to political and social dynamics that have significant, though hopefully not detrimental, impacts on our lives.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Faith or whatever you wish to call it

In my relatively short stint in making myself informed about (or as the clairvoyant puts it - tracking) the weather, I have never come across a typhoon that moved so slowly, the process also weakening itself even before making landfall.

Lupit developed into a Category 4 typhoon while in the Pacific, slowly and menacingly moving towards the Philippines to finish off what Ondoy and Pepeng had earlier set out to do - lay waste to Luzon Island. The two earlier visitors (or bwisitors) were very efficient and any experienced military commander or Sun Tzu fanatic will tell you, very surgical in terms of strategy and tactics. Hit NCR first and hit it hard - at its weakest point, the drainage system. Devastating Metro Manila assures you that there won't be any help coming from it when the rest of Luzon is hit by the next wave, which happened to be Pepeng.

But destruction aside and climate change notwithstanding, doesn't it make you wonder what's keeping the typhoon Lupit from breaking out? Lupit is actually weakening while moving at a snail's pace. Is this normal behavior for a typhoon or is an unseen hand holding it down? I would like to believe that after all that people have been through, having our backs against the wall and being desperate for whatever can spare us from the impending onslaught, we decided to turn to God, to our faith in an Almigthy Being. Watching on TV and hearing the Catholic Church appeal to people to pray the Oratio Imperata and people actually doing it is but one example of how people decided to plead to a Higher Being, knowing it was scientifically, mathematically and maybe statistically improbable for a typhoon as strong as Lupit to slow down, barely grazing Luzon and weakening by itself.

Call it what you want. Be scientific and meteorological or whatever. For a lot of people it is only one thing and something they can hold on to - a miracle!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Post deluge

My mind was full of ideas of what to write after going through what water resources engineering or hydraulic engineering textbooks term as a 40- or 50-year flood. From my experience (and I am a certified flood veteran) I am more inclined to say that what hit us last September 26 was actually a 25-year flood. I am basing this interpretation from the 1985 flood that inundated our village of Kasibulan in Cainta. Our whole family and all others from the subdivision had to evacuate our home when floods reached waist-deep at road level. We found safe haven in the factory across Imelda Avenue. The guards allowed us to seek refuge in the huge steel structures that housed heavy machinery no longer operating after the factory shutdown because of a labor problem. The striking workers actually assisted many families in getting to higher, safer ground that day.

Fortunately, no one from our village drowned from that 1985 flood. But it left a lot of deep scars that painfully reopened every year for the next 10 years that we were to experience flooding - not as terrible as 1985's but some comparable if you weren't used to them. A lot of memories were lost in those floods. My parents' wedding photos were lost including many of their photos before they got married. We were able to save many photos though - mostly mine and I'm afraid those were all damaged if not wiped out by typhoon Ondoy. We shared the same losses with our neighbors and made people closer in our village. In fact, we there were many of use there who studied at Lourdes Mandaluyong and one of our neighbors happened to be the high school principal at the time. Mr. Ben Dayo would always vouch for us when we claimed we had to miss classes because we had to help in cleaning our houses after the floods receded. I believe those floods have somehow influenced me as I grew up.

I wanted to believe that the floods in Town & Country wouldn't be deeper than what I had experienced in Kasibulan. I desperately wanted to believe that it could get deeper. But it did. When the clairvoyant and I bought a house there, one of the information I sought was about flood experience. Referring to the designs of the houses as well as neighbors stories, our home was supposed to be safe with the deepest flood experience in our area reaching only our gate. We were fortunate to have ample space in our second floor rooms. The clairvoyant and I were able to transfer our books and other personal properties with the help of Manang Aileen with an efficiency anyone can be proud off. Most importantly, we didn't have to abandon our home like many of our neighbors and we always had non-perishable food and drinks stocked. Many, we discovered afterwards, weren't as lucky as we were. We all lost our vehicles that day. Most cars went under overnight and emerged still parked in what everyone thought were garages that were flood-safe. But that's another story.

I was able to save my stamp collection from my parents' house in Kasibulan. Many items from an old brief case (what was my school bag when I was in high school)survived including old letters and bookmarks I had put aside as souvenirs from visits to Kamakura. These included old bookmarks from Tatay's visit to Kamakura in the 1960's.

The past days were blessings in that another super typhoon veered away from Metro Manila and still another will not hit the country. I honestly want to believe again that I won't experience another flood of that magnitude in say, 25 years (not the 40 years that would probably be much more damaging). If there was one thing I didn't want to share with the clairvoyant I guess an actual experience of such a flood would be it. But we did share the experience and we came out survivors (not victims as other people might label us) and I would rather believe that we came out better and will be stronger for this. We still have, after all, our faith.