I feel like a bad Filipino for not commenting on Friday's landslide in South Leyte. This was partially because the initial counts of 1,800 feared dead tripped me out. My dad and his sister are in the Philippines right now, so I had my initial "Where the fuck is South Leyte?" Google Maps freak-out moment. (Nowhere near where they are, thank Jah.) Also, the mental image of trees sliding down the hill - vertically - was hard for me to fathom. I didn't comment also because I've been angered by stories about how illegal logging in the area has caused uncontrolled soil erosion, making this landslide inevitable, and I really wanted my reflection on this disaster to be a little more rational rather than a slew of F-bombs.
Fortunately for me, I don't have any family in South Leyte. My family is mainly on the island of Luzon. In case you were wondering.
I was born in the States, and have visited the Philippines about three or four times. And whenever I visit, I realize that they have the same problems that we do here - but on a much larger scale. Natural resources are plundered. Basic infrastructure is lacking (although my family says that now there is a central highway that connects Manila to Northern Luzon, where my mom is from). Corruption - of all kinds - runs rampant. And it always makes me sad to see that, because that is what the rest of the world sees. But in reality, if you dig deep enough, you can find the beauty of this country. Like now.
When I read stories like this, it just makes me so proud of the people from my ancestral homeland, because they refuse to give up their search and rescue efforts, when other cynical and jaded people - like me - would have already given up. I mean hell - even Imelda is going to donate some money to the mudslide victims instead of using that money for some "alternative medicine" treatment she was going to check out in Hong Kong. She does have a heart after all.
My mom sometimes says that the Philippines is a land of "lost opportunities." I hope that Philippine President Arroyo takes her cue from this disaster to make sure that greed (e.g. illegal logging helping to make this landslide worse) doesn't overcome the basic need to take care of the Philippine people. It's a tall order, but she can at least get the ball moving in the right direction. It's an opportunity to make some real change. Like, for example, a broader use of coconets to help battle soil erosion, helping to prevent landslides of this magnitude from happening again.
If any of you readers happen to have any family affected by the landslide, you are in my prayers.
Photo credit: AFP/HO/Michael D.Kennedy