OP-ED COLUMN: FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS – We are a country under siege

By Joel Ruiz Butuyan

We are a country experiencing the impact of multiple “wars” on numerous fronts. There are largely no enemy soldiers, bullets and bombs, but the destruction in our landscape and the devastation in our people’s lives are as tragic as those that have befallen war-torn nations.

The war-like incidents of devastation are visible in various parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. We see large swaths of houses and public infrastructure that have been destroyed. We see hundreds of thousands of distressed countrymen huddled in evacuation shelters. We see billions of pesos’ worth of crops and livelihoods ruined.

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These are the results of a series of natural calamities and man-made catastrophes.

This January, with the eruption of Taal Volcano, it looks and feels like a huge bomb had been dropped to devastate towns in Batangas and Cavite. Thousands of individuals have abandoned their homes, most of them running to evacuation centers, and P3 billion worth of agriculture, fishery and livestock have been lost. With predictions of an even bigger eruption happening anytime, losses and casualties can only multiply exponentially.

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In December, Typhoon “Ursula” brought war-like devastation to the Visayan provinces of Samar, Leyte, Biliran and Aklan. A total of 2,431,821 individuals were affected, with more than 80,000 evacuating to temporary shelters and P3.4 billion worth of houses, infrastructure and crops destroyed.

In November and December, the Northern Luzon provinces of Cagayan and Isabela experienced two massive flooding incidents caused by a succession of three typhoons and extremely heavy monsoon rains. It was as if water dams were hit by bombs, causing the worst flooding in the region in decades that totally submerged many villages and towns. More than 150,000 people were dislocated, and almost P2 billion in damages were caused by the floods.

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In October and December, four powerful earthquakes struck the island of Mindanao — magnitude 6.3 on Oct. 16, magnitude 6.6 on Oct. 29, magnitude 6.5 on Oct. 31, and magnitude 6.9 on Dec. 15. In the three successive October earthquakes, 35,000 houses were destroyed, in addition to the destruction caused to so many schools, roads and bridges. In the December earthquake, Davao City alone sustained more than 1,200 destroyed homes, and 5,000 more homes plus 500 schools suffered damages.

One of the man-made catastrophes that add to the image of our country as a war-torn nation was caused by a real war — the Battle of Marawi City. In 2017, more than 359,000 individuals were displaced by the five-month siege of the city. Three years have passed, but thousands are still living in temporary shelters. The estimated damage and lost opportunities wrought by the battle is P18 billion, and Marawi still looks like a war-ravaged Syrian city until today.

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The rice tariffication law is another man-made catastrophe that has compromised the survival of 2 million rice farmers, and its effect is no different from the destitution caused by a real war. It’s as if the government has waged a war to decimate local farmers. Despite the palliative plans of President Duterte to suspend rice imports during the local harvest season, havoc has already been wrought in the lives and psyche of dirt-poor farmers.

Finally, we come to the man-made catastrophe that’s going on for three years now — the drug war. No matter how well-intentioned the campaign is, its ill-planned and ill-executed nature has failed to stop drug lords from making the drug trade flourish. It has instead amounted to a war against the poor with the death of thousands of small-time drug users who were driven to drugs because of economic and cultural reasons. And it has terribly resulted in the moral perversion of many policemen, who have ditched principles upholding the sanctity of life in exchange for silver and fame.

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We are a country under siege, suffering from the devastation of multiple “wars” unfolding in our midst.

[Comments to fleamarketofideas@gmail.com]

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THE EDITOR

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