Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Ilocos Times Feb. 24-march 2, 2014

The Ilocos Times Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2014

Lessons of ‘86

TWENTY-eight years ago, a handful of personalities decided that enough was enough. Armed with courage and conviction, they faced off with hopelessness and certain defeat and probable destruction. But when they sounded the clarion call, multitude of people responded—surrounding the two main military camps of the country to stymie the rampaging tanks and soldiers from either capturing them or destroying them. With a bit of luck, the dictator stayed his hand—and even in the face of his advisers urging him to bomb the two camps to kingdom come, he uncharacteristically stood his ground. Soon enough, the uprising spread and in a matter of days, a 20-year reign came to a crashing end.

And so we now have the present. We can now say what we want to say without fear of being picked up in the dead of the night by military operatives and thrown into solitary confinement. But it is quite regretful that so many of us today do not seem to understand that the very freedom they now enjoy is owed to that fateful event of 1986. Not only have most of us forgotten the past, we seemed to have also lost along the way the lesson it taught.

The people whom our elders chased out of the country in February 28 years ago, have succeeded in repackaging themselves. And with the help of a quite short memory of our people have triumphantly transformed their personas from that of the oppressor to the seemingly oppressed. Why some of them are also painting themselves as either guardians of freedom or fighters of our basic rights. But make no bones about it: leopards do not change their spots; neither do tigers change their stripes.

They would always be what they are. And their only regret—or so it would seem—was that their “happy days” were cut short by that February event. A regret they are hell bent on correcting which is why they are now positioning themselves to regain the power they have lost by advocating that the 20-year reign of terror was actually the best years of the Philippines. And this could work now as most of the democracy icons responsible for the ouster of the dictator have either left us for a better world or have allied themselves to this clique. To top it all, the generation of today are quite unaware of the sacrifices of 1986 and absolutely have no idea what Martial Law, curfew, military dragnets, illegal detentions, crony capitalism and conjugal dictatorship are all about. No thanks to the flood of YouTube videos that extol the virtues of “Bagong Lipunan” and Martial Law and Facebook posts that glorify the very people chased out of this country 28 years ago. All these gull the naïve youth about believing that that those 20 years—14 were Martial Law years—were the best time in the country’s history. Naiveté, gullibility and ignorance should not become the cause for us to lose our freedom and the democracy our forebears fought for.

Santayana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We, Filipinos, may have a short term memory and we may oft laugh at our own follies and mistakes but this lesson is no laughing matter neither is it a stuff to be made a butt of jokes. The event of 1986 is what defines us as a country now and it would be of extreme bêtise if we either do not heed it or completely forget it.

Are we prepared for the ‘Big One’?

Is Ilocos Norte prepared for a black swan event? If yes, how prepared are we? If not, to borrow the words of Ivana Milojevic, a professor at the University of Sunshine Coast Australia, should we be alarmed or should we be very alarmed?

Last month, I tried to make sense of Naseem Nicholas Talem black swan theory and tried to situate the province to anticipate some outlier events. I gave some examples but a few or perhaps more ideas of extreme outliers could emerge if it will crowdsource or brainswarm the notion of expecting the unexpected. 

As of late, there has been a surge of interest from insurance and risk management companies, banks and local governments in the US, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia on black swan events. The Asia Development Dialogue had a two-day conference last year to explore “emerging issues” in natural disasters. In fact, a number of white papers were published and most of them reported a rising occurrence of the highly improbable events.  

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the Office of the Governor and the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council could initiate a workshop, a public hearing, a lecture-forum, etc. to discuss black swans and ask these questions: Is Ilocos Norte prepared for a/the wildcard event? What can and should we do to prepare and mitigate the effects of extreme outliers and respond in a post-disaster scenario?  

Here, I would like to ponder on the possibility of black swan types of earthquakes and tsunamis hitting the province. My aim here is not to predict the future or to predict when and how it will occur but to anticipate the plausibility of outliers and the dangers of unlikely disasters.

Last week, a 5.7 magnitude quake rattled Ilocos Norte and more aftershocks are expected to occur according to seismologists. The epicenter was located in Burgos and the quake was felt in Pasuquin, Sarrat, San Nicolas, Laoag and Paoay. 

Now, if we were to apply Taleb’s black swan theory here we may consider the recent earthquake as an early warning signal to prepare ourselves for the big one or for the many “big ones”—earthquake with tsunamis and their consequential impacts in a post-disaster scenario like massive unemployment, violence, pandemic, or something similar or even worst to Tacloban or Bohol black swan events.  

If we were to exploit the tremors “shock effect”, local government units and other sectors should, by now, mobilize a multi-sectoral effort to prepare Ilocos Norte for the big one.  If we could spend millions of pesos for the Tan-Ok festival, the province should triple its support and investments to create, organize and equip volunteer-based emergency response teams, province-wide drills, etc. to strengthen the capacities (soft and hard) and capability of publics and communities to react, withstand and recover from black swan events. More ideas and solutions could emerge if the private and public sectors collaborate in hosting these events to increase public awareness and engagements in disaster preparedness and response. I have always been an advocate of multi-sectoral organizing to strengthen the capability of governments to respond to real-disaster situations. 

The Philippines in particular Ilocos Norte had experienced frequent seismic activities recently and it wouldn’t hurt if we were to ask what if types of questions like: what if a 7.0, 8.0 or 9.0 earthquake hit Ilocos Norte? Will the aftershocks generate a mega-quake or an orphan tsunami? What if this earthquake launches a Japan-like tsunami and hit Pasuquin, Bacarra, Laoag, Currimao and Badoc and rushes all the way to Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan? What if, in a post-disaster scenario a social breakdown, chaos or a disease pandemic occur?  Should we expect the Aquino administration to respond as expected or will the national government ignore us just like what they did in Tacloban? Will our off-the-shelf work plan work in a gigantic shock scenario? Or will it be wiser for us to anticipate every conceivable outcome? Are black swan events or scenarios a waste of time and money? How should we prepare and adapt to the possibility of such extreme cases like earthquake plus tsunami plus pandemic occur? Should we include black swans (low probable, high consequence hazards) in our hazard assessments? These questions may be significant given that we are located in the Pacific seismic-belt. Wiki notes that 90% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire. 

Five years ago, in Southern California, around 5,000 emergency responders participated in the biggest emergency drill in the US and the world. The Shake Out project pondered the effects of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. The group mobilized and trained communities to create detailed drill scripts, drill broadcast recordings and simulated what if and what will happen when the Big One comes scenarios to the public. They urged communities to participate in the big effort to mitigate possible damages and more importantly to save lives. Today, the Shake Out initiative is the largest state sponsored emergency response exercise in the West. The alliance of many organizations was crucial to the effort and just now, its website reported having 9 million participants in the latest Big Shake Out drills. 

Will our province embrace uncertainty or will we make excuses after the fact?  

Forgive and be forgiven

WE are all familiar with the Lord’s Prayer or the “Our Father.” It’s the prayer Christ told his apostles when they asked him to teach them how to pray. Since it contains all the basic elements and purposes of prayer, it is considered the model prayer. Our personal prayers should reflect at least some aspects of this paradigmatic prayer.

A part of it is most relevant in guiding us in our relationship with one another. It’s when Christ said, “Forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us.”

As if to underscore the importance of this point, Christ reiterated: “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Mt 6,14-15) It’s clear therefore that we can only be forgiven if we also forgive others.

We have to be clear that his injunction is meant for everyone, and not only for a few whom we may consider to be religiously inclined. That’s why when asked how many times we should forgive, he said not only seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning always.

That’s also why he easily forgave the woman caught in adultery. And to those whom he cured of their illnesses, it was actually the forgiveness of their sins that he was more interested in.

To top it all, Christ allowed himself to die on the cross as a way to forgive all of our sins, and to convert our sins through his resurrection as a way to our own redemption. What he did for us he also expects, nay, commands that we also do for everybody else.

Thus that indication that if we want to follow him, we have to deny ourselves, carry the cross and follow him.

It is presumed that all of us sin one way or another. That’s why St. John said: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1,8) I am sure that our personal experience can bear that out easily.

No matter how saintly we try ourselves to be, sin always manages to come in because of our wounded humanity and the many temptations within and around us. As St. John said, we have to contend with three main enemies: our own wounded flesh, the devil and the world corrupted by sin.

The awareness of this truth is not meant to depress us but rather to keep us humble and always feeling in need of God. We should be wary when we would just depend solely on our own resources to tackle this predicament. We need God.

The awareness of this truth should also help us to develop the attitude to forgive one another as quickly as possible, since that is the only way we can be forgiven. When we find it hard to forgive others, it is a clear sign that we are full of ourselves, are self-righteous, proud and vain.

We have to continually check on our attitude towards others because today’s dominant culture is filled precisely by the viruses of self-righteousness, that feeling that we are superior to others, etc. We have to do constant battle against that culture.

That’s why we need to douse immediately any flame of pride and egoism that can come to us anytime. We have to learn to understand others, to accept them as they are, warts and all, while praying and doing whatever we can to help them. It’s not for us to judge their motives which will always be a mystery to us.

In fact, as St. Paul once said, we have to consider others as always better than us. Only peace and harmony can result with such attitude. The abuses that can arise will soon be overcome if we are consistent with this attitude.

We should not fall into the trap of putting justice and mercy in conflict. Both have to go together. Their distinction does not mean they are opposed to each other. Any appearance of conflict is only apparent.

But obviously the way to blend them together is to follow the example of Christ, and not just to rely on our own lights, no matter how brilliant these lights may appear. We can always forgive, and forgive from the heart, even if the requirements of justice still have to be met.

We need to be clear about the intimate relationship between justice and mercy. One cannot go without the other.