Which solution will work – one that serves the needs of foreign capital and local greed, or one that serves the people?
January 2020 can be described in one word: crisis.
There was hardly a day without any bad news last month. January saw the United States almost plunge the world into war. It saw the entirety of Australia burn. It saw 400,000 evacuees and 3 billion pesos in damages as Taal erupted. It saw workers from France to Chile protest against their government’s neoliberal policies. And now, novel coronavirus threatens to spread into an epidemic as our government sits idly by.
Which leads to the question, “How did it end up being like this?” And to answer that, we have to understand how crises occur.
The thing about crises is that they emerge not due to natural developments but because people are left vulnerable by the material conditions they find themselves in. Eruptions and viruses will happen, but the difference is in how we handle these events.
The question now turns into, “Why are people left vulnerable?” Simply put, people become vulnerable because of conflicting interests between those affected and those accountable.
Taking a look at the current Taal eruption, we can see these glaring contradictions between the people’s response and the government’s. While organizations like the Tulungan sa Taal Network and the Southern Tagalog Serve the People Corps were mobilized as soon as they were able to provide relief and recovery, Congress and national institutions were busy pushing their own interests.
Case in point: Congress is currently debating whether or not to make the 14-kilometer zone around Taal a “permanent danger zone,” prohibiting human settlement in the area, and at the same time forming an implementing body composed of government agencies and the military meant to enforce lockdowns and so on.
Had this been a purely scientific recommendation, then there would be no problem with it. But solutions “from above” – from the class who are far removed from the crisis yet are directly involved in its management, are naturally politicized to their interest. (READ: Taal fiasco: Walang plano, kapos sa pondo)
The proposed P100 billion Taal Commission by Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos is an example. Batangas governor Dodo Mandanas’ request to China for funding is another one. All of these require scrutiny, especially given that this makes the proposed 14-km permanent danger zone prime real estate for the 2017-22 CALABARZON Regional Development Investment Program (RDIP).
The CALABARZON RDIP, a collection of infrastructure and business projects, is of particular interest to the areas near Taal. It is a collection of privatization, eco-tourism, and land use conversion projects geared towards urban development at the cost of existing livelihood.
The question of how the CALABARZON RDIP, and by extension the Taal Commission and the 14-km permanent danger zone, can help those affected by the Taal eruption now becomes a matter of public importance.
How can a fisherman make his livelihood if he is relocated to Ibaan, far from any body of water? How can a farmer start again with a P25,000 loan, given that farmers spend P50,000 per hectare per harvest period?
How can giving contracts to Chinese firms or to business magnates like Cynthia Villar benefit the 400,000 evacuees? How will construction of resorts, hotels, and eco-tourism parks help the livelihood of the common citizen?
It doesn’t, to make things simple. A solution “from above” will never satisfy those “from below,” because there is a fundamental disconnect between those who are in positions of power and those who need help.
This is why any solution must come “from below” – from those who are intimately familiar with the material conditions faced by the evacuees and can form programs and policies that actually work. We need solutions that come from the evacuees themselves, from the volunteers, the local governments, and from the people.
Because at the end of the day, this is how we prevent crises – when we start to prioritize the needs of the people over the needs of capital, and we start to look at all disasters as a humanitiarian issue and not a political one, can we then prevent any disaster from turning into a crisis.
Fundamentally, the way to prevent a crisis is a choice between a solution that serves the needs of foreign capital and local greed, and one that serves the people. And honestly, it hardly seems like a choice at all. – Rappler.com
Justin Umali is a writer and an activist from Laguna. He is a regular contributor for Esquire Philippines, and currently President of Kabataan Partylist Laguna.