One article from a Los Angeles newspaper recently says that a Third World country crept into the United States in the deep dark of the night.
It could have been another case of border crossing except that no one with an armalite was guarding the borders.
Or there was no sniffing dog that could have detected the entry of this illegal visitor.
Now we see the light of day: It is the border crossing the poor and underprivileged American citizens who did not have the means to flee and take flight.
The article could have alluded to the despair and frustration of the border crossers in the country—the same despair and frustration that drove them to come here and find a life even in the most uncertain and trying circumstances.
It was an article premised on the following: (a) that the United States is not—and cannot be—Third World because it can send space missions; (2) that it can send rescue operations in tsunami-ravaged areas in a few hours; (3) that it cannot be the place where there is that great divide between the rich and the poor, between those with cars and whose who only have their weak legs, those who have the credits card to tide them over or those who only have dreams of the dollar.
But when a tragedy strikes like the Katrina, a nation gets to kneel down, bows to the ground, and acknowledges that some thing good could have been done but was not done.
With Katrina exposing the problems with government bureaucracy and the tentativeness with which the political leaders and government agencies had decided on the most immediate and most elementary measures to address the disaster, we immigrant Filipinos in the United States can only recall what has befallen to our people with the flashfloods in Leyte and Ormoc, the landslides in Aurora and Quezon, the sinking of MV Don Juan and many other mishaps that have proven one thing about Philippine governance: ineptitude.
Like the victims of Katrina in New Orleans and in some other cities in the other states, we see the same patterns in the Philippines.
Those who die in the landslides are not the owners of the logging companies and concessions.
Those who die in the flashfloods are never those whose authority and power have made it possible for the forest covers to be denuded and lost to soil erosions and to the brutal mercies of rampaging waters.
Those who die in the sinking of floating coffins in the high seas—those coffins passing themselves off as commercial transportation vessels are those who do not have the money to buy airline tickets that ensure them of a better deal in getting to their homes in a few hours.
With tragedies like these by reason of force majeure and rendered more absurd by government incompetence and neglect, even First World nations and countries like the United States get to become Third World for some days: there is no home to go back to , no bed to rest your weary and tired soul, no food on your table, no clean water to quench your thirst for the quick response from the government, and no medicine to heal the broken spirit.
The luck of the US is that this kind of a treagedy happens only as some kind of a bad cycle of seasons, a bad luck in some sort of way even if we cannot attribute bad luck with the delayed response of some agencies that have been tasked to give a quick response to emergency situations all over the world.
The bad luck of the Philippines is that a tragedy like this can sometimes take on a daily occurrence.
We had our share of the Payatas dumps going down the history of depriving our people of their dignity and self-respect, with dead people’s remains eventually mixed with the refuse of both the poor and the rich—but the rich mostly, they who can afford to throw a whole piece of a broiled chicken and then to be picked up by a triumphal father, he who had not had the chance to bring home to his starving and salivating children one whole piece of a chicken from a popular lechon manok chain.
We know the story, of course, with the father re-cooking the broiled chicken, serving it to the appreciating children, and then the following day, most of his children are dead for food poisoning.
There is much of these vicissitudes when governments are capable of neglect and plain incompetence, qualities the Third World countries are known.
We did not put in another one: corruption—and it happens in many ways in the Philippines when good blankets sent from abroad are replaced with thin linen bought from the wholesalers of Divisoria, when good corned beef from Argentina, the US or Mexico are being replaced by canned sardines from the dirty factories of Malabon or Navotas.
Natural calamities are synonymous to disaster, despair, destruction.
Man-made calamities are not any better. They may even end up worse.
Such are the vicissitudes of life in these parts—and we see that First World countries do not have the monopoly and franchise of the best in everything.
Already, there are threats in many cities in the US as there are threats as well in the many parts of the Philippines.
The worse scenario is that the Philippine police have said it cannot guarantee total protection to its citizens. In the US, at least, is a theoretical preparedness that comes close to being a bluff sometimes. At least, there is a quick emergency response on paper.
We draw parallelisms here—and we need to move on from there.
We take stock of what we have.
We take stock of what we can do.
We take stock of how to move—how to inspire a nation to make itself a nation for our grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Published, Weekly Inquirer, V1N12, Sept 15-21, 2005