Theres The Rub
by Conrado de Quiros
from Philippine Daily Inquirer
My thoughts rampage like a flood.
My mother always made it a point not to rent a place in Manila that was home to floods. She had known floods before, and stout of heart as she was, she dreaded them like the Plague.
One flooding in particular she could not forget. That was the one wrought by Typhoon “Trix” on Naga City. It drove us out of the tiny place we were renting there to a neighbor’s house, a thing that devastated more my father’s pride, which was plentiful, than our belongings, which were sparse. I recall Raul Roco, too, talking about it. They too had to move to higher ground when the floodwaters tumbled onto the reclaimed land they had pitched their house on.
I was 6 years old at the time, and my only vivid recollection of it was huddling in a big room—everything to me then was big that exceeded the dimensions of our place—on the second floor of a big house. The room was boarded up, and only the light of a flickering candle illuminated us as we listened in hushed silence to the howling of the winds, which seemed to be swirling all around us. It was my first religious experience, giving me to see, as no Mass or rosary had, what it meant to stand, or cringe, in the presence of something awesome. Our ancestors who lived in caves must have felt that way too.
That scene must have been indelibly imprinted on my mother’s mind, as all trauma is, so that even when her mind went toward the end of her days it clung to it like glue. Every time I’d go after visiting her, she’d warn me about the storm outside.
But as I was saying, my mother refused outright to rent a place that in her estimation, which she had developed an expertise for, would be overrun by floodwaters. A thing that exasperated us who weren’t averse to settling for convenience, and cheapness. It was a thing however we became grateful for when rains fell on this spot of earth in July and August of 1972.
The public officials who say now this is the worst flooding of Metro Manila they have experienced are either too young (they were still toddlers then) or too old (they have become forgetful) to remember July and August 1972. That was the time rain fell on Luzon continuously for close to two months, a cataclysm of such Biblical proportions—the religious counted 40 days and 40 nights—it sparked all sorts of novenas, supplications to the Sto. Niño, and processions (whenever the rains paused to make them possible; Imelda led one) to appease angry heaven. It submerged all of Central Luzon and turned Greater Manila as it was called then into Venice, minus the gondolas and lovers trilling to romantic songs. The only way to traverse Taguig and thereabouts was by banca.
That was the worst flooding by far that I have seen. One month after the rains ceased, a greater cataclysm befell the country. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. It is good to remember history, if only to avoid repeating it.
All this, of course, will come as cold comfort to those who were sorely ravaged by “Ondoy,” a playful name for a hellish visitation. Some of them are friends of mine. Since last Saturday, I’ve had no end of text messages, such as I could still receive them (the service stopped at some point), I figured from the sheer volume of the traffic apprising me of their plight. The lights went out at our own place and when they came back, cable TV was gone, leaving me only to picture in my mind the extent of the devastation. Thank God for AM radio, it helped put the picture in stark relief, or unrelenting starkness.
The horror stories have appeared on TV and the newspapers, but there’s nothing like hearing it from people close to you to drive home the horror. I knew of Candice Lim’s plight from her texts that my friend Jo-Ann Maglipon, her boss at Yes!, sent me. She was pleading for anyone who had the means to come to the aid of her neighbors. They themselves had holed up at the third floor of their home at Provident Village in Marikina and had taken in as many neighbors as they could. When the floodwaters rose, their neighbors, some with aged and children, ended up on the roofs of their houses, unable to wade through the strong current. Candice’s car disappeared, swept away by the raging waters.
A friend of mine, a musician, lost pretty much everything he had. Next day with the floodwaters still high in Marikina, he swam to retrieve his guitar that had floated outside his house.
You heard things like this, and you shared the sentiments of the angry texters who wondered where government was when you needed it. Next day, Arroyo and Gibo were busy trying to look busy, a thing that failed to impress anyone. A thing indeed that only made Le Cirque even more blasphemous. But I’ll leave that for another day.
Huddling on rooftops, hungry and cold and desperate for help—these are things we used to see only in news about India. Or about the countryside, an abstract location “out there” that takes shape and form only when someone we know is put to that pass, such as some friends of mine who still speak with dread of their ordeal when a superstorm visited Albay some years ago.
I wish I could comfort those who lost much in the cataclysm last Saturday by saying that belongings are just belongings—they can always be replaced—only life is precious and one should still feel lucky one has kept it intact. And true enough our hearts should go out first and foremost to the nameless scores who lived at the mercy of the elements and died by the whim of the elements. But that is just a cruel platitude to those who spent a lifetime collecting their sparse belongings, which like a guitar, a saw, a bicycle, constituted the fountain of life, constituted life itself. I can only imagine the sense of loss they must feel.
My commiseration tumbles like a flood.