WHY WE NEED TO STOP GLORIFYING FILIPINO RESILIENCY?
Updated: May 2
It was November 12, 2020, when the deadliest tropical cyclone of its year affected large parts of Luzon. Unleashing strong winds and heavy rains that had caused rivers to overflow, residents to flee their homes, and others who had no choice but to climb to their roofs, or worst be trapped. In a span of three weeks, the Philippines has faced one of the most disastrous typhoon seasons of its history, with five consecutive tropical cyclones entering its vicinity, resulting in an overlapping landfall and damages — all happening in the middle of a global public health crisis. And this is not only the case.
Another disaster is storming the Twitter world right at the same moment. Popular hashtags like #NasaanAngPangulo #UselessPH, #RescuePH, and ‘Demand Accountability’ topped Philippine and Worldwide trends as citizens turned to the online platform to voice out their cry for suffering, their plea for rescue and relief, and their frustration to the people in power. Every single time that there is a disaster, mainstream media are often filled with politicians using Filipino resiliency as an excuse for their ineptitude and incompetence.
Filipinos have had enough.
For years, the narrative of Filipino resiliency has been used to shift the accountability of recovery to the victims of natural disasters. It is as if Filipinos can rise from whatever suffering and trauma that they may encounter; when in fact, the system leaves them with no choice but to rise among themselves, because in the first place, the establishment has failed to protect and prepare them from the consequences of these disasters. Moreover, they may be able to rise from the effects of these disasters, but the long-term trauma and suffering are still present and engraved in their lives. Thus, to glorify Filipino resiliency is not only to shift the burden of recovery to the victims, but also to invalidate the human suffering that lies with their traumatic experiences.
The journal article of Warren (2016) revealed the social, economic, political, and historical inequalities that typhoons have brought to the Filipinos based on the patterns of deaths, damage of disasters, and the agency of the Filipinos to recover and reconstruct their livelihood throughout the years from 1831 to 2013. It highlights the fact that there is socio-economic insecurity that lies with how disasters disproportionately affect Filipinos, especially that marginalized and impoverished families are those who often find themselves difficult to overcome their circumstances. Hence, to glorify Filipino resiliency is to undermine the socio-economic conditions of the victims, because surviving natural disasters is a matter of privilege.
To glorify the image of a resilient Filipino in the context of post-disaster recovery is to say that the victims can survive despite not having the support, relief, and proactive action that they deserve. This undermines the necessity for the establishment to learn from the lessons of disaster through hazard prevention, relief preparedness, and disaster risk reduction, in order to minimize future damages and casualties.
To glorify the image of a resilient Filipino is to admit the general lack of preparedness of the government to respond to these calamities. The report of the World Risk Index (WRI) in the last decade includes the Philippines in the ten of the world’s most disaster-prone countries that experience the heaviest toll of natural disasters (UNU-EHS, 2020). Hence, for a country that lies along the pacific ring of fire and regularly being battered by strong typhoons and other extreme weather conditions, the government has failed to preemptively develop policies, infrastructures, and urban planning that would effectively handle these disasters.
To glorify the image of a resilient Filipino is to cultivate a culture of disaster, which is the same as saying that we need to adapt rather than to recover from these calamities. This rejects the urgency for a proactive action that would prevent the next disaster to happen.
There is no denying that most of these disasters are naturally occurring, but it must be understood that human activities of the last century have been intensifying the impact of these natural disasters by increasing the occurrence of hazards.
Case in point is the burning of fossil fuel, deforestation, and urban sprawling, which are among the leading causes of global warming in recent years. This in turn is a factor of a long-term climate change that we are experiencing. Hence, it is expected that extreme weather events in the next few years are going to increase in terms of frequency, intensity, and impact. Thus, to glorify the image of a resilient Filipino is to abandon our responsibility and the consequences of our actions that are either triggering or exaggerating the impact of climate change.
The case of glorified resiliency is also applicable to the current academic struggle of the students and faculty on the despicable pursuance of online classes. Remarks about Filipino resiliency as a means to overcome the difficulty of our current remote learning setup is coming directly from our education leaders and school administrators.
This poses a problem when resiliency is equated with privilege because it neglects the inequality, digital divide, and mental health struggle that a large number of students, parents, and teachers are experiencing. Romanticizing positivity during these times adds nothing to the discourse on how we could alleviate the suffering of the underprivileged. What we need is empathy and compassion, not a justification of the false efficiency of distance learning.
To glorify Filipino resiliency in the context of academic struggle is to be insensitive to the fact that there is unequal access to the essential requirements for this setup to work effectively, which ultimately contradicts the right of every Filipino for equitable access to education.
Resiliency may be an old virtue engraved in the Filipino character, but it must not be overemphasized during times of disaster and struggles. Not only because it is often being abused by politicians and people in power to forward their agenda and hide their incompetence; but also because being resilient is not a matter of choice, but a matter of survival. In between those words of resiliency and impact of disaster, there are Filipinos who are tired of the typhoon-stricken, poverty-laden, and cyclic conditions that they are in. The world leaves them with no choice but to smile and be strong because no one will help them aside from themselves.
I personally witnessed the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) as it ravaged our city and submerged nearby communities — threatening the lives of thousands of Filipinos. It brought me back the trauma of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) that affected our home back in 2009 when I was only eight years old. Upon seeing the photos on social media that hundreds of people are still trapped in their homes, the first thing that I asked myself:
“Hindi na ba tayo natuto?”
Perhaps, this question and the question of resiliency can be better answered by Alanah Torralba, an independent journalist who is among the first to cover the aftermath of the devastation of the infamous Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Leyte. This calamity became a turning point in her life that led her towards specializing in climate change reporting and interrogating the main representation of Filipino resilience and its relation to public accountability.
Catch her TED talk about “Filipino resiliency in the face of climate emergency” in the 2021 installment of TEDxUPLB: Sign of the Times to be held tomorrow at 1 pm, and will be streaming live on the TEDxUPLB Facebook Page. (hyperlink to FB)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions stated in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the TED conferences, TEDx management, and the TEDxUPLB organizing team, speakers, and participants.
UNU-SHS (2011). World Risk Report - United Nations University Unu.edu. Retrieved 30 April 2021 from: https://unu.edu/projects/world-risk-report.html#outline
Handog, M. (2020 August 17). The pandemic is reshaping education, here’s how the Philippines is coping. Rappler, Retrieved 30 April 2021 from: https://www.rappler.com/brandrap/tech-and-innovation/coronavirus-reshaping-distance-learning-education-philippines
WARREN, J. (2016). Typhoons and the Inequalities of Philippine Society and History. Philippine Studies: Historical & Ethnographic Viewpoints, 64(3/4), 455-472. Retrieved April 30, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26621938
Abu Al-Rasheed Tanggol. (2020 November 18). [OPINION] Challenging the narrative of Filipino resiliency. Rappler; Rappler. Retrieved 30 April 2021 from: https://www.rappler.com/voices/imho/opinion-challenging-narrative-filipino-resiliency