November 12, 2013: Resilience is a Dirty Word

I am lucky enough that my family has been spared from the strongest typhoon in recorded history. It’s strange; growing up it was common knowledge that my city would always be one of the first hit by a typhoon, that low pressure areas tend to form and pass by my region fairly often. In recent years, the typhoons have been trickier. They’ve also been stronger and deadlier, no thanks to people who still, stubbornly, and really at this point maliciously, deny that climate change exists. I write that my family has been spared because it seems the only appropriate word.

These days I’ve been finding it hard to look at pictures of disaster. I refused to look at the devastation in Fukushima as I now refuse to look at the devastation Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) has wrought on my country. Instead, I read. News articles that contain trickles of facts, the awful loss in black and white instead of fullscreen, full color. The news, because they are only reporting facts, allow me no space for judgment yet. Is the Philippine government really being inept and corrupt this time, as it has been so many other times? I don’t know yet. Rescue missions are still ongoing, and the last NPR report I heard told of damaged roads and bridges, making the transportation of aid especially difficult.

But it’s hard not to be angry. Not at the ongoing crisis management, but at everything else. While Yolanda was going through the Philippines, a woman accused of stealing and aiding politicians in stealing $220 million from public funds was testifying in Congress. Those millions could have helped Tacloban not just after the typhoon, but in investments in development and infrastructure. In previous typhoons, relief funds have reportedly been pocketed by officials, making the citizenry wary of sending help. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges to recovery, so easy to be cynical about where the aid goes.

In the midst of this, I just watched President Aquino give an almost unnervingly nonchalant interview with Christiane Amanpour. He said that the death estimates are overblown, that Filipinos are used to typhoons, that steps were being made to make Filipinos more resilient to these kinds of natural disasters.

Lately I’ve been thinking that resilient is a dirty word. It’s a word that seems like a compliment, but it’s also a word that excuses the circumstances that led to resilience. It’s a word that does not assign accountability. You’re resilient, so nothing I hurl at you can break you. Never mind that the effects of climate change has such a devastating effect on a country whose carbon emissions are negligible, the people in that country are resilient, they’ll keep going. The truth is that the people in my country are resilient, because they have no choice but to be resilient. Politicians fix elections and use the country’s tax pesos as their own personal checking accounts. The biggest polluting countries in the world refuse to acknowledge that their (our) actions are killing thousands of people in underdeveloped countries, so what other choice do we have but to keep going, to display that so-called, so admirable resilience?

I do appreciate President Aquino’s attempt at reassuring everyone, but this is not the time for reassurance. It’s really time to be angry, to be appalled, to be indignant that this has to happen at all. It’s time to make sure that public funds don’t go to the corrupt few so the money is there for even regular typhoons. It’s time we refuse to bear the burden of others’ utter selfishness.

I’ll end with a quote from Philippine delegate to the UN climate summit Yeb Saño, who delivered an emotional speech linking Typhoon Haiyan to climate change. I note that Saño and President Aquino might as well have come from different countries, so different are their statements about what happened.

“We refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to.”

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