Friday, November 30, 2007

All the news that isn't fit to print

Today is a national holiday in the Philippines. Banks, offices, schools are closed. Families are together (or apart) travelling, sleeping in late, preparing for the xmas holidays, shopping, going to the carnival, or just taking time to breathe. The holiday celebrates a national hero, one Andres Bonifacio. The only image I have of AB is of him rousing his troops against the Spanish, decked in a white shirt, red pants, and wearing the red bandana tied around his neck. His arm is raised, his face distorted by his call to arms. I am sadly deficient in AB lore, which I will attempt to change by reading up on him today.

Mr. Bonifacio may have been watching the Philippines from wherever soulful state he is in, wondering what the heck was happening. Most people will probably need this three day weekend to recover from all the minor and major shocks to their system. Some more than others.

In the week of November 26, 2007, we experienced a series of environmental and political shocks. Some have died due to them, and others merely damaged. Let's start with the weather.

A week before this, typhoon Lando hit the central Visayas, causing damage in Cebu. A friend said it was as bad as the effect of typhoon Milenyo last year to Manila. No lights, no water, the city was hit hard. Lando moved west, heading out towards the South China Sea.

In came Mina. She was already a big one, a supertyphoon, and so strong in her advance that up to a million people in the province of Bicol were evacuated. She blew in, and guess who came back to join her? Lando. Yup, he couldn't resist her charms, so he turned around and surged back around the southern islands of Luzon while Mina tore through the eastern part of the island. While those two were getting cosy with one another, a third low pressure system called Nonoy was giving these two a lookieloo, maybe checking Mina out, deciding if Lando was worth taking on. He hovered around the southeast of the country, but was expected to come on board soon. With these three dancing about, the country was sort of like a sponge for rain and wind. Most parts were under some dark cloud, nights were chilly, and generally everyone's mood was the opposite of blithe.

In times like these, the national weather bureau, whom we pinoys know as Pagasa (in tagalog pagasa means hope. Calling the weather bureau by that name perhaps ammeliorates the annoyance of their miscast weather warnings. I'm guessing.), begins posting typhoon signals. Most of the Visayas had been under signal 2 or 3 with Lando, and then Mina was definitely a sure shot for a 3 if not higher. Manila and the rest of the capital region expected to be under 1 or 2 if things got really crazy, but we stayed hovered under no signal even though the outside weather was looking grey and mean.

By Tuesday night, Mina was tearing up the eastern seaboard, Lando was in Mindoro, and we were all battening down the hatches. That afternoon at 5 pm, an announcement went out that elementary levels would be suspended on Wednesday. Which was sort of strange. Because Pagasa had only hoisted signal number 1, which as the lowest signal warning meant that only pre-school classes were down for the count. All these announcements were sent out by the media, which gets their news about such stuff from the Department of Education. So happy kids cheered at the thought of no school for a day. I'm sure those with tests danced a jig of joy.

Watching the news around 8 pm, I hear the announcer state that they were retracting the news about all elementary levels were cancelled, and emphasized that only pre-school kids get the day off. ARGH. I start contacting our school's officials to check if they saw the same news, and find myself dealing with confused information and people unhappy with the thought of retracting the news. Eventually, we all agree that we have to wait for the 11 pm and 4 am Pagasa and Dept of Education announcement, and that commences a night of uneasy sleep. I check the news online at least every two hours, and keep a watch on my cell. The final word comes down from on high and it's final, there will be classes on Wed. Throughout the day, it feels like everyone is sluggish, the kids and parents drag themselves in, cursing (with camel fleas) the ineptitude of the govt and weather bureau, and on a remarkably sunny day (wither Mina and Lando?), we all just dig in to what work has in store.

I realize at this point that there is a missing piece to the story. We were hit by another natural force, on Tuesday afternoon, a 6.0+ earthquake hit the city. We were all shaken and stirred, but luckily the epicenter was far enough not to cause major damage. For the moment it struck, I wondered why I was slipping down my chair, but realized that it was not due to the need to reach for chocolate in my bag.

So as we reach Thursday morning, the count is 3 typhoons, 1 earthquake. The final stage is set.

It starts pouring buckets Wednesday night. Pounding on the galvanized rooftops, and definitely keeping many bleary eyed folks awake. Thursday arrives all grey and rainy. No winds though, but traffic soon congeals into a bigger mess; one of my staff gets stuck for 4 hours, so I share my appreciation for her guts in staying the course and coming in anyway. Poor kid.

As I'm preparing to leave at 11:30 for a trip, rumors of a manmade mess comes in. A recently elected senator who was involved in a military botched uprising 3 years ago at a hotel has walked out of his ongoing court case and manages to sway his peons to join him in another attempt to make himself heard. We hear he is amassing his supporters, and most, if not all, are in the military. Parents call in, asking to pull their kids out of class early, and we inform administration to prepare for the worst. I leave to catch my flight, and by the time I land on another shore, I find out that the putsch has failed again, with considerable damage to one of my favorite retreats in the city, the Peninsula hotel. Sorrowful tv shots of the damaged door and lobby, teargas streaming through the space and up to the second floor. The government troops have rounded up the rebels, the leaders caught once again. What may be the perfect subtitle to all this is the CNN announcers review of all that was happening on Breaking News, that he "wasn't quite sure what was going on" because that's exactly how many of us feel about the neverending dramas that occur in the Philippines. And I am relatively safe by being far away, out of reach, appreciating chilly weather.


wysgal said...

You're away from Manila? Where are you at these days?

torn said...

Ha. Ha. "Not quite sure what is going on" -- the perfect name for a Manila blog.

Happy trip!

mtan said...

hi wysgal, I'm in Xiamen for the weekend. Will post pics on multiply.

thanks Torn!

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