Are we really heeding the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth?
“I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, that the conviction that everything in this world is connected…” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, no. 16)
BACK to the present. Most of the casualties from Typhoon Ompong or Mangkhut, particularly in Itugon, Benguet, are from very poor communities that depend on small-scale mining to make ends meet. But, instead, many have met their end. The local mayor strongly insists that the communities in the area had been forewarned and urged to evacuate. Many, according to him, chose to stay saying they had survived strong typhoons before and feel safe in their bunkers, huts, chapel (a UCCP not a Catholic place of worship) and houses. Now, aside from the mounting count of deaths from a mountain landslide, there are also an estimated 65 persons still missing, feared to be buried alive under soil debris, and a couple of urgent questions: What went wrong here? Is disaster preparedness only a matter of doing everything to achieve zero casualty from forewarning to evacuating to relief-distributing to reporting on the wider view of the results of all combined efforts to meet the desired objective(s)? Such an effort is admittedly multi-layered, organized and serious. Unfortunately, at least in the case of Itugon it hit wide off the mark.
It is clear that human attitudes by the poor who eventually fell victims to the horrific tragedy have not been adequately addressed. These attitudes speak volumes of the cry of the poor. They decided to stay, with their means of survival close to them rather than survive with the possibility of losing them and thus also be condemned to virtual death. That Itugon used to be a rice granary of the province, at one time topping local municipalities in rice production but later switching to small-scale mining for easier and perhaps bigger pay-off, should invite the local folks and us to national soul-searching. Have not our poor been disillusioned by the futility of hard work in the local scene and, in consequence, preferred the lure of easy money and less hard work, unmindful of harm in the offing for themselves, their families and the environment? Desperation can beget irrationality. We must wonder aloud if this consideration is being made an essential part of preparedness assessments. Unless the attitudes of desperation and irrationality of many of our poor are met squarely with appropriate measures, the zero-casualty objective could remain its own perpetual victim.
The poor in the rural communities who have nowhere to go for survival will always have recourse to what mother nature offers. Herein lurks the danger. With the Philippines’ perennial inability to provide adequate socially just conditions for its populations, gainful employment and basic services, not to say its chronic law-enforcement selective impotence, it is hard to expect the hungry poor or the profit-driven rich to leave the country’s ecology rightly and sufficiently cared for. Gaping terrains, widespread pollution, heavily silted rivers and oceans bear mother nature ‘s screams, no longer cries, for help. Those cries and screams could become its dying gasps for breath unless our country’s and planet’s stakeholders behave like who they are meant to be—true stewards, not masters. Pope Francis, the ecology prophet of our time, was joined by Patriarch Bartholomew last September 1, 2017 in expressing a common urgent concern that the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth be heeded as “one voice”.
These supreme shepherds of the Latin and Eastern Churches issued a common statement urging those “in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized.” These two cries are one.
Both spiritual leaders respond: “The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people…The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe.”
Not content with stating a factual observation, they offer a direction to follow: “We are convinced that there can be no enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”
There is plenty for both the Church and State in the Philippines to still learn and unlearn as regards the urgency of the ecological crisis. Unfortunately the animosity and belligerence in the chief executive’s approach is not only eroding his own effectiveness; it is also undermining the essential collective nature of the required common response to the crisis in order to preserve and sustain our common home.
When a leader is plagued by an physical incapacity, he may still inspire his constituents by his wisdom or courage in dealing with the challenges at hand. But when a leader loses the capacity to unite his people, he merely magnifies each crisis by his efforts and assures only a common doom to the common home.