SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Memories and disasters

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 April) – Filipinos love to talk. Whatever remains of what may be rightly called Filipino culture has survived through time mainly by word of mouth. This is a double-edged sword, a weakness and strength at the same time.

Take for example, customary law, which is still being observed by indigenous communities especially in resolving disputes and conflicts. Since it is unwritten, the parties to a conflict enjoy enough space for flexibility in interpretation until mutually acceptable terms are agreed upon. At the same time, however, there may arise a pronounced divergence in interpretations that could lead to an impasse.

Yet, if oral tradition has served the purpose of preserving the flexibility of customary law as its inherent advantage, it seems to not have done a good thing for disaster management. The experience with typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) that ravaged Davao Oriental in December 2012, as Press Secretary Sonny Coloma said on Friday (25 April) during the 9th Mindanao Media Summit, was instructive.

Secretary Coloma explained why. People in the province had no memory of typhoons much less the destruction they could cause. Not until Pablo struck did they and the rest of the country know that a typhoon had visited Mindanao’s southeastern areas over a century ago. Most probably, nobody who had witnessed the wrath of that earlier typhoon was still alive by the time Pablo came. Nobody from that generation lived long enough to give the warning that could have saved many lives.

This is where the importance of documentation and written local history comes in. For while oral storytelling is wonderful in that it builds bridges that strengthen cultural bonds between generations, there is never an assurance of perpetuity. No one can tell if and when the process of connecting consciousness would end.

Somewhere between Pablo and the earlier typhoon the journey of the spoken word stopped, and so did the journey of inherited memories. Add to that the myth that Mindanao was typhoon-free. A hundred years later, those memories rose from the depths of oblivion in a way that nobody wished for. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])