PANTAW A MAREG: Vinta and doing one step at a time

MELBOURNE (MindaNews / 24 December) — Seeing the destruction of many parts of Lanao del Sur brought about by the tropical cyclone Vinta is heart-rending. We grew up never preparing for typhoons because it never happened to us in Lanao del Sur until Sendong in 2011. As far as I can remember, the impact that a typhoon would ever have in Marawi City (or other parts of Lanao del Sur) where I lived most of my life is just heavy rains and a little flooding but not so high as to submerge whole houses and wash them away.

A lot of Meranaws are asking once again, what is that thing that Meranaws “masosogok.” Rightly so. We should ask what have we done wrong. Apparently, we have done something wrong for us to deserve this flooding. But, let us not put things in the abstract once again because we end up blaming the wrong people–women who do not wear hijab, homosexuals, people who love putting up tarpaulins, etc.–and leave those worthy of blame scotfree.

We did something wrong, indeed. That wrong is not because Meranaw women who are supposed to wear hijab don’t wear hijabs, or men who are supposed to be men became women, but more because we did nothing in protecting our forests. We turn our canals into our garbage pit, we throw our rubbish anywhere we feel like throwing them because we act like datus and bai a labis as if there are people who pick up our trash after us. We patronize plastic in all its forms despite the fact we do not have facilities to recycle it. We have turned a blind eye to the destruction of forest covers.

When I was in Marawi City, there was not a single day that I go home at night from Iligan or Cagayan de Oro that I do not see truckloads of recently cut trees taken out of Lanao del Sur. That has been going on for decades. Now, the chickens have come home to roost and we would instead find what is our “masosogok” rather than point our fingers to the real culprits and the real issue. (Well, aside from the fact that climate change is real). In a way, that is also right. We have found the enemy. It is us. So what do we do? Here are my suggestions.

1) Prepare for all-out war. All able-bodied men and women should take up arms, get a shovel and plant trees anywhere there is space. Seriously, planning should have been done when Sendong struck. I wonder how many trees have been planted since then. We cannot and should not wait for a third one. We should start now.

2) Charge stores using plastic, like the sando-bags. They won’t stop if you ask them, but if you charge them, they will think twice. Award and recognize stores and establishments that support the environment.

3) Encourage people to use recycled bags. Award and recognize random people who do.

4) Do not patronize water bottles as much as possible. Bring your own water to drink. Better yet, ban all unhealthy beverages like soda in elementary and high schools.

5) Recycle. Reuse. Reduce.

6) All offices should make drinking water available to their patrons and staff. That will reduce the need for their patrons to buy bottled water or soda. It is also healthier. Not to mention that it is charity on the part of the institution and goodwill combined. Notice how some establishments also offer free coffee, free pens, or free candies for patrons? Offer (only) free water instead. I know we are the poorest province in the whole country.

P.S. That dream city Marawi in the future? It should make drinking water fountains available.

7) Campaign! Use social media, the pulpits, seminar halls, Friday prayers, schools, universities, restaurants, and houses. Campaign for this advocacy as hard as we campaign for our relatives to be elected who at times, have no other qualification except being our relatives.

8) If you have the power or in power, congratulations, there is so much, you can contribute to the realization of this advocacy from the micro-level to the macro-level. If you are an ordinary citizen like me, well, we can still do our bit. Let us just commit doing one step at a time. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Elin Anisha Guro of Marawi City is Director of  Mindanao State University Press and Information Office, on study leave to finish her PhD at the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne in Australia. She finished her MA Media Studies at the New School, New York City as a Fulbright Scholar)