REFLECTIONS: The baha in Davao City on the night of 25 October 2021

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 October) – The baha in Davao City on the night of 25 October 2021 is one of the worst ones in more recent times.

It affected many places in all three districts of the city. Not only were the historically bahain places affected (i.e., Bajada, Torres, and Laverna Hills), but also ones that were, prior to last night, perceived to be safe from baha. Economic and social differences did not matter: homes and streets in less affluent and high-end areas (e.g., Montclair Highlands) alike were thigh-deep or even chest-deep in floodwaters.

It’s been said that disasters bring out the best of us, but they also expose the uglier side of society.

Social media was abuzz with reminders for people to “keep safe” and “amping.” There were “chillax” photos and light-hearted banter as many buckled down in anticipation of hours of mopping and cleaning up.

Interestingly, there were also posts that pointed out that, unlike those from Luzon and Visayas, the people of Davao were neither looking for the President nor blaming government.

A baha like the scale Davao experienced last night is easy to politicize, if by politicizing one intends to divide people into “us” versus “them” camps. People’s buttons can be easily pushed to generate the desired reactions: whether it be a sense of pride about who we are or indignation over what we believe others to be.

But while pride of place is indeed part of what defines us, we need to be mindful of who are pushing our buttons and whose interests are being served.

The “cultures of disaster” in our country emphasize, among others, a “kaya natin ‘to” approach to recovery, the willingness to help others, and mutual aid. These are part of what helped us develop the disaster resilience that so many have remarked about, given our location and other physical realities. They are undermined — WE are undermined — when politicization succeeds in dividing people at a time when unity truly matters. Pildi ang katawhan kung masiak-siak kita panahon sa katalagman.

But make no mistake, politicizing disaster to serve divisive ends may make things worse, but the response to this baha and other disasters have to be necessarily political. Political in the sense that it should entail processes for understanding the problem, identifying the options, selecting the optimal solution, and then deciding on where and how to allocate resources.

Many explanations have been proffered to explain last night’s and other baha episodes in Davao (at least five for this year alone): the fact that only 18% of the city’s forest cover is left; gaps in planning and policies that have reduced the green spaces in Davao and prevented water from effectively being absorbed; unchecked quarrying; problematic management of solid waste; drainage system and other infrastructure initiatives that could have been strengthened by better studies; extreme weather events; and even the tides.

But pet theories and advocacies aside, the flooding situation obviously needs comprehensive, integrated, historical, scientific, and evidence-based studies that will yield options that will work for and serve people.

Have such been undertaken in and for Davao City? If so, now would be a good time to review available references so that people are informed.

That being said, disasters of this nature and their responses are generally beyond the capacities of a single local government to resolve.

Even our well-resourced and well-connected city government will need to work with national government and adjoining local governments. Infrastructure projects require huge funding from design to execution and rampaging waters do not respect politico-administrative boundaries.

This is when good representation matters, to help secure adequate allocation of national resources for the locality’s needs through the judicious exercise of the legislative’s power of the purse and to help broker agency-LGU and inter-LGU collaboration.

This is when we citizens, so used to managing crises on our own, need good government and good governance. Because we may act chillax with one or two bouts with baha. But we certainly should not get used to it as if it were but normal — not when people’s homes and properties are washed away; not when our family’s lives and health are at stake; not when businesses cannot operate and people cannot go to work and earn for the day. Not when we can choose differently and better.

In the wise words of a worker, Davao City needs solutions that are pansamantagalan and not pansamantala.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. She is one of the convenors of Konsyensya Dabaw. Last October 8, she filed her certificate of candidacy for 1st district Representative of Davao City, the post held by reelectionist Paolo Duterte. Maglana, who experienced having floodwaters enter the house where she stayed on October 25, posted this piece on her social media page on October 26. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this.)