Opinion

Disaster Capitalism, Self-Organization, and the Intolerance of Bullshit: This is the Philippines Post-Taal

How the best of us are overshadowing the worst.
IMAGE Luis Ferolino
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In the aftermath of the Taal Volcano eruption on January 12, 2020, something else is emerging from the ashes: A society unfamiliar and unrecognizable, but not necessarily worse. In these dark days, the best of Philippine society has managed to overshadow the worst, even as an imminent explosive eruption looms over southern CALABARZON.  

Disaster capitalism rears its ugly head

In the days following Taal’s phreatic eruption, everyone from Batangas to Metro Manila scrambled to buy face masks and N95 masks to protect themselves and their loved ones. But for some companies and individuals, profit became a priority over the safety of their fellow Filipinos, and we witnessed stores jack up prices of N95 masks, which many defended in the name of “supply and demand.” Masks that were supposed to be P50 spiked to P500 to the benefit of corporations, as disaster capitalism has proven: Panic pays. It pays so well that some businesses had the gall to sell fake N95 masks, putting hundreds of its customers in danger.

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Disaster capitalism is essentially this: looting. Infuriating, to say the least, it was hard proof of how capitalism works in times of crisis, when lives become second to profit and gain and people running from disaster are still considered customers. If that wasn’t enough, the Department of Agriculture announced that it was doling out P25,000 loans—not aid, mind you—to fishermen who’d had their entire livelihoods wiped out in the eruption.

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But it’s not all bad. The absurdity of disaster capitalism triggered the Filipino people, particularly those most affected by the eruption, to fight back against the invisible hand with the innate Filipino value of bayanihan.

Self-organization amid anarchy

It’s a word we learn in class but only experienced in adulthood. The Filipino spirit of bayanihan took one look at disaster capitalism and spit in its face. Civilians are doling out free face masks to anyone they can find, families are accepting evacuees into their homes and cities, and volunteers throughout the Southern Tagalog are coming out in droves to help the areas affected.

Street vendors, small businesses, students—So many with little to give are giving so much. People are offering free food, free masks, and free services to clean ash from windshields. Civilians are organizing online to rescue animals, provide relief goods, and raise funds.

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While the heroic efforts of LGUs, PHIVOLCS, NDRRMC, Pinatubo survivors, and more are notable, it’s the civilians who have no obligation to help who have managed to revive the bayanihan spirit. What’s more admirable is the amount of effort going into the relief efforts without central coordination. The situation has mainly been various government agencies and volunteer groups (official and unofficial) self-organizing and coordinating with each other, a sort of successful form of anarchy.

Volunteering, something not normalized in our society, has been revived, and many have been willing to enter the danger zones just to deliver relief goods. Three volunteers died in Batangas after delivering relief goods to the victims of Taal, but that’s not stopping others from assisting those in need. All the efforts are hardly perfect, but the self-organization happening in Cavite, Batangas, and parts of Laguna prove that Filipinos have the will to step up when the time calls.

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Despite the success of self-organization in the Southern Tagalog region, there are people calling out PHIVOLCS and the owners of the horses left behind on Taal Island. Some even dare to politicize this natural disaster. And in response, the Batangueños and Caviteños are calling bullshit.

The intolerance of bullshit

Soren Kierkegaard once predicted how the world would end: “A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it's a joke.” In this scenario, however, it's (certain) politicians and personalities who happen to be the clowns.

Instead of focusing on the 40,000 and counting evacuees, a number of politicians have taken to playing the blame game. One congressman decided to launch an investigation into PHIVOLCS for essentially failing to inform the people of the danger of Taal Volcano, but netizens, many of whom are from the affected areas, are in turn calling him out for not realizing that the job of PHIVOLCS is to warn the people while the job of politicians is to act on their warnings.

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Meanwhile, “Tulfo” became trending after Twitter users took to correcting Ramon Tulfo’s incorrect assumption that PHIVOLCS had not been doing its job of warning people of Taal Volcano, when in fact, it had been warning people for months. 

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And, as for the Batanguenos, this is what one has to say about Tulfo cursing the owners of the horses left behind on Taal Island:

Suffice to say, when a calamity is at your door, people won’t fall for attempts to politicize your situation, especially from those sleeping safely in their intact homes. The people affected by Taal have more things to worry about than baseless rants and pointing fingers. What matters right now are relief efforts and evacuation as people prepare for the possibility of a violent eruption. They don’t have time for nonsense.

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It’s the new Filipino way.

Whether this lasts is something we can’t answer, especially since Taal isn't done with us yet, but it gives us hope that we’re right to believe in the best of humanity.

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About The Author
Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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