Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year That Was in Western Visayas

Without a doubt, the biggest newsmaker in the region for 2006 was the Petron Oil Spill in Guimaras. Several months after it occurred, the tragedy is still being reported not only in local but also in national media outlets. By now, most of the victims have received their monetary claims and the affected shoreline cleaned up and people are ready to put the incident behind them. But up to now, the oil lying in the bottom of the ocean has not been taken out yet as the officials concerned continue to dillydally and bicker on the best method for sucking the oil out. In other words, the bomb is still ticking and the danger is still there but the people are happy (pacified might be a better word) because they have money. Many may have already forgotten that there is still oil in the hull of the ill-fated MV Solar I and it can again wreak havoc on the environment anytime. For my part, the only long-range solution I see to this problem is for government to order the oil companies to use only double-hulled tankers in transporting their oil. This and this alone would prevent further oil leaks in the future.

2006 also saw Milenyo and Reming batter not only Western Visayas but the entire country, with the Bicol Region hardest of all. In a country periodically wracked by typhoons, Milenyo and Reming were among the strongest and most destructive in a long time and thousands of poor people were displaced, hundreds died and millions of crops and properties destroyed. In this sense, 2006 was a year of calamities, both natural and man-made.

But there were bright spots. The 1st Philippine Mt. Everest Team, which was spearheaded by an Ilonggo (Art Valdez of Bacolod City), reached the summit of Mt. Everest. Manny Pacquiao, who is from South Cotabato and speaks Ilonggo fluently, won convincingly over Morales in Las Vegas. Tony Meloto (another Ilonggo from Bacolod/Molo, Iloilo City) of Gawad Kalinga won the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the diwal (a delicious mollusk found only in Capiz) is making a comeback. In her SONA, President Arroyo declared that she will make Western Visayas the tourism capital of the Philippines and promised to earmark funds to improve the region's tourism facilities. Tourist arrivals in Boracay were at an all time high, this despite the hullabaloo created by the government's plan to title and auction off prized lots in the island paradise. The sugarcane planters and millers of Negros are also hopeful that the Ethanol Bill will signal another "boom" in the sugar industry. Lastly, almost all economic indicators are positive - revenue collections are up, inflation down, the peso strong, foreign investments and domestic savings picking up, tourist arrivals at an all-time high, etc. - all of which contributed to merit a credit rating upgrade for the Philippines from international rating agencies.

So with things seemingly looking up, I was not really surprised to read the other day the recent SWS survey finding that 9 out of 10 Filipinos are hopeful that things will get better for them in 2007. This, despite the fact that another SWS survey said that hunger in the country is at an all time high: SWS claims that 19% of families (or 3.3 million Filipinos) experienced "involuntary hunger" in the past 3 months. It only confirmed what is already well-known: that the Filipino is an eternally optimistic person. Even when he is hungry, he is happy. Our optimism, our sunny disposition and rosy outlook of life I think is what differentiates us from the rest of our Asian neighbors and makes us more Latin-European rather than Asian in outlook. Our sunny optimism is both our greatest asset and biggest flaw as a people. I say it is our biggest flaw because it allows us to easily forgive and forget just so we can "move on." And I say this not only for the CDE but the AB class as well: ask the Makati Business Club to conduct a survey of its members and I'll bet many CEOs will agree to free Erap because "he has suffered enough." But at the same time, I believe that our optimism is our greatest asset because it has allowed us to continue surviving as a nation no matter what the calamities, problems and setbacks that come our way. Filipinos laugh in the face of tragedy and we sing even when we are hungry. How else can you explain the popularity of Xtreme Magic Sing when hunger is at an all time high in the country?

1 comment:

Dominique said...

Hi, Oliver: gotta love that reference to Magic Sing. We're a little strange that way, but I guess that's what makes us what we are.