On Typhoon Chedeng and a 'miracle'

When I woke up last Easter Sunday, the first thing I did was check the news on my phone. Chedeng (Maysak) had been gradually weakening the previous night, and I was hoping it would practically dissipate come the morning. 

It did. Simmered down on satellite imagery from a humongous, solid disc of foreboding to bare white wisps, Chedeng was clearly not going to cause any trouble for the country.

But then I saw the statement from National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chief Alexander Pama and stopped myself from throwing the phone at the wall. 

"What happened is short of a miracle. From a super typhoon, it became a tropical depression. We're not ruling out an intervention," Pama said in an early Sunday morning briefing. 

He said this in his capacity not only as a government official, but an official of a council tied intrinsically to the proper practice of science and critical thinking. Reducing and managing natural disasters entails a calm, level head; a logical mindset; and a distaste for making rash conclusions without hard evidence. Lives, after all, are at stake here. 

It's easy to dismiss his statement as mere rhetoric; just a fitting, friendly soundbyte that relates to that day's Christian significance; something he might as well say since they still didn't know why Chedeng all but disappeared.

Once again, the myth of the Philippines as a Catholic country is invoked. Once again, adages such as "Things happen for a reason," and "God works in mysterious ways" make the rounds, and many Filipinos lay back and bask in the "certainty" that since something could not be explained, a higher force was at work. And on Easter, no less! The Lord has risen! Our country, cowering in fear of another Yolanda, is reborn!

But when Pama said that he was "not ruling out an intervention," he was doing far more harm than good. Science is a process, not a machine that spits out definitive answers. In science, we ask questions, and when we cannot find answers on the first, second, or even third try, we do not relent to the idea that a supernatural being is involved. Instead, we keep asking. We do not become satisfied. We admit that we do not know, but that we're still on it. 

Yes, Pama did not outright announce that Chedeng's dissipation was a categorical miracle. But to even state it as an option remains irresponsible. When you are the head of the government arm in charge of one of the deadliest kind of threats Filipinos will face again and again, you do not throw out the option that, "Hey, who knows? God might intervene!" 

The last thing we need is a populace that is assured that, sometimes, even if all signs point to a very dangerous situation, we still make it out unscathed. We do not need more people who'd rather prioritize prayer than pre-evacuation because the NDRRMC chief once said good, mysterious things might just happen sometimes. We cannot have someone watering down our sense of self-sufficiency, our belief that if we work together to do concrete things, we can solve problems and prevent tragedy. 

In a time when climate change's effects grow more and more alarming, we cannot afford in any way, shape, or form to be complacent, and people who rely on divine intervention cannot be more complacent. We cannot condone this. 

Yes, you can pray. Yes, you can believe in the god you choose to believe in. But that has nothing to do with the fact that our country is and always will be in the way of danger, and we cannot place our bets on the satellite images changing the way we want them to.

Miracles are not an option. They can never be an option. It is planning, implementation, and all-over discipline that are. – Rappler.com 

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon is a social media producer for Rappler, and author of short fiction collection People in Panic. 

Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Opinion section, and is (happily) wrangled into voice over and hosting work. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for 6 years. She is also a fictionist.

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