Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Business Mirror Editorial: Ordinary but heroes


AMID the usual finger-pointing that follows every calamity in a nation that made it to the top 10 list of countries with the highest incidence of disasters, let us spare a thought for the men and women on the ground who, time and again, must put their lives on the line to do what they consider as just part of their job: the rescue and relief workers, both in the government and private volunteer groups.

A front-page story about a soldier who rescued 20 people before he himself drowned in Laguna brings back memories of the roughly two dozen soldiers singled out for recognition in the mid-’90s by then-President Fidel Ramos for plucking from certain death hundreds of people stranded on rooftops as lahar and floods spawned by Typhoon Mameng transformed homes in Central Luzon into instant islands.

The riveting account of the rescue, by veteran aviation reporter Recto Mercene, had apparently been seen by Mr. Ramos. The ground commander in charge of the air rescue at that time in Pampanga, it seems, had chosen to override established rules against flying the Air Force’s old choppers at night, in bad weather at that. He took the risk, knowing that if they waited till morning, all the people would have been swept away. At least three times, the air rescuers nearly died; and on the ground, the rubber-boat teams in a nearby area also ignored extreme risks to save people.

Complementing the soldiers’ sense of sacrifice and bravery was that of the social workers, several of whom rushed to their relief stations to organize the task of providing for the expected hundreds of evacuee families. These women risked safety and exposed themselves to the elements, and several of them continued to do their job even after learning that their own families had, in the meantime, been forced to abandon their homes or go up the roof as the floodwaters and lahar rose.

In the wake of Typhoon Ondoy, many more such stories, reported and otherwise, abound.

We may never hear about every interesting or dramatic or touching detail about ordinary people driven by duty to do extraordinary things for others. But as our leaders begin to plan for how to help the victims, while preventing or mitigating future disasters—through budgets for weathermen, for the military and police civilian rescue units, and for relief goods—while enforcing rules against garbage, on zonal planning, on pollution, on preserving watershed and key ecological features, it’s important not to forget those who don’t share part of the blame but, nonetheless, are first on the scene to clean up the mess and save lives.

At the very least, these people deserve our recognition, our prayers, and material compensation for their sacrifice.

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