FROM October 16-18, 2014, sociologists from all over the country and abroad are assembling at the Mindanao State University-General Santos for the annual Philippine Sociological Society National Conference. I have been looking forward to this meeting of kindred spirits and critical minds. It will be an occasion to collectively contemplate on the issues of “Crises, Resiliency, and Community: Sociology in the Age of Disasters,” the theme of this year’s gathering.
To hold the conference in Mindanao was a positive decision on the part of the PSS for the island has borne the brunt of the effects from recent disasters such as Typhoons Sendong, Pablo, and Agaton. The resulting devastation of cities and communities in the Southern island has definitely made an impact on the practitioners of the profession with many having been victims themselves. The effect has been an increase in the space that disasters and their social effects now occupy in the imagination and work of Mindanao-based sociologists and social scientists.
The participation of sociology students and faculty from the Mindanao State University (MSU) System from MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology and other constituent campuses well as other Mindanao-based universities such as Ateneo de Cagayan among others is evidence of this renewed passion for the discipline in the wake of these disasters that came one after the other. Oftentimes, the motivation for turning toward the illuminating power of the discipline of Sociology anew emanated from personal and painful disaster experiences.
My own foray into the Sociology of Disasters was spurred by what I witnessed in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong. I have doubted the discipline’s relevance and considered its impotence in providing understanding for the burning issues of our time. But after seeing residents of the city of Cagayan de Oro walk around muddied and dazed, with the dead piling on the streets after Sendong, I had to return to the language of my profession in order to make sociological sense of what happened
It did not help that the knee-jerk response of just about everyone was to ascribe the event to a fatalistic wrath-of-god explanation. Or that the freak weather event was just proof of a blameless phenomenon named as climate change eliding the issue of social responsibility and climate justice. I thought to myself that there must be a way for Sociology to deepen the social discourse and in the process provide a valid explanation for the massive loss of lives and the collective trauma that lingers till now.
The staging of the sociological conference on these same themes reveals to me that I was not alone in my quest for sociological understanding. The set of papers that will be delivered in the event actually provide a wealth of satisfying investigations on the Sociology of Disasters, many of them culled from the experiences of calamities from Mindanao.
These include ruminations on how natural disasters exposed the weaknesses of our social institutions. The slow disaster response revealed how complacent our local and national governments have been in responding to the immediate needs of the people, no doubt abetted by the system of political patronage that keeps them in power. We have also seen how a storm of a few hours laid bare the decades-old hidden vulnerabilities of our communities – that behind the façade of progress and growing urbanization of the bustling cities of Mindanao are the unseen but populous urban poor sector living in danger zones ready to be washed away to sea in the next flood. We have also realized the interconnectedness of our social fates to the fate of our environment with some of us turning to the wisdom of indigenous knowledge of the past for our future relief.
I just hope that there would be occasion to question the assumption regarding the supposed innate resilient nature of the Filipino facing continuing social crises. It might be true that there is a wealth of inner fortitude and social reserve that enables the Filipino to rise above disasters. But what does this say about a society that requires or should I say demand from its people constant resilience?
Taken together, these papers are manifestations of the discipline’s bid for relevance in the context of weakened societies reeling from the effects of disasters and social crises. They prove that government, mass media, and the common folk still have use for the unique perspective that Sociology offers. Hopefully, through this conference, we should realize that our shared fates in the face of disasters and continuing social crises also demand collective comprehensive solutions.