Velez: Vinta and Mindanao

THERE’S something symbolic and ironic about calling this tropical storm that hit us in Mindanao as vinta.

The vinta is the traditional boat of the Moro and Sama-Bajau people living in Sulu. As boat people, it symbolizes the character of the Mindanawon people as travelers and migrants from the north and other parts of Southeast Asia.

And the name Mindanao is said to be derived from the word “danao” or lakes or huge waters of body that inhabit our islands.

Now the irony, that vinta is the fury that has caused rivers to overflow and blocked highways and roads in Mindanao. It has literally and figuratively dampened the Christmas tradition of people traveling home for the holidays. The Vinta has caused Christmas trips to be delayed or postponed.

This storm that hit 18 of the Mindanao’s 27 provinces has left towns in Compostela Valley to cities like Cagayan de Oro deep in floods as of Friday morning’s reports.

Bridges in Cagayan de Oro City, a key place of transit for travelers from various places in Mindanao, has been closed as rivers are reaching critical levels.

Additional reports on evacuation included 3,000 in Compostela Valley; 16,000 in Davao Oriental, and 3,000 in Cagayan de Oro.

Vinta has not only affected Mindanao but also the rest of the country. There are higher statistics of residents displaced by the storm.

Vinta’s impact will be felt until the New Year, as residents will spend the holidays in evacuation centers or cleaning up their homes. Farmers will try to account how much is loss from the storms.

Perhaps a positive note in responding to this calamity especially for Mindanao is that residents and local governments have come prepared and anticipated for the worse.

Disaster responses and mechanisms are in place for most parts. And there are lesser reports of deaths. But it still too early to tell for now if we have succeeded in better disaster response.

These are gleaned from hard lessons learned from the two typhoons that struck Mindanao hard on December in recent years: Sendong in Northern Mindanao (Cagayan de Oro to Iligan) in 2011, and Pablo in Davao Region and Caraga Region in 2012.

The lessons from Sendong and Pablo showed the lack of mechanisms in disaster preparedness and management, which aggravated the loss felt by hundreds and thousands of residents.

Both Sendong and Pablo by the way are ranked among the top five of the worse storms hitting our country, in terms of loss of lives and damages to livelihood.

The irony that most parts of Mindanao is rarely hit by storms, but this signals the impact of climate change, brought by industrial pollutions and corporate plunder of the environment, where the “new normal” is that storms and droughts are happening anywhere and anytime.

The irony is that after this stormy season, there is a projected La Niña coming in Southern Mindanao. The usual cycle of drought has really been shorter.

Vinta and other storms in the past may have waken us up to make adjustments to the “new normal”. But it is telling that the factors that worsen climate change are still here, like open-pit mining, plantations and expansion of real estate and construction that disrupt natural riverways and mountains.

So much so, that perhaps the name vinta should remind us that our lives are passages here, and we should learn to sail through these adversities, as individuals and as a collective sense of community or government. Sail on and sail beyond these challenges.

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