Ignorance is fatal

By Reyshimar Arguelles


Politicians can do everything necessary just to score approval points. This is the legacy of having a flawed democratic system that has nothing to do with genuine policy discussions and a strong commitment to protecting the lives and welfare of their constituents. From Senator Villar’s skepticism of the value of agricultural research to the anti-vaxxer bloc in Congress that believes that life-saving vaccinations can destroy the lives of children.


It is not to say that these people are bereft of intelligence. But functioning as their own brands, they will resort to accepting whatever hardline position to get people’s trust. Perhaps we can attribute this to the current trend of strongman populism shared among the likes of Duterte, Bolsonaro, Modi, and Johnson.


All talk and no substance. So long as you carry a big stick, say expletives, have a penchant for needless exaggeration, and have no capacity for critical thinking whatsoever, you can at least rest in the fact that people will submit not to your authority, but to the image that serves only to validate your rule.


Again, power politics is never about the ruled. It is all about the ruler who will find loopholes to do as he or she pleases. It will not make sense to steal from public coffers. You have to keep it hidden by creating projects that will bury the intent. And unfortunately, tragedies – whether man-made or natural – are perfect venues for false charity and clandestine corruption.


But what is more tragic than profiting from rehabilitation efforts is saying you have a better grasp of what people go through. This, of course, is the worst thing any sleazy politician with a penchant for megalomania will do. Any thoughtful concern for the plight of others effectively gives way to needless PR opportunities.


To the minds of these “geniuses,” suffering can only be alleviated when you develop a false sense of empathy. Hugging, kissing, and talking with evacuees make for great photo ops. But to take the idea of capitalizing on human suffering, you have to let people know you are not like the soulless bureaucrats that operate much of the country’s disaster response mechanisms.


It is natural for public servants like Talisay, Batangas Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan to express empathy to those who were displaced by the increased volcanic activity of Mt. Taal. But in recent reports, he insisted that people should return to their homes in the ash-covered areas around Taal, seeing that the volcano has subdued. 


This despite the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology warning that now is not the right time for people to flood back to their communities and start rebuilding. Phivolcs Undersecretary Renato Solidum has said that lava is building up inside the volcano, raising the risk of a massive eruption that will cost a lot more than just houses and livestock. For sure, Phivolcs isn’t monitoring the situation with high-end equipment just to irritate people.


For its part, the Duterte administration has declared the area around Taal as “no man’s land “ – which means to say, living in the area poses too much of a risk. So, what then, can Natanauan gain from telling Solidum that the agency knows nothing about what the Batangueños go through?


If anything, it is not the job of Phivolcs to make people’s lives miserable. It is only doing what it can to prevent a more serious humanitarian disaster from happening. Strongman politics has no place in disasters where so much is at stake and every decision has to undergo proper vetting.


Ignorance is fatal and that’s the least we can expect from people like Natanuan who thinks his sympathies are greater than the need for his constituents to survive. He should count himself among those administration-aligned politicians who thought it a good idea to slash the country’s calamity fund despite our position in the Pacific Ring of Fire. 


Indeed, ignorance is fatal.