Monday, June 23, 2008

Force Majeure

"Act of God or force majeure, by definition,
are extraordinary events not foreseeable or avoidable,
events that could not be foreseen, or which, though foreseen, are inevitable.
It is therefore not enough that the event should not have been foreseen or anticipated,
as is commonly believed,
but it must be one impossible to foresee or to avoid."
--(National Power Corp. vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 96410. July 3, 1992.)

Living in a country hit by an average of twenty (20) typhoons every year, I am used to howling winds, pounding rains, and rising waters. As a student, it meant classes were suspended, and I was free to sleep and eat the storm away. Power usually went out, and it was always a time to find forms of entertainment that did not require electricity. On those days that were as dark as night, I played the piano by candlelight, and was inspired to learn Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", used in the movie "The Loves of Dracula", to complete the eerie effect during the stormy days of my childhood.

Twenty years later, I have changed. The world has changed. Consequently, I'm usually restless during a storm. Last weekend, I had a scheduled flight to Davao about an hour after Frank (international codename: Fengshen) was supposed to hit Metro Manila, something that was not predicted by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) and similar agencies across the globe. Power did not go down so I was able to monitor the updates on TV, radio, and Internet.

A ferry sank and 700 people went missing. Iloilo City in Central Philippines went under water. I saw what storms really meant - lost lives and properties. I watched them in the shelter of our home. I could neither sleep nor rest, however, because of worry and anxiety, as if I had not recovered from all those 20 storms per year of my existence, and as if being pounded by sheets of rain was putting me under water and making me feel helpless.

For what can we do against a typhoon? We can't fight it back with magic powers. We can't push it back behind a force field. All we can do is find a shelter, and stay there, until the roaring winds and the raging waters subside.

My officemate and I decided to postpone our trip to next month, and not just rebook it for another day this week, as weather conditions were not conducive to travel. She told me that this was force majeure and our bosses would understand. They did understand, and told us that it was better to be safe than sorry. We revised our work plan and schedule accordingly.

Sometime yesterday afternoon, as I was talking to my mother about our flooded driveway and leaking kitchen, I heard a silence. It was like in the movies - when the rain and the wind stopped- and I knew, like an old farmer who could predict the weather, that the worst was over. I later learned that Frank had indeed left Metro Manila and was moving towards the northern part of Luzon, where the people had just been hit by a typhoon recently.

I got up and attended the evening mass, which was packed as everyone seemed to have stayed indoors earlier that Sunday and was only crawling out of their shelters. The skies were not as angry anymore; I could walk with just a jacket, avoiding puddles of water and shaking off raindrops as I went along. There was that air of stillness, as if people were afraid to move after the vigorous pounding they had received. Only a few establishments were open, and people went home early. The typhoon had left, but people still had to recover from it. I tried to go back to normal, but I could not work. I could not finish a sentence of the 170 cases I had to analyze.

This morning, I woke up to the chirping of the birds. Around me, signs that "Frank Was Here" could be seen - there were fallen trees and scattered leaves everywhere. Due to the sleeplessness from the past two nights, and the stressfulness of the previous work week, I could not get up from bed, with an ache I could not quite name. I knew I had to go to work, as life ought to go on. But I called in sick.

The typhoon has left, for now. Another one would surely come. Is PAG-ASA or the Coast Guard prepared? Is the Philippine Red Cross equipped? Do the Local Government units, and the National Disaster Coordinating Council, get enough support? I wonder when we could learn from the past and be stronger against the forces of nature.

There are many factors why warnings are not heeded by ferry operators, houses are not made of strong materials in areas prone to typhoons, floods are not prevented, and the basics of food, shelter, and clothing are not provided to our people. We could only gather our old clothes and blankets to warm them up afterwards, but how to avoid these? I hope our corrupt politicians grow a conscience soon. Gasoline prices are up, and basic commodities are following suit. The ordinary Filipinos like me are getting more beaten and bruised every typhoon, which, as we all know, happens 20 times to us every year.

In my life, when the next storm comes, and I'm unprepared, is it still considered force majeure? I don't need the Supreme Court to give me an answer this time. If it's an act of God that I'm afraid of, then perhaps there's no one better to ask, than God Himself. I know He is showing me the answers little by little, but like a creature still shaken by the most recent storm, everything is incomprehensible to me. I seek sanctuary where I could hear Him more clearly.

I hope that the changes I find in me are for the better, not for the worse. I tried to play "Moonlight Sonata" today, but I had forgotten most of it. The Gospel reading for today led me to pray for a fresh perspective on my life after the storm, that the "log in my eye" may be removed so I could see that the storm is over, just like that, and that it made way for a rainbow in the sky to remind me that God promised, not to exempt me from the storm, but to be with me every moment of it.

I wrote all of these down so I would not forget. The next step is to move on, pick up the pieces, and see the beautiful picture that God has painted because of the storm.

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