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WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL:Fact, fiction, and opinion

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 February) – An article written by Mahar Lagmay and company saw print in the inner pages of a national daily today. The report explains what happened to Barangay Andap in New Bataan in a language that makes technical terms comprehensible to the layman. Lagmay, et al threw in juicy bits on the methodology they used to arrive at their expert opinion. Anyone is welcome to replicate what they did.

I googled for AMF Lagmay and hit on an 8 December article he posted on the National Institute for Geological Services website. It was an initial assessment on Andap based on, among others, a picture snapped by MindaNews photojournalist Ruby Thursday More the morning after the deadly debris flow on 4 December. This initial assessment was fleshed out a bit more fully in today’s article.

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I could have screamed in relief. Finally! Here’s a Filipino expert using his expertise to serve the Filipino community. In three days, he’d put together a lucid initial assessment.

(In those three days, I too had done rapid needs assessment and started to deploy psycho first aid teams. But I live just three hours from Andap. Lagmay is based in Luzon and had to make do with Ruby Thursday’s pictures. His work in those first three days is more remarkable than mine. Haah – there must be a reason why geologists are paid higher than psychologists.)

It had pained me, yes, to see the National Geographic van out there in Andap and in the mountains of Compostela heading to Cateel. That these guys were out there in December while the rest had gone Christmas break only strengthened my suspicion that we were looking at a major geologic event in our time in our midst. It pained me because I did not see Mindanao’s very own environmental science experts out there. They were not even interested to see Ruby Thursday’s pictures when MindaNews offered these and the rest of our videos, all catalogued as to dates and places, for them to study.

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Every time I come home from the Pablo-stricken areas, my daughter Sage has taken it upon herself to debrief me, maybe because she thinks I’d be easier to live with if I’d gotten my impressions of what I’d seen out of my system. Sagey, perceptive soul, once asked me why I did not look too happy about NatGeo being out there.

I said it’s because defining our reality is an onus that we should not palm off to outsiders; that I’d cringe every time a student or a colleague talks about Mindanao and cites a fly in, fly out scholar, commentator, blogger, along with any other two-cents’-worther as if it is their opinion that we should consider over any other. We who are here have eyes and ears, and we can put two and two together. Because it is our community, our evidence-based opinion about it should count perhaps more than the views of those who do not have to live here, who do not understand or care about our context, our culture.

How happy would we be when Andap lands on the inside pages of NatGeo? We’d probably quote ad infinitum what that article would say. That’s not exactly reprehensible, I know. It’s just that it looks to me as if what has happened in our midst gains more importance to us only when someone else comes to define it in those terms, and not before. Why can’t we care enough to define it when it happens?

Sometimes, it’s hard to bite my tongue and politely listen to people blaming non-existent mining and logging in Andap for causing the debris flow. That kind of talk ventilates our collective apprehensions, but it is just an extension really of the populist no to mining, no to logging sloganeering. Treading down that road of pet advocacies would only cause the rest of us more confusion.

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We’ll never get to address the problem if we don’t define it properly, exactly, as it really is.

Facts are not a matter of opinion.

Coming off last 7 February from a talk with a geologist who only talked on the condition that our conversation never happened was a bit unsettling, too. All the way home, I was mulling over the irony of disaster discourse having been hijacked by those who don’t know what they’re talking about, who can’t be bothered to go out there and see for themselves, while those who do know and have seen refuse to speak.

And then like a ray of light, I happened to read Lagmay and the rest of the Project Noah guys.

About time. (Gail Tan Ilagan, PhD, Director of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, writes the column, “Wayward and Fanciful” for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews)

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