September 26 has always been remembered as the day when the heavens dropped a month worth of rainfall in just six hours drowning 70% of Marikina with its mighty river’s flood. That was more than a decade ago. And September 26 should be celebrated more than by its tragedy, by but the greatness of the relationship between the Marikenos and its River.
I find it bothersome and insensitive seeing newspapers asking the clickbait questions every 26th of September, “where were you when Ondoy hanppened?” Were they waiting for people to say, “trapped inside our house, hanging on the grills of the windows, hoping that the waters won’t rise further because our noses are just a few inches from our ceilings?”
Well that wasn’t us, luckily. But those who would have posted that kind of answer, could not. They were the bodies found the next day, trapped inside their bungalows in some villages and subdivisions, after the flood subsided.
We were just lucky, just because we were alive. Me and my family were lucky to have a two floor house, up-and-down as the nineties middle class would call it, and we weren’t just on the up. We were on the roof, as the flood was less than a meter away from it, before it stopped rising. We were safe there, but seeing our neighbors’ roofs surrendering to the brown murky water, didn’t give any comfort, knowing that in a few minutes, the walls might not be on its floor anymore. That was the case. Parts of the neighborhood were washed out becoming a bog, like several of the streets our area. All covered by thick mud from the quarried mountains of Montalban.
We were just lucky, just because we were able to traverse what became a filthy plain with mounds of dirt, refrigerators, a lot of lumber and planks, beds and sofa, and a few more seats hanging on the Meralco lines, and some cars on top of some other cars to get to a less wet abode. We were lucky because some had to swim just to find safety that day. And there was a family one who stayed on their house, waving at us, as the river carried them to who knows where. We just heard the next day that only the father survived as their hut hit the City’s namesake bridge.
We were just lucky, just because we have a house to come back to. But it was just a house, we were to make it a home once more, but not before we scrape all the mud that marked the house of the rivers might. So high, that I would have drowned in my own room. In the daytime, mud made everything was brown, and in the night, everything was black. Electricity came back not weeks after the storm.
We celebrated Christmas on the floor that year. The floor was shiny. More than a decade have passed and I can still picture how it glistened. Our house was never that bare for me to notice the floor before. And I noticed that there was grass outside. On the ground that was not a ground a few months ago.
Christmas was the quietest that year. But we were just lucky to have celebrated Christmas. More than 70 couldn’t.
That is why legit newspapers shouldn’t be asking people where people were when Ondoy happened. Because the answer that matter are from the people that couldn’t. Because they are dead.
To those who survived, remembering September 26 with Ondoy is just remembering it as a day of luck. Luck was just on our side. It can’t even be assumed as faith, because those who were to die would have called their gods the most, that day.
It wasn’t even a day of resilience. Resilience is the story of a Martial Law survivor who was tortured, but lived to tell their tale. Resilience is a story of a school, burned down to ashes, but still thrived to educate the indigenous. Resilience is the story of a country under more than six months of (x)(y)CQ , still trying to survive without a proper plan from its heads. Resilience is waiting for a vaccine while other nations have stopped the pandemic in their regions even without one. Resilience is masochism in poverty. It is something not to be enjoyed. It should be the last step in survival. Because people should be living, not surviving. And standing on the white sand on a piece of Manila Bay isn’t living.
On September 26, 2009, it took a few hours before, but Marikina River carried all the waters of Ondoy to the mouth of Pasig River down to the bays Manila and Laguna. That was resilience. That was strength in action. Resilience should be for places and things, and cultures and traditions. Not for people. Because, yes we don’t want to be done on being resilient, but can you just stop testing our resilience?
That’s why September 26 is not about the people. Not about those who survived, because a lot of them just got lucky. A few heroes maybe named, but there are names, too, to be blamed. This day is not also for those who survived not. The unlucky ones. We will mourn for them. And for their love ones, they will never be forgotten. We will let them have this date as something personal, but not for all of us. They will understand.
September 26, 2009 is not about Ondoy. Ondoy is the villain in this narrative. Let’s just leave it that way, just like we left those who were in charge of alarming the people about this storm, without charge. We should be done with worshipping our oppressor. We should stop being thankful for having a little of what we deserve. We should remember the names of those who brought us trauma, but the dominance in their fame must be relinquished. They are not heroes.
September 26 is about the river that took all those month long worth of rainfall and carried it from the land back to the open waters where it belonged. It is also about the river who reclaimed he is the boss. Showing that storms will come and go, people will live and die, but the river will be here to stay. A river that showed Marikina who gives life to its land, and who can take it away.
September 26 is about the Marikina River. It is but proper to pay respect to the river that gave the city its nourishment from the very beginning of time. To the river that stayed and survived the calamity that is mankind. To the river used by Mother Nature to humble us and show us our fragility as human.
Let’s forget Ondoy and celebrate the Marikina River on the 26th of every September. It might sound pagan but we do Christmas, the celebration of the sun, the sun of god. Let’s put on festivities, and programs and dancers on the street to honor the river. Let’s hold masses on boats and pray that it will be gentle on monsoon seasons and flowing when dry spells are cast. Let’s fill the net with photos of life and celebration, that when we speak of this day, and when we talk about Ondoy, our story of that storm will be one with the resilience of the river that carried it.
Make September 26 our Marikina River Day.