Just as natural hazards underlie the political structure and economic system of the modern nation state, so the social order in the Philippines also reflects the impact of climatic and meteorological factors. In particular, alternating drought and flood affect crop production and livestock fertility, disrupt fisheries, cause raging forest fires and devastating mudslides. People are also more vulnerable to disease, as a consequence of damage to shelter, interruption of food and water supplies, and the proliferation of virus-bearing vectors. Moreover, the delicate balance of ecosystems can be disturbed through sharp variations in temperature and rainfall or through increased erosion of already vulnerable soils stripped of their ground cover by excessive forest clearance. Even energy sources can be interrupted as low water levels restrict hydroelectric generation, upsetting industry and domestic consumers alike. More often than not such events are referred to as ‘abnormal’ weather conditions (UNEP 1992:17), a term born from an attitude that considers such episodes as freak occurrences that upset the normal condition or rhythm of life.
On the contrary, such conditions are part of a recurring weather pattern known as the El Niño Southern-Oscillation (ENSO) that strongly influences the climate of the Pacific Basin as well as having more global implications. Alternating drought and flood connected with corresponding ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ episodes of the ENSO are the regular climatic sequence to be expected in the Philippines during the twentieth century. More recently, too, it appears that the magnitude and frequency of these events is increasing. Not only are human-induced changes related to the rapid growth of urban centres in vulnerable areas and the wholesale destruction of the archipelago’s forests held responsible for the severity of floods and droughts but their occurrence may also be linked to wider climatic changes associated with global warming. The way in which people deal with the consequences of extreme climatic events such as these reflects not only their knowledge born of past experience but the place they occupy in the social order of any society. While the Philippines is a plural society composed of people of different ethnicity that function within the same political structure and economic system, certain groups hold themselves and are held by the others to be particularly distinct