Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A victory of the human spirit

THE super typhoon Yolanda was a tale of extreme misery. For several days people looked stunned with barely any food or drink they could scamper from wherever. Bodies of thousands were left in the streets or underneath debris, espe­cially in the city of Tacloban and the neighboring towns, at least during the first six days or so. There were stories of looting in malls, groceries and even in the houses of fellow victims. Oppor­tunists in distant towns that were not as severely hit by the super typhoon jacked up prices of basic commodities and fuel to 300%.

Hundreds of thousands of coconut trees that most people depended on for livelihood were felled like match­sticks. Hundreds of houses even those built of better materials were toppled. Infrastructures, especially those built by corrupt leaders were reduced to twisted steels and bared to reveal substandard materials. Churches and rectories were either unroofed or reduced to rubbles like the heritage church in the parish of the Immaculate Conception in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Several coastal barangays or villages, such as those in Hernani, Eastern Samar, disappeared from the map. To varying degrees, this scenario is true in southern part of Samar, the central areas of Leyte, the northern tip of Cebu, the northern towns of Panay and Palawan.

Super typhoon Yolanda battered the Visayas that was still reeling from the effects of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, with a 350 kilometer per hour howling winds. But it was the “Typhoon surge” that claimed thousands of lives. It was a simple term used by weather forecasters but was alien to the ears of most Filipinos. People thought that it was just some rising of the tides not a “tsunami-like” waves of high sea­water that swelled as high as 16 feet or so. With the loss of lives, property and livelihood, the total breakdown of communications, power and land travel made the situation even worse.

The president of the Philippines who went on national TV on the eve of the super typhoon, assuring the country of its super preparedness seemed to have buckled down.  It was only on the 6th day after the typhoon that the national government seemed to have been able to organized itself, though poorly. The president, the secretaries of local governments, social welfare and defense were present yes, but mostly on the screens of national TV ironically blaming the ineptness of the local government and announcing that relief was coming.  Government relief goods, indeed came but meager compared with the heavy relief opera­tions of foreign governments, global humanitarian agencies (most promi­nently the International Red Cross, UN, CRS, Caritas Germany and many more) and private Filipino groups in the country and abroad that responded immediately to the crisis by sending truckloads after truckloads of relief goods. After days of just talking on TV, the government was accused of incompetence and insensitivity.

But super typhoon Yolanda was a tale, too, of victory of the human spirit. Behind the first blush of des­peration were the resilience and the heroism of many of the survivors themselves. A young priest, for instance, from the town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar, the first landfall of Yolanda, motor biked for three days just to reach Manila and told the world how this remote town was ravaged by the super typhoon. There is a bagful more of stories to tell and so much faith that refused to be dampened by the super typhoon. 

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