Lessons from Yolanda

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

AFTER super typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayas that dreadful day on November 8, the great majority of us have been glued to the radio, television, Facebook and whatever sources of information is available. Listening to all and sundry with different opinions, and statements, there are many lessons to be learned.

Foremost, storm surge are new words in my vocabulary. I guess we are not all privy to what storm surge is because even a personnel of PAGASA was swept away by the raging storm surge. She was on duty at the weather station and as the rule goes they cannot abandon their posts at all costs if a locality is under threat of a tropical cyclone. She was initially reported missing but she was found alive later.

So that leads me to the lesson of preparedness. While my whole family tried at best to be prepared, that includes doing some carpentry job on our roof and applying sealing liquids on all leaks , nonetheless, calderos were on standby for wherever there would be new areas that could still be penetrated. And despite the preparedness, a slab of roofing material did fly off when the gusty winds were powerful. New leaks came to the fore. But that was manageable. While all candles were in place and cellphones and emergency lights were fully charged, even a control freak like me forgot about buying batteries for the radio. We are so used to the electrical world that this escaped my attention. So in the more than 12 hours of brownout, we were totally isolated with news blackout as to what is happening to the rest of the world.


On a larger scale, how prepared can we really be? How can a whole town, city, or province be totally prepared for the onslaught of a never heard of Signal No. 4? We do not have typhoon shelters that are totally invincible to winds of 200-250 kilometers per hour? The story in Tacloban of children evacuated to a school which became a tragedy as they all perished because of the storm surge.

So, if we are to be really ready, then each purok and barangay should be equipped with a structure that can withstand all the ingredients of a perfect tropical cyclone. I do not think that there is any area in the Philippines that can boast of having one. Perhaps, gymnasiums can come close but can it house an entire community or city with ready facilities as bathrooms, cots, water supply, food, medical assistance, and generating sets to attend to all needs of evacuees?

Since we are visited by typhoons periodically (20 or more annually), then there should have been the foresight of building these evacuation centers a long time ago.

We had the chance to visit Molocaboc Island in Sagay City which was badly hit by Yolanda. The call aside from rice, food and water is for building materials. They need nails and trapal, nipa, wood etc., the usual staple of homes for the majority of Filipinos. In the event of a next typhoon, even a Signal No. 3 can still wipe out these structures.

So these are really just palliative measures to ensure that victims will have shelter for now. The reality is that, a concrete structure cannot be afforded to all. But the lesson from Yolanda is that an honest to goodness evacuation center (not schools or churches or chapels) should be a priority of every barangay captain, a mayor, governor or even a congressman as they are assigned to their particular districts.

As a writer for Sun.Star Bacolod for 14 years this November, the lesson I learned, even as just a travel and lifestyle writer and not in breaking news or headlines, is that we stay closest to the facts. Journalists of our category can be subjective when it comes to reviews on places and social events. But we also have the obligation to be closest to the truth and not be clouded by our personal impressions. The years of training have taught me that research and actual witnessing can give the most accurate information. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons that motivated me to go to Molocaboc to see firsthand the wrath of Yolanda and feel the suffering pulse of the residents. Mothers with no milk to feed their babies, fathers gathering the debris of what was once called home in order to provide new shelter for their families, and the elderly lining up for food for the coming days was a painful sight.

But the more beautiful lessons that Yolanda has taught me is that no creed or color, no distance or race can stifle love. The outpouring of assistance is overwhelming. In the home front, donations came in hordes to television networks, to institutions and foundations known for their benevolent missions, to clubs that have addressed the needs of the community. Children gave their piggy banks and families who have hardly enough for daily consumption gave tomorrow’s “compra” so that directly-hit victims can have something to fill their stomachs or shirts on their backs.

It is amazing how nations all over the world have responded in a heartbeat to help with their physical presence and material aid. A friend of the family was flying to Manila yesterday and they were gassed out because the traffic in NAIA was heavy from international flights coming to deliver relief goods. They had to refuel in Clark. But there was no complaint from anyone on board as their inconvenience was in exchange for the noblest of causes.

Why this outpouring of support? We are all brothers and sisters in this one planet. And the suffering of one is the suffering of all. The kind word and gesture can wipe all the tears away and the message of hope encourages the living to carry on despite the loss of family members and properties.

The time to unite, to be one in times of distress is what makes us Filipinos not only a resilient nation but a nation that never gives up hope and trust. And we are blessed because the hope and trust came not only from Aparri to Jolo but from every corner of the globe.

The best lesson I have learned from Yolanda is what Anderson Cooper said about the Filipinos: It takes an outsider to see the best in the Filipino spirit. Allow me to re-echo what he has said: “When everything else is taken away, broken, battered, soaked, raw, stripped, bare, you see things, you see people as they really are. This week in Tacloban, Samar and Cebu amidst the hunger and thirst, the chaos and confusion, we’ve seen the best in the Filipino people, their strength and their courage. We’ve seen people with every reason to despair, every right to be angry instead find ways to laugh, to love, to stand up, to move forward. A storm breaks wood and bone, brings hurt and heartbreak. In the end, the wind, the water, the horror it brings is not the end of the story. With aid and assistance, compassion and care, this place, these people… they will make it through. They have survived the worst. They are tired and traumatized but are not broken. Mabuhay Philippines! Maraming salamat for all what you have shown us. Maraming salamat for showing us how to live!*

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on November 21, 2013.


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