Remembering Typhoon Yolanda

I was at the office when I first heard the news, the strongest typhoon to make landfall was about to hit the Philippines. Shocked and worried, I decided not to wait for the news on TV and just did my own research.

I remember how my heart pumped when I read that the storm (International name Haiyan) will directly hit my country’s Visayas region specifically the provinces of Samar and Leyte. Most of my relatives are in Samar, a beautiful island in the eastern part of the Philippines facing the Pacific Ocean.

I was born there, even spent some of my childhood days with the care of my grandparents and Aunties. Thinking that my loved ones might be facing an imminent danger made me restless. We were able to contact my Aunt, though she promised that they would take care, it was not enough to take away our worry.

The day came. Yolanda, the typhoon’s Philippine name, has finally made its landfall. Manila was hundreds of kilometers away from the center of the storm, but the strength was undeniable. We were busy dealing with the bad weather, not knowing that our fellows in the south were experiencing catastrophe. Yolanda, a beautiful common name in my country, has become a name we will never forget.

I remember watching the news that morning, as coverage from Tacloban (Leyte province’s capital) was broadcasted. The wind was unimaginable. Huge trees toppled, and roofs were flying all over like papers. Even by the look of the reporters’ faces, you could sense worry, that they themselves weren’t safe.

Then the line of communication was cut-off. Media could not broadcast from where the storm hit. After a few hours, a heart-wrenching statistics came in, that at least 6,000 people were dead. That alone, crushed my heart.

After the storm, we were relieved to hear that my relatives were all safe. They are in the northern part of the province which was not greatly affected. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that my heart didn’t break, upon witnessing the terrible devastation.

Small pieces of videos and reports were finally broadcasted. It was our first glimpse of what our fellow Filipinos have gone through. It was too much to bear, but we need to see it, no matter how painful it is.

Dead bodies were scattered everywhere. Survivors were just roaming around the place like zombies, clearly traumatized, endlessly searching for their loved ones – parents, brothers, sons, and daughters. Those who were with them that morning, until the storm surge came… and washed away their homes along with the people they love.

I will never forget one particular report on TV. One journalist was in a school, a supposed evacuation area, a place where people were relocated when the storm hit.

Inside the room, he has come face to face with dead bodies, mostly women and children.

He couldn’t take what he has witnessed, so he walked outside. There, he saw men grieving, crying like babies. It was unusual to see adult men cry like that, but once you know their stories, you will understand why.

One was sitting at the corner of the room, desperately calling his mom from nowhere. His mother was one of the many casualties of the typhoon. On one side, a young father was whimpering, hugging and kissing his son’s… lifeless body.

A few feet away, a young man has almost gone crazy, probably of unbearable pain. He was pointing to the ground, wanting to attend to his father’s dead body but he just couldn’t. All he could do was to cry out loud.

By the time when media was able to penetrate Tacloban, they also focused on talking to the survivors, to send messages to their relatives and also call for urgent help.

One woman with clothes full of mud approached the camera in an attempt to talk to her relatives in Manila. By the time she opened her mouth, tears rolled down her cheeks. She said that all her children, including her husband, did not survive, that she’s the only one alive, lonely and sad.

I will never forget that woman.

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Photo Credit: AFP/Philippe Lopez via GMA News

The Press Conference

It was the time when one could not help but be sad and even cry at times whenever topic about the super typhoon is brought up.

Just after the storm, our President Benigno Aquino Jr., made a press conference to address the needs of the survivors. All in all, it was a sensible meeting. He said that the main focus was to restore power, clear major roads so that the aid would be delivered on time.

But while watching him, a sudden deep sense of sadness was surprisingly starting to grow from within. It was like a heavy feeling that was slowly building up until it resulted in disbelief and disgust.

Amidst the terrible situation that my countrymen have gone through, our President showed up in a meeting as if there was no big problem as if he wasn’t even sad about what happened. He even managed to make some quick smile when he said that our Health Department should focus on checking the water on the area, that it might be contaminated because there were some “deaths.” And then he smiled again.

He started to make this litany, that the local government did not work enough to protect their people. It was a sad moment for us. In a time, when the urgent need was to help the struggling survivors, our President chose to exert his energy on blaming others.

There were some criticisms of our government’s slow response to the calamity, and to be honest, it’s true.

They were painfully slow, and it’s a reality that we all had to bear.

We have come to accept the fact that our government has a lot of limitations. We are a third world country plagued by decades of corruption and politicking with meager infrastructure. We are used to that, and we understand.

What is unacceptable is our leaders’ attitude towards this catastrophic event, that in times of desperation, one could even resort to blame game.

We just don’t understand that in moments when we need inspiration, we were answered with coldness, insensitivity.

Maybe our President just wanted to look strong in times of trials. Maybe he thought that facing the grieving public as a hard, tough leader would eventually ignite a sense of courage and motivation. But it didn’t turn out that way.

Strength in character is one of the traits that all leaders would want to have. Looking back in history, many triumphs were achieved through strength and iron will. But there are moments, very specific situations, wherein a leader also has to show some vulnerability to sympathize, to connect, and later on give a spark of hope.

When CNN’s Christianne Amanpour interviewed President Aquino, her first question sends an underlying meaning. She asked, “on a personal note, how has it (calamity) affected you?” Of course, as expected, our dear President did not give a straight answer. But this just proves that the international media is also not satisfied. And I just loved Amanpour even more because of that interview.

Despite this painful disappointment, there are still a lot of things to be thankful for. This tragedy made us stronger as a nation, bonded us as one. Also, the help from other countries not only touched our hearts but more importantly, gave us hope, something that we all need.

For all of you who helped us in their own ways, thank you.

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These kids’ smiles can bring us hope.

Photo Credit: IMO via Compfight/Creative Commons

As CNN’s Anderson Cooper broadcasted a live report in Tacloban, he did mention a painful truth about our country. This is so blatantly honest that it raised the eyebrows of not only our government but even a popular “journalist” here in the Philippines (Korina Sanchez), who happens to be the wife of a popular government official.

Cooper said, “People here are very resilient. They are used to being abandoned by their government for generations, for decades. There is no high expectation for a lot of people here of governmental help.”

Days have gone by since the super typhoon struck, and we still have a long way to go, in terms of rebuilding the lives of the victims.

Thank you for all of you who helped us. This adversity has not only made us tougher but also brought us a lot of learnings.

I wrote this one, for me not to forget my realizations, about our government, about our people. To remind everyone that we should never forget the lessons this unfortunate event has brought us.

As Anderson Cooper said, Filipinos are resilient. And through the hope and inspiration, the world has given us, we are definitely going to stand up… stronger.

Update: After one year, there have been some changes. But still, there is a lot of work to be done to rebuild the affected places. People are yet to be rehabilitated.
And now, five days before Christmas, it just feels better that the people of the Tacloban and the nearby towns will have a better Christmas than last year.

Thank you for all the aid and help from all over the world.