Sunday, October 04, 2009

Fight on Philippines!

I don't think anything can ever defeat the Filipino spirit, especially after Ondoy.  I think a critical mass of people are now aware of their power to bring about solutions to even the greatest problems they encounter. And perhaps, we will see that awareness of power being tested on a number of other things that need fixing.

Nearly three quarters of a million people have either had their homes ruined or completely destroyed when Typhoon Ondoy went through Metro Manila and other provinces in Luzon.

I usually just get to know about disasters of this kind through reports in newspapers or television and visits to places which had been devastated by one type of disaster or another.  Right now, I find it hard to imagine the time when I could just turn off the TV or fold up the newspaper, or just catch a ride going back to Metro Manila.

At around 10:00 AM on September 26, my own home in Sampaloc, Manila got a bit flooded and I was a bit amused by it. 

It was just the third time that it had happened in the 38 years that I have lived here.  The flood water came from the street, spilled over the curb and down into our garage.  Water started filling up the garage and started creeping up until it was at a level where it would begin to come into our house. 

I managed to stop the water coming in from the street by damming up the lower portion of the curb that led into my garage.  I let out a bit of a yelp after succeeding in keeping the flood waters from coming into our house and rallied members of my household to start bucketing water out of the garage.

At around 11:00 AM, tired from taking water out of the garage, my wife received a call from her parents who lived in Provident Village, Marikina.  It was a casual conversation about the rain that within a span of a few minutes turned into high pitched screaming, "Yung baha pumapasok na sa bahay!" (The flood is coming into the house!).

From 11:30 AM onwards, frantic phone conversations were exchanged. Accounts of how the flood waters rose from being ankle deep inside the house to being waste deep until it eventually progressed to the point where the flood had submerged the first floor and half of the second floor.

My wife naturally feared for the lives of her parents, a younger sister and her two year old daughter, two kasambahays, and several neighbors who had taken refuge with them on top of their house.

Text messages to friends and phone calls were made to all the emergency numbers we could find.  I used Facebook status messages, tweets, and my blog to send messages out that Provident Village in Marikina was hit by the worst flooding in years. 

I wrote that people were dying and I urged anyone who read my blog to call the Philippine National Red Cross numbers which I posted.  I made a number of entries, all appealing for help.

At a certain point, my wife was convinced that she should go to Provident and try to rescue her family.  I explained that doing so might only put herself in danger.  She relented, after a long argument, to abandon the idea of braving the flood waters to reach her parents.

What made matters worse was that her father was a diabetic whose kidneys were already badly impaired and who was scheduled for dialysis that morning.  She prayed that her fathers' health would somehow hold up through the ordeal.

Through out the night, she tried to keep in touch with her parents through text messages and calls until the cellphone signals started failing.

The next morning, another sister of hers got hold of a truck and managed to get to their parents house in Provident Village and after more than 16 hours or so of being stuck on the roof, waist deep in flood water.

My wife's parents, a sister, her niece, and two kasambahays arrived at our house.  They were tired and muddied after the ordeal.  Stories were told all day and long into the night.

The next morning, my wife went back to Provident Village with her brother, sister, a few workers and the two kasambahays.  They began shoveling and pushing mud out of their house.

Everything was ruined by the mud and floodwater.

As the week progressed and more mud was moved out of their house, we got steeped in news reports of how other people were dealing with their own personal disasters.  My wife and I counted ourselves lucky that we could provide a temporary home for her parents and siblings.  We counted ourselves lucky that even the family askal (street dog) survived the ordeal.

Provident Village is home to middle class families with the resources that would make it easier for them to hire people to rebuild their homes.

What concerns me at this point are the thousands of people living in lower income neighborhoods around Marikina, Cainta, and other places in Metro Manila who may have lost everything.  I am certain that only a small percentage of them will be in evacuation centers and the rest will probably be trying to make their homes liveable despite being without water or electricity.

Evacuation centers all around Metro Manila will eventually run out of space as well as supplies, whatever aid that was received last week will eventually run thin.

What is needed, at this point, is to speed up rebuilding efforts.  But, probably, rebuilding efforts in flood prone areas ought to be considered and reconsidered VERY, VERY carefully.

Anyway, over the course of the week, we have found stories of heroism sprouting all over.  Bayanihan has proliferated on the internet, with people posting regular reports about situations in various relief centers and putting out appeals for various supplies.

I have never seen so many people spending so much time and money helping each other out.

I think Ondoy, despite the tragic stories it has created, also give us another glimpse of ourselves at our finest.

I think blaming the government or certain politicians is useless.  Even more useless and perhaps harmfullly distracting is the act of sniping at politicians for seeking publicity at a time of crisis.

I would rather focus on our recently proven capacity as ordinary citizens to create solutions to enormous problems.  I would rather focus on the encouraging signs of a people made aware that they can surmount any crisis if they pull together and help one another.

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