Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lest we forget

This is my column today, November 9, 2014.


I wasn’t home when the strongest typhoon in history hit last year.  I was scheduled to fly home to Tacloban City exactly a year ago yesterday to stand as sponsor at the wedding of the daughter of one of my College friends.  The wedding did not happen and it would not be until after four full days later before I could wrangle a seat on a private plane bound for Tacloban (and I must admit I was so much luckier than most others who couldn’t get a seat on any plane, or boat, or bus bound for Leyte or Samar at that time despite their very best efforts). 
Before I got to Tacloban on November 12, I had already seen horrifying footages of the devastation in various media reports and in social networking sites.  I had already talked to some of the survivors in person and through telephone.   But nothing prepared me for the kind of devastation that accosted us as soon as Tacloban and nearby towns became visible from the windows of the tiny plane.  Coconut and other trees looked like pick-up sticks chopped carelessly and violently strewn by a giant.  Nothing green could be seen for miles around - only varying shades of murk, darkness, and gloom.  Structures that used to be familiar were unrecognizable and I had to strain to try to figure out parts of the city that I called home. I could feel my chest tightening as I surveyed the extent of the damage from above; felt my knees turn to rubber when I got off the plane to find that absolutely nothing, not one chair or window or wall of the DZR Airport Terminal was spared.  I couldn’t hold back the tears when I noted the dazed and desperate look in the faces of the hundreds of people who were roaming around aimlessly as if looking for something familiar in the midst of the rubble, and as the vehicle we were riding in started to navigate the pathways created around fallen trees, mountains of debris, and hundreds of dead bodies piled along the sides of the streets.  I noted a number of haphazardly made signs begging for help, or appealing to authorities to already remove the dead bodies in their midst.  I finally broke down when I got to hug friends and relatives; relieved that they survived the supertyphoon’s fury, humbled by how puny we actually are against the forces of the universe, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the loss and destruction. 
I have never seen anything as shattering or heartbreaking in my whole existence.
I talked to people who still had not eaten a decent meal four, five, six days after the supertyphoon struck, condoled with people who were not only mourning the loss of family members ones but also struggling with the heartbreak of not being able to give their loved ones a proper burial, listened to various stories of courage, heroism, resilience, determination, and yes, faith.  
I was there when volunteers from various cities started to trickle in bringing water, medicines, and other services; when MMDA crews started to clear the major thoroughfares and remove the bloated dead bodies from the streets; when international agencies and global media outfits started to stream in.  In fact, I was at the Tacloban Airport when CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his crew arrived.  I made several trips in the succeeding weeks and months to organize various programs.
I wasn’t in Tacloban when Yolanda struck but I witnessed the many ways in which survivors got victimized a second and even a third and a fourth time from the incompetence, greed, indifference, and the shameless political maneuverings of those who were in a position to do something to alleviate the pain, kindle hope, or bring solace.
We marked the first year anniversary of the tragedy brought by the supertyphoon yesterday.  Yolanda delivered a powerful message about how nature has become vengeful in response to man’s uncaring ways towards the environment.  Sadly, that message has been lost in the continuing ruckus over finding someone to blame for the government’s utter failure to deliver what it promised, or should have delivered. 
Thousands perished from the supertyphoon last year.  Hundreds of thousands of survivors are still trying to rebuild their lives.  Their suffering continues.The tragedy continues even after one year.

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