THE REMNANTS OF YOLANDA’S FURY

November 08, 2013. Friday. It was my oldest child’s 18th birthday. We were all home because classes were suspended. But instead of being in a celebratory mood, my family’s attention was glued to the harrowing scenes and images flashed on our TV screen.

Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the most powerful storm to make landfall in recorded history, was ravaging most of the Visayan regions.

Sufficiently forewarned, the government had been preparing and making the necessary arrangements as early as three days prior to the landfall. But no amount of careful and meticulous planning could have spared us from the onslaught and fury of the mighty typhoon. With maximum sustained winds of 315 kph and gustiness of up to 380 kph, it ruthlessly devastated everything in its path.

The national government couldn’t penetrate the affected areas right away. (Many areas remained isolated, and communications, power, road and port systems were down.) The Local Government Units (LGUs) were reeling from and temporarily crippled by the magnitude of the devastation. The survivors who lost the people they loved or their homes or their source of livelihood were walking around in confusion. Chaos, desolation, grief and hopelessness reigned.

When the weather condition slightly improved and permitted the entry of the authorities to assess the extent of the damage, everyone was shocked by the staggering figures.

An immense loss of lives and a trail of massive destruction were left in Yolanda’s wake. 9 regions, 44 provinces and more than 12,000 barangays were devastated. 6,300 lives perished, 1,062 gone missing and 28,688 injured. 1.1M houses were damaged, leaving 4.1M people displaced. 3.4M families or 16M individuals were adversely affected. ₱95B worth of damages was recorded. 

What was left of Tacloban City after the onslaught of ST Yolanda. Image owned by redflag.org.au
          What was left of Tacloban City after the onslaught of ST Yolanda. Image owned by redflag.org.au.

The days that followed witnessed the overwhelming support of the international community as pledges, aids and donations poured in from all over the world. Humanitarian contingents from various countries also kept on coming. Both the public and private sectors, local and foreign, joined hands in reaching out to the victims. Random acts of bravery and generosity by faceless and nameless heroes and philanthropists were often heard of.

For a time, people saw a world without borders. Race, color and language were virtually nonexistent. Realizing that something like that could happen to any nation, everyone was doing his share to help. Faith in humanity was restored.

But, all too soon, greed and politics reared their ugly heads.

Organized looting, wanton ransacking of malls, stores, ATMs and gasoline stations, and even attacking of warehouses and trucks loaded with relief goods were documented. Some people saw the tragedy as an opportunity to make easy money by overpricing, hoarding or selling of relief goods. Some politicians saw it as a chance to pocket relief money and practice grandstanding and politicking. There were relief goods and financial assistance that did not reach the victims on time. Some undistributed goods were even reported to have been left in warehouses to rot.

Again, we got the attention of the international community. But, this time, for the wrong reasons.

Now, 2 years after that fateful day, I got the chance to coordinate with someone who experienced Yolanda and was able to survive to tell her tale.

Lynz de Mesa Ecap was 16 years old when Typhoon Yolanda happened. She was from Brgy. Nula-tula, one of the most devastated barangays in Tacloban City. She narrated how she and her family survived the heavy rains, strong winds, 15-foot storm surges and massive floods at the height of the onslaught of the typhoon. She recounted how, when the storm finally cleared, the sight of the countless lifeless bodies strewn along the roads, of the several sea vessels washed ashore and of the houses totally demolished by Yolanda, and the cries of agony from their neighbors broke her heart. She described how, when nightfall would come, she would shudder in fear because of the eerie howling of dogs, the rumors of an impending tsunami, and the stories of the NPA guerillas raiding the city and of the criminals who bolted from the city jail wreaking havoc in the already ravaged communities. She detailed how being thirsty, hungry, cold, homeless and clueless on whether help would come could force someone to do things to survive. She also shared the lessons she learned and the blessings she received during her Yolanda experience. (Click here for her story.)

Up to now, her family and most of their neighbors are still living in temporary shelters like tents and bunk houses. Financial assistance comes few, meager and far between (There are even cases when the money they actually receive is not the same as the amount indicated on the papers that the social workers make them sign.). Lynz’ family gets by largely through the help of friends and relatives and of some local non-government and international government organizations.

From an outsider’s point of view, I dare say that our government has failed immensely in addressing the issues that continue to plague its rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the Yolanda-stricken areas.

Of the ₱150B required for rehabilitation, only ₱93.87B has been released. (This despite the enormous amounts of money we received from 70 foreign governments and various multilateral organizations.) Thousands of the survivors are still living in cramped temporary shelters. Of the 205,128 houses that the government is planning to build by 2017, only 17,641 have been actually built as of press time. Many areas are yet to have access to electricity and water. 

According to Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who served as the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery until he stepped down last February, the government implementation of the recovery plan for the Yolanda victims is “slow”, and that the cause of the delay is the release of the budget. He also added that some government agencies are not doing their jobs.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard “Dick” Gordon basically said the same thing. He noted that programs are not being implemented by the Yolanda rehabilitation agencies and that the coordination among these agencies is “weak”.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in defense of Malacañang, said that “policies on procurement and land acquisition along with required permits and clearances before certain projects could be started, were hampering government efforts to build permanent relocation sites faster”.

So, what is Valte trying to say? Should the Yolanda survivors have to suffer longer because the government efforts have been reduced to a slow crawl under the heavy burden of a cumbersome bureaucracy?  I hope not. As it is, people are already demanding for a full accounting and disclosure of the status of the government’s relief and rehabilitation programs for the Yolanda victims. I, personally, would like to see the comprehensive list of all the donations received by the government. I need to know if every peso went to the intended beneficiaries.

Photo credit to gcura.deviantart.com
                                                           Photo credit to gcura.deviantart.com.

Finally, now that the 2016 election is just around the corner, I fervently hope that political campaigning would not take precedence over the welfare and well-being of the Yolanda victims; that squabbles and bickering between and among government officials would stop to give way to faster and more effective solutions to the more pressing problems in the Visayas. I also hope that an urgent and clamorous call for more ambitious and aggressive action to address the issue of global warming would be made. Most importantly, I pray that people would not forget that all Typhoon Yolanda left us is not just destruction and havoc. It also taught us valuable lessons and values, such as faith in God and in humanity, the power of unity (bayanihan), and the Filipinos’ innate strength, determination and resilience that will see us through the many other storms that will come our way.

Sources: NDRRMC / Office of Civil Defense, DND; DBM’s website, Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH), gmanetwork.com, Prospero Pulma Jr., Lynz de Mesa Ecap

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