Much has been said about the dire catastrophe caused by the storm surge we were so ignorant about until it slaughtered our countrymen. The recent calamity has become the newest trending topic as people tirelessly exchange stories and opinions over a cup of coffee, via Facebook, or in a nearby kanto. But the onslaught of the super-typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Eastern Visayas and its dismal aftermath have not only garnered global attention and sympathy, but have uncovered something about our true selves.
Less than a week before the devastation was spread by the media, the Philippine political arena was suffering from a calamity in itself. In a senate hearing, the whole nation watched as the alleged mastermind of the PDAF scam was questioned. PDAF, controversially called the “pork barrel”, has been the subject of much public upheaval following exposés on abuses perpetuated by members of Congress on the use of the fund.
At face value, this double fiasco that hit the country just before the year’s end are two separate issues altogether. But close scrutiny will expose that somehow, somewhere down the line, corruption and disaster preparedness have a steel-strong linkage. It’s funny how a certain news item about a literal man-made typhoon has circulated the web. But if you look closely enough, Haiyan might have been man-made after all.
The blame game
“Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines didn’t just expose the shortcomings of the country’s emergency disaster response system, it also showed how politics can get in the way of saving lives.”- Channel NewsAsia
As white clouds came out of hiding, reputations became as murky as the flood waters. The DILG head who was supposed to spearhead the relief operations has received flak and criticism along with his equally infamous news anchor wife who made snide remarks about a CNN journalist. Likewise, the Vice President and the President themselves were lambasted by Netizens for being insensitive and self-seeking.
Absence of communication lines, unpreparedness, and poor or a totally lacking distribution plan are not the only factors that hinder relief operations. Political rivalries, hidden agendas, and bureaucracy are in fact the major causes of the delay. Aside from struggling to keep the donations graft-free, repacking the already repacked goods at the expense of the waiting victims is a reflection of an image-conscious administration.
Survival of the fittest
“Can you imagine the strength it takes to be living in a shack, to be living sleeping on the streets next to the body of your dead children? Can you imagine that strength? I can’t. And I’ve seen that strength day in and day out here in the Philippines. And we honor them with every broadcast that we do.” – Anderson Cooper
Although the typhoon has left the country, its devastation has left our brothers and sisters in a state akin to anarchy. Storm surge, as described by a citizen, is the 6-meter wall of water that rose out of the sea, rushing several kilometers inland and crashing over every building and house by the coastline. A Yahoo! News article described Tacloban and its adjacent cities to be in a “post-apocalyptic war Hollywood movie” after being hit by one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters, by far. A Twitter user shared his experience of seeing 12 dead people within 300 meters without anybody picking them up.
Desperation has always been a good test of character. As hunger kicks in, lawlessness reigns supreme as survivors opted to loot trucks, carrying relief supplies, out of despair. After all, surviving from a calamity is one thing; staying alive after you have survived is another. However, hunger is just one of the physical needs to be taken care of—sicknesses, damages, wounds, personal hygiene—not to mention the agonizing emotional pain of losing one’s family and properties.
In this kind of tragedy, being able to embrace the reality of the loss is something to be admired. To emerge out of the rubble with resiliency shows a glimpse of hope.
The silver lining
“For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only they, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” – Romans 8: 22-23
Tragic events not only expose the true colors of people but can also bring out the heroes in them. Greatly remembered for braving the raging winds is a reporter who was lucky enough to be at the right place, at the right time, aside from being eye candy. Another news anchor who grew up in the very province that was worst-hit by the typhoon proved that having a heart and raw compassion doesn’t conflict with professionalism. The head of the Philippine Red Cross has once again executed an efficient and responsive contingency plan while a mayor from a rather far-flung city has also been able to extend relief supplies and endeavored to implement law and order to beat anarchy-in-the-making. Still, a local mayor depleted of everything, struggled to do his job as the last man standing in the eye of the storm.
In a society that is increasingly becoming callous and indifferent, calamities such as this prompt us to be compassionate and selfless. While others took credit for the help they have extended, some chose to remain nameless behind boxes of sardines and instant noodles. While others took advantage of the situation to take the spot light, others cry out silently for divine intervention.
Amid political and environmental mayhem costing thousands of casualties and threatening national security, faith remains to be our greatest hope. More of a natural consequence than a fluke, Haiyan is just one of the many debacles that will befall man. To overcome this crisis, we must therefore restore our dignity as a people and ultimately renew our faith in the only One who can calm the raging storm.
Featured photo by John Javellana (Reuters)