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I have been trained to be strong in times of distress and calamity, to focus on what I can do rather than on my feelings or reactions to the situations around me. Well, I have been trying to be strong since Saturday, but I can’t hold back my tears anymore.
I weep because of the tragedy brought about by the typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines, the increasing number of confirmed deaths, the stories I hear from the traumatized survivors who have barely escaped from the flood, and the overwhelming destruction to real and personal property. It happened to people close to me. As one TV announcer said, every Filipino was either directly hit by the flood or knew someone who suffered from it.
Yesterday, I wept during my prayer time, asking God who among our leaders failed us. I badly wanted anybody who had been negligent in any way in their duties however small, or who had pocketed public funds meant for the upgrading of facilities that could have saved more lives and property, to be held responsible and to be penalized. I cried, but I knew that anger would not solve the mounting problems being highlighted by this event – ranging from erosion to garbage disposal to disaster preparedness.
Today, I wept because of the goodness of the Filipino, and our resilience. We are no strangers to disaster, as I have personally witnessed how we have stood up after every storm. I have survived the flooding of 1988 (we slept in our school), the earthquake of 1990 (we held classes in makeshift classrooms after our school building was condemned), and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 (the roof of our house in Olongapo fell because of the ashfall). Mt. Pinatubo, in particular, led to something beautiful, for I heard that it had become a must-see natural resort, and I plan to visit it one day.
What triggered my emotions tonight was this information I got from an FB friend, who also reposted it from someone else:
Caught on TV- Man rescued in a rubberboat asked, “28 na ba ngayon?” Cameraman: “Opo, 28.” Man somberly replied, “Birthday ko na pala.” Rescuers who were paddling hard turned to him in surprise before slowly singing, “Ha…ppy.. birth..day… to you…” Even in the midst of devastation the Filipino spirit never ceases to acknowledge and celebrate the gift of life.
I wept for our people who, in the midst of tragedy, could still break into smile and wave when they saw TV cameras; who, while watching floodwaters rising last Saturday, danced and jumped in the rain; who, after losing everything to the flood, still could joke that their TV had become an aquarium; who, while waiting for their rescuers atop their roof, could still eat litson manok and count themselves blessed as others had nothing to eat for days; and the stories continue.
I wept because we had become so used to disaster and tragedy that we simply find comfort in humor, in food, and in music; instead of wanting more, or demanding what was due to us.
On the news and all over the Internet, there were many stories of real-life heroes: those who lost their lives after saving many other lives; those who gave out of their bounty; and those who gave out of their need. So much love was being poured; and it felt like one big family effort to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick, and bury the dead.
Of course, there were evil spirits as well that had triggered text scammers to pretend to be Ondoy victims, looters to take advantage of the lowered defenses of people, and campaign managers to discredit and doubt the generosity of their political opponents by spreading ugly rumors through every channel possible. These untimely, uncalled-for, and unbelievable actions should be flushed out together with the floodwaters. I choose to believe that even while there are still some who do not listen to their conscience and continue polluting and abusing the environment, and renege on their duties as public servants by considering their own welfare above those of the people whom they serve, that there still many more who respond to the call to give whatever they could to a people in need, once more.
There was news of that judge on jetski in Palmera IV, Quezon City, who rescued many neighbors and led people in prayer. Then there was the highly-applauded young man who saved several people and animals, but who died while in action. We heard about that actor who helped and refused to be recognized for his efforts. And there was a report about that famous TV personality/singer who made sandwiches and distributed them herself.
Even those seemingly in need also gave out of the generosity of their hearts, and because of their deep gratitude at being saved, like that poor government employee who showed up to help others, even if he himself suffered the wrath of Ondoy’s flood, and that child who gave up his toys and wanted to make sure that the children in the evacuation centers got them.
There is still much to be learned, seen, and written because of this ongoing tragedy and triumph of the Filipino. The job of picking up the pieces and starting over is more difficult given the financial, emotional, and psychological issues that surround a disaster of this magnitude, but one thing is certain: we can weather this storm. We have been through a lot, and we have the means and the tenacity to survive this one.
My prayer though is for every Filipino to wake up one day to terrific good news, whatever that may be; to know how it is to thrive instead of just survive; and to personally see for themselves the fulfillment of the promise as symbolized by the rainbow after the rain.