The night of November 8 was one of the most difficult nights to get by. I was crying over the phone as my friend and I were talking about the news of the super typhoon Yolanda that hit our hometown Tacloban. I monitored updates in Facebook and cried some more as I read some of my fellow Taclobanons looking for their families. I woke up in the middle of the night, sobbing, calling “Mama.” I called my brother and parents for the nth time but all I could hear was the telephone operator. I was waiting for news about Tacloban the whole day. All we had were reports and videos taken around seven in the morning. With so much tension and anxiety, I complained why entertainment shows should continue to be aired when we who left our families in Tacloban were very desperate for news. I kept repeating in my head the little information we had. Water reached 15 feet high in downtown area. Portions of roof were flying. The trees were dancing. Electric wires were fighting the wind. I calculated the chances of how my family could survive, how far was our house from the sea, how sturdy our walls were. I imagined broken glasses and water covering our house. I thought of my elderly parents and my teenage nieces.
Not my city
When I first heard the news about the devastation and violence in Tacloban, my reaction was: “That is not my city.” I used to believe it was one of the most quiet and peaceful cities. “Don’t go there. It’s not safe. People steal and kill.” I read a lot of warnings before I went to Tacloban. Some people associated this unruly mob behaviour with the stereotype given to Warays. They were known to be war freak. I don’t have a Waray blood but I was born and raised there. I am one of them and it pains me to know how chaotic my people and my hometown are perceived. It was a safe place where my brother biked around with his pricey gadgets. In my entire life in Tacloban, I walked in the streets without a fear of threat.
I arrived in Tacloban on the fourth day after the typhoon. We passed through the nearby towns that did not have extensive media coverage, Tolosa, Dulag, and Abuyog. The mountains facing the Pacific Ocean had nothing but barren soil that complemented the murderous sea. The coconut trees were perfectly cut as if there was a giant ax that chopped them all. As we entered the city, I could not recognize Tacloban anymore. It had no civilization. People were everywhere looking for food and news. They lived up to their name, “Waray” which meant “nothing”. I was speechless throughout our trip.
Not God’s punishment
In the midst of this crisis, I wonder why someone would drop the words’ God’s punishment’. If you were a victim of Yolanda, these were the last words you would want to hear. Those who were heavily affected by the typhoon were those who lived near the coastlines. They were fisher folks, people who built their dream houses, ordinary people who had nothing to do with PDAF and pork barrel. They were far from people who lived near the gates of hell. To utter the word punishment is unbearable for a person who lived a decent life and lost everything in a short span of time. We try to interpret God’s message with positivity and end our philosophical explanation that those who survive have more work to do and those who are gone have completed their mission.
Tacloban, an urbanized city turned into a small village where strangers talked liked close friends, where the main source of news was by word of mouth. Without electricity and clear communication lines, people were eager to share and receive news. When we walked our way to our parents’ house, people were a lot friendlier than usual. They asked how we were doing. They were clueless that the entire world was watching them. I’m glad that there was no television during the most crucial moments because it could have been more depressing to hear news on how ill-equipped our government was and how insensitive some of the leaders were.
Much has been said about the destruction that took place in Leyte and Samar. Bad news were widely spread but supply of food, water, fuel, and good news were limited. When I was in Tacloban, I wished there were some military personnel or officials who had megaphones used to pacify tension in the crowd. People were panicking for unverified news. If there was a voice out there, it could have saved more stores from being ransacked. It could have shortened the line of people waiting for C130. It could have uplifted their spirits. If someone with a megaphone strolled around the city with a simple message: “Everything is under control. We are doing our best to help,” it could have improved the situation in Tacloban. Stories of rape and bandits circulated as quick as fire but stories of relief goods and free services did not reach that far. By this time, I hope there are megaphones in Tacloban.
I stop browsing photos showing the destruction and depression in Tacloban. I want to see more photos, more news stories of camaraderie, compassion, resiliency, and hope. Tacloban was a beautiful city surrounded by seas and mountains. It aches me to know that what most people know and what most people see are ruins and death.
My family is fortunate to have survived. I guess we who have been spared from the typhoon, we who are given a chance to live longer owe the victims of the typhoon some hope. We need more good news. Instead of saying “When you go to Tacloban you will be depressed”, say “When you go to Tacloban you will be inspired by the courage and the resiliency of the people.” Instead of saying “When you go to Tacloban, you will be harmed,” say “When you go to Tacloban and help, you will be rewarded.” Instead of saying “When you go to Tacloban, you will feel like it’s the end of the world,” say “When you go to Tacloban, you will feel like it’s going to have a new beginning.” Instead of saying, “When you go to Tacloban, you will see death,” say “When you go to Tacloban, you will find life.” When you see people fixing their houses, finding food to eat, protecting their families, looking for their loved ones, lamenting over the dead, you will find the meaning of life in its barest form.
Note: Written November 25, 2013