Sunday November 10, 2013 was Day 1 after Yolanda (International Name Haiyan) hit the Philippines with a cataclysmic super typhoon that decimated central Philippines especially Tacloban. The following day had already prompted my local church with a special offering for the victims. Most attendees including myself gladly obliged without much hesitation in opening their checkbooks to help their fellow kababayans in Leyte. At that point however, many still haven’t a full appraisal of the damage caused by the super cyclone. Nevertheless, we went back home trying to assess whether or not we could manage to find some surplus clothing on top of the money we have already given. It comes to no surprise that we might not find too many old clothes in our closets. The country has seen so many storms and floods that most of our drawers’ contents have been “right-sized”.
It wasn’t until actual footage came in that a lot of us came to a full appreciation to the extent of damage that Yolanda caused. Previous social-media videos gave clips of unprecedented winds and shearing damage but the calm after the storm was even worse. Structures have been pulverized. Bodies were seen scattered behind reporters; people of all stature were left without house and home. The devastation was inconceivable. Even with previous storms, the country was left unprepared by the scale of Yolanda’s damage. It was clear that we needed to act fast though at that point, there were already criticisms that the government hasn’t acted fast enough. There were allegations that PNoy had tried to downplay the scale of damage to the international press. There were annoyingly comical clips of Mar Roxas directing traffic and there were unjustified fingers pointing to incapacity of the local government. They themselves were rendered “incapacitated” due to the magnitude of the disaster. While the rest of the world poured in their sympathies and support into Tacloban, the President denies tact and mercy to its Mayor who by default and by the choice of its people represents the devastated city.
With eyes on the victims, some of our friends in social media had asked for a ceasefire from criticism. While I heeded to this call in propriety, the critics’ critics seem unrelenting with messages saying something to the effect of: “Well if you were the President, do you think you could’ve done a better job?” Have you heard this trite remark? “Well, perhaps if you have a better suggestion, maybe you could enlighten us. After all you seem so much smarter than all of us!” My absolute favorite has got to be: “Instead of criticizing what’s wrong with the relief effort, why don’t you help instead? Be constructive instead of divisive! Stop criticizing our government!” With these sneering and self-righteous remarks, you have to ask who it is that is being divisive.
By Day 4, I found myself instantly recruited to load relief goods into privately marshaled Land Rovers, delivery trucks and personal SUVs to the airport and back. In the background there was a massive operation in a Christian Church in Festival Mall where the assembly area was converted into a sorting and packing area with hundreds of volunteers. Private planes were being used to transport items to other areas such as Palawan. A bus company volunteered to provide ground transportation, a Bike Shop provided bicycles and off-road vehicles from Muntinlupa to Tacloban and local logistics company provided the warehousing to keep the logistics smooth “free of charge”. (I can attest to who they are as witnessed, and can release this information upon consent). They are not the Epal types, just God loving citizens.
We have learned from the natural crises of the past but nobody could be 100% prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. While we could make ourselves feel better by riding along the positive waves of “neo-nationalism” and “keyboard heroics or bayanihan” and attacking those who are critically frustrated from the news they are getting on the ground. I have a simple message of Yolanda DOs and DON’Ts. (The Dos having been adapted from our Church’s mission Mantra of Pray, Give, Go!)
- Pray – or if not, spare a thought for them. Without being religious or spiritual, thinking of other people’s needs first sets a good precedent to your succeeding actions, decisions and behavior. Thinking about them shapes the economic decision between getting a bottle of wine or instead putting a check in an envelope this Sunday for the victims.
- Open up your checkbook or say it in cash! Nothing moves faster and longer in these times of crisis as good as money. Money needs no sorting operation and I believe it would be appreciated more than the information that you used to wear a size 42. Reserve that for you “Before” picture at the gym and there isn’t much use for your bacon gartered underwear either. Believe me, some people will sort through your old clothes.
- Go! You don’t have to go to ground zero. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to go too far. A local church, Villamor or perhaps ahem a local NGO (most of which don’t have a bad rep for being bogus) would appreciate your help. Lend them your thoughts but more so, lend them a hand.
- Don’t send stuff that you can’t use yourself. The same goes for old Garfield plushy that you stick to the back window of your car. I already mentioned clothes earlier. Please don’t send your old underwear and your 80’s neon ski-jacket. You’re not being generous when you send junk.
- Don’t be “unheroic” by posting messages that you’re torn between getting a KTM or an Aprilia. You’re not being heroic, you’re just being an @$$#0!%. Refrain from foodporn and posting your P350.00 ramen with a tall glass of Sapporo on the side. Enjoy these things in private!
- Don’t be Cliché and Holier than Thou with your pseudo nationalistic sneering. If you’re criticizing the critics, aren’t you also a critic? (Perhaps on the opposite side of the fence and in who’s defense?)
You can be helpful and be critical at the same time. You can give with one hand and be discerning with the other. Criticism uncovers many of the bitter truths that society tends to hide. We move further ahead if we base it on the truth. It doesn’t take half a dimwit to see the logistical bottlenecks in the relief effort, but you have to be critical to see what they really are. No finger pointing here, I’ll just use my mouth after all that’s what still makes me Pinoy.
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