Rainy-day heroes

Let us now praise not so famous men, the unsung wet heroes of this week’s torrential flooding. We refer to the rescue teams and hospital workers who logged long hours and went beyond the call of duty to come to the aid of those trapped in the worst flooding since “Ondoy.” We especially refer to the ordinary citizens who set aside their own comforts and even their own safety in order to come to the help of others.

At the University of Santo Tomas Hospital and the University of the East-Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center, staff and volunteers evacuated patients out of harm’s way as floodwaters rampaged into the wards. Timely distress calls sounded by the hospitals immediately drew an outpouring of support and assistance from the Philippine Army, civil defense and ordinary folk.

Over at Tatalon and Barangay Siena in Quezon City, both poor man’s shanties and well-appointed residences were inundated. People fled their homes and found shelter at the Santo Domingo Church, which became a refugee center overnight. The scene was repeated in other churches and schools elsewhere in Luzon. Trapped communities sought safety in the best-kept and -appointed churches and campuses in their localities, which opened their doors to a mass of refugees and tried to nurse them back to sanity and security after the trauma of flooding.

Even at the height of the extended monsoon rains, there were the daredevils who risked life and limb to rescue people snared by the torrent.

Judge Ralph Lee again put his jet-skiing prowess to humanitarian use by rescuing flood victims around Novaliches, Quezon City. “This is like Ondoy all over again; the floods are everywhere,” said Lee of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 83. He was referring to his feat in 2009 when he hauled his trusty jet ski out of his garage, drove into the flooded areas around his home in Fairview, Quezon City, and rescued at least 100 people. This time, he was not alone; with him on the rescue mission were his two sons and six other young men. His rescue method and his daring have caught on. There were many examples like Lee’s in Zambales, Pampanga, and elsewhere.

But it is quite heartbreaking that one young man taking respite from swimming to the rescue of several trapped victims could only sigh at the sheer loneliness and fatigue of the enterprise. If only someone could give me hot coffee, he told a reporter shyly. But just the same, he plunged into the current to continue his rescue mission. Happily he survived the ordeal.

We remember Muelmar Magallanes, who died during Ondoy’s onslaught in 2009 after saving the lives of 30 of his family and neighbors. Taking time to catch his breath and recover his strength, he clung to a shanty that, however, collapsed in the force of the raging waters and dragged him to his death. Because of his heroism, Time magazine included him in its Top 10 Heroes that year.

Other heroes this week include the Netizens who posted alerts and mobilized rescue and relief through Twitter and Facebook. They also included volunteers who sprang into action and defied the raging currents to get to relief centers and deliver cooked meals, packed goods, and potable water. In the hour of extreme emergency, they didn’t fail their fellowmen.

Some of the rescuers are antiheroes who cashed in on the floods, but made certain risks and sacrifices that generally helped many people. Drivers of motorized pedicabs on Taft Avenue jacked up their prices and made a killing. But they also helped people desperate to get home.

Of course, the perennially poor public works and traffic conditions on Taft Avenue and the rest of the metropolis should make everyone wonder whether organized chaos is being perpetuated on the streets in order to institutionalize fleecing. Wet or dry season, Metro Manila streets are simply inhospitable to the general public. Commuters and pedestrians are prey to vultures in and out of the government.

It has been a week of emergency and drama, a week when the Filipino spirit was once more proven unsinkable. But the government should not congratulate itself. It should not escape the blame. Pagasa’s weather forecasting was still lacking, civil defense rafts went missing even in Quezon City, and flood control and public works were a mess as always. Citizens should not cover up for official corruption and mismanagement. Heroism should not mask government follies.

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Tags: disasters , editorial , Floods , heroes

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