A country where natural disasters are an annual experience badly needs dedicated first responders, or those who immediately arrive at the scene to provide aid and comfort to the victims. In October 2011, surging waters submerged Calumpit in Bulacan—the worst flooding the town had seen in 40 years. When a pregnant mother was on the verge of childbirth and an 11-year-old child languished from a two-day-old fever that wouldn’t break, it was Philippine Red Cross (PRC) personnel who waded in, plucked them out—along with 106 others—and took them to a hospital. As always, the PRC was there to help when it was most needed.
But this is par for the course for an institution that strives to be at the forefront of rescue and rehabilitation efforts and that has helped millions of Filipinos. Formerly known as the Philippine National Red Cross, it marked its 66th anniversary last week, still holding true to its slogan “Always First, Always Ready, and Always There.”
The PRC has a long, illustrious history that began in 1899 with the Sublime Paralytic, Apolinario Mabini, leading the Malolos Republic’s approval of the National Association of the Red Cross. In 1905, the Filipino and American leaders of the Ayuntamiento organized the Philippine branch of the American National Red Cross, with the latter officially recognizing its Philippine chapter in 1917. In 1947, President Manuel Roxas signed Republic Act No. 95, the PRC Charter, with Aurora Aragon Quezon as the first chair; the organization was admitted later that year into the League of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement. It has since grown into the two-million-strong voluntary and humanitarian organization that we know today.
PRC volunteers have been unafraid to rush to the frontline when it comes to aiding those in need during terrible weather disturbances, but they also stay to help the victims get back on their feet. They help gather funds for PRC relief efforts. They build shelters, both temporary and permanent, for those rendered homeless, such as those displaced by Tropical Storm “Sendong” in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in 2011. They distribute food and care packages in the wake of floods. They even remembered to send a clown to entertain the children of evacuees in Laguna last year.
Known for its regular blood drives (pushed by the indefatigable Rosa Rosal), the PRC trains its volunteers and constantly modernizes its fleet. It now has 90 ambulances, 12 fire trucks, eight rescue trucks and 51 rubber boats for immediate response. The PRC Operation Center orchestrates its activities, and it is busy deploying new programs such as Red Cross 143, which aims to provide every barangay and community with one team leader and 43 team members. Be it during mudslides, floods, ships sinking, earthquakes, and even the annual Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo, the PRC has functioned tirelessly—and unsung.
It has even managed to reach out to the needy in other countries, such as in Japan in the wake of the deadly tsunami in 2011, when it helped raise millions of pesos in aid for the victims.
Richard Gordon, chairman of the PRC, once described it as “a very straightforward organization.” He said: “[W]e don’t say, ‘Can we ask for money?’ We don’t provide doctors, but we have doctors during calamities because they are volunteers.”
Indeed. The critical point is the very nature of the organization’s membership. Surely the altruism that animates it deserves not only public admiration but also, and most important, public support, ideally in the form of time, expertise and money. For a good cause, reciprocation is best.
On its 66th year, we hope for more productive years for the PRC. We hope that its volunteers continue to give of themselves and to devote themselves to the aid of their fellow Filipinos. It almost goes without saying, but its chair said it anyway—the PRC is always ready: “Because there are wars, we give blood. So the Red Cross went into that because it alleviates human suffering. During disasters, such as earthquakes, civil wars, tsunamis—the Red Cross is there.”