‘Forces of nature’
Just like the rains and the wind whipped up by the furious combination of the southwest monsoon (habagat) and Tropical Storm “Maring,” (international name “Trami”), the Filipinos’ generosity and sense of sacrifice proved once again to be no less formidable forces of nature. There was simply no stopping the Filipinos, despite the massive rainfall and flooding in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Northern Luzon, from going out of their way to extend whatever little help they could. Even before Maring’s and the habagat’s rainwater turned into floods, public, private and volunteer groups had set themselves ready to be there for would-be victims however they could. And at the height of the rains and floods, rescue teams made a very reassuring presence where they were needed. When Maring finally left last Thursday, leaving behind hundreds of displaced families in shelters, everybody was helping out in more ways that were uniquely theirs.
Take the “Doctors on Boats” of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA). “In these sad times, if our patients cannot go to their doctors then their doctors will go to them onboard boats,” said PMA president Dr. Leo Olarte. PMA sent some 200 doctors and counselors to help thousands of residents in Metro Manila and nearby provinces who could not easily be reached by land transport or were relocated due to the floods.
Big business—among them the Ayala, First Pacific, Robinsons, San Miguel, and SM groups of companies—also deployed rescue units, donated huge amounts of relief goods, and even set up temporary shelters and mobile communication centers.
The Catholic Church opened many of its churches to evacuees in habagat-struck places, even as Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, archbishop of Manila, called on everybody to work together to help their suffering countrymen. “I hope that in the midst of nature’s scourge, we find a deep connection with each other so that the pain brought about by the loss of home, property and livelihood will be replaced by overwhelming love and concern for others.” The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines led Church efforts in distributing relief goods and medicine to affected families. The Church also called for a special second collection for the benefit of the flood victims in Masses on Aug. 24 and 25.
As expected, local and national government units went all out in their rescue operations and in sheltering those caught within the devastating Maring-habagat surge away from harm. National and local officials were seen out in flood-stricken areas personally surveying the situation and handing out groceries to the victims.
In Laguna, while visiting evacuees, President Aquino assured the habagat victims: “The government is ready in the face of this calamity, and rest assured we have sufficient resources to bring you back to stability soon.”
But he called for cooperation: “Let’s help one another. That is what’s needed at this time… but I repeat the government is here to serve you. It was established for that purpose, and you should expect that.”
To be sure, that residents in the affected areas heeded the calls for evacuation—except for a few unfortunate “holdouts”—helped in reducing the casualty statistics considerably. “We did not take risks anymore. We were trapped on the roofs of our houses last time, when we were taken by surprise,” said Yolanda Angobang, who brought her family to Sto. Domingo Church when their Quezon City barangay was flooded.
Indeed, in the aftermath of Habagat 2013, the displaced families must not just rely on the kindness of strangers. They have to cooperate and help themselves to build a more promising future.
Still, government needs to improve its disaster risk reduction management. And to lay down new, firmer housing and relocation policies to encourage people to move out of—or to keep them from settling in—danger zones.
There will be more storms, but with government and people joining hands, it is not impossible for that day to come when there will be less flooding, fewer displaced families and zero casualty.