Three weeks of frantic relief work disrupted our lives. Being part of a movement that is anchored on volunteerism and poverty challenged all of us who are involved in one way or another with Gawad Kalinga. And there is no end in sight, not when millions are displaced and some of them crippled by grief, trauma, and sheer hopelessness.
The death count continues to rise as more bodies are found, either buried in the rubble being cleaned up or floating in the sea and being pushed back to shore. Every death is personal, and thousands wound society deeply and not just their families. I can only pray that the death toll finds its total soon, that more families and society in general can be spared more pain.
With a devastation that disabled the normal human and community capacity to take care of itself, hunger and illness continue to be the daily enemies that typhoon victims face. Eventually, unless addressed effectively, hunger and illness will translate to deaths more than Typhoon Yolanda inflicted. If this was the challenge on day one after the storm, it is not any better today.
The stronger ones, especially those with extended families and social networks, though rendered homeless or with seriously damaged houses, can say that the worst is over. Roads are mostly passable, communications back, and normalcy is not anymore an impossibility. In fact, of the almost ten million who lived in provinces hit by Typhoon Yolanda, most are starting to shake off their shock and making daily moves to stand on their own.
The weaker ones, though, especially those who were already weak before the typhoon, are still on ground zero. They have lost their capacity to forage, to fish, to gather food. Their huts or shanties are gone, and they struggle even just to shield their young from the damp nights, hoping it will not rain. These go hungry without a lifeline from the outside, except basically government who alone has the kind of resources to feed at least a threatened million Filipinos. NGOs and other do-gooders help, too, but they can take care only of those who fall through the cracks of the government’s safety net.
And the cracks have been unusually many. Even to this day, appeals for help are reaching abroad and the Internet. The distribution of food aid by government is a terrible disappointment, and those active in relief work from the private sector can go to a barangay but cannot feed a town. Only DSWD, if it remains responsible for food distribution, has the volumes to work with. Only the DILG, if mayors remain the primary distribution agents of DSWD. Only DSWD and DILG can feed a towns or provinces, and only they are accountable for any hunger breakout.
But the game is physical survival still, and that is what must be our primordial concern. It is not that government has not performed, just that it performed at unacceptable levels if we are to judge by the numerous complaints of victims crying out for food. And if it rains, watch out for the multitude who will be wet one day and sick the next. The private sector, most especially volunteers and donors, must be relentless in catching the hungry and sick as they keep falling through the cracks of government relief. The sins of omission or commission must be remembered, but must not be allowed to distract us.
After all, there are ninety million Filipinos who were not directly in the path of Typhoon Yolanda. Half of that number can help one way or another. Each one can do something that can ease pain, can reduce fears, can inspire the despairing to find strength in hope. Tens of millions of us give our hearts and move our bodies in all sorts of relief work, from donating a few pesos every time we have spare money, by reaching out to others to do even a little for the typhoon victims, by buy food and repacking them, by carrying supplies if we cannot afford to give these ourselves, by showing the victims that the rest of the Filipino people will not leave them behind.
No matter how we dedicate our efforts to helping the weak among the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, even if it means not being distracted by the shortcoming, or wrongdoing, we see in the field, it will be impossible to keep many other Filipinos from being the angry and belligerent. Whatever their motivation or justification, they will criticize more than enough for all of us. That is how society balances itself, always a percentage at opposite ends of the spectrum.
It is a matter of choice for those who have a choice. Those who are helping had a choice, too, not to help. Those who wish to expend their anger at every wrong that is happening, they, too, make that their choice. If they succeed, if they may disturb government so much that things may change for the better. If they don’t, well, they would added to the acrimony that some with their hidden agenda have been wishing for, or paying for.
What is inspiring, though, when volunteers pursue their resolve to contribute what they may in deep empathy with the plight of victims, is that they will often come across many other ordinary Filipinos who rise to become extraordinary. The dedication of many workers in government, nurses, soldiers, mechanics, carpenters, drivers is matched by many in the private sector who donate, repack food aid, distribute these on the ground, treat the sick, play with the children. Heroism is not lost on Filipinos. It is a matter of choice.
Those among us who have seen the darkness of destruction, who have experienced the shortcomings of many and even the wrongdoing of some, but commit ourselves to easing the pain of Yolanda victims, renew that commitment, with clarity of mind and courage of will, to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.