I was greatly amused by the Facebook post that mockingly chided: “January, nakaka-quota ka na, ha!” (“January, you’ve nearly reached your quota, ha!”)
The quota referred to is the number of disasters, tragedies and threats to health and safety that people may reasonably expect in a month’s time. At other times of the year, catastrophes take place few and far between, giving victims—both actual and potential—enough time to be alerted, prepare, and if all else fails, flee and await what the future holds. But for Filipinos, January 2020 brought with it enough shocks to last many years, if not a lifetime. The month opened with a literal bang: the eruption of smoke and volcanic debris from the “little” Taal Volcano that blanketed nearby towns with ash, some of which even reached as far as mega-Manila. In its wake came massive evacuations of hundreds of families suddenly left homeless and hungry. Then came news of another sort of threat: the rapid spread of a new virus strain that was detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but erupted into huge headlines this month with the rapid spread of the contagion, subsequently reaching other provinces in the Chinese mainland and also Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, France and the US. The virus has not yet been detected here, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III assures, but that huge numbers of tourists from Wuhan managed to make it to Boracay despite the global alert gives us cold comfort. And in these closing days of January comes news that Kobe Bryant, in these basketball-crazy islands a name and face immediately familiar to Filipinos, perished in a fiery helicopter crash along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter.
Indeed, a surfeit of bad, sad news all in this first month of the year!
—————Amid the gloom and doom, though, can be found the proverbial silver lining. A clear highlight is the outpouring of relief—canned goods and fresh produce, blankets and mosquito nets, foam mattresses, even mobile soup kitchens—in the wake of the Taal explosion. Much of these came from the private sector (national government agencies were inexplicably sluggish in contrast), the goods raining down on the evacuees even as ashfall cast a pall over them. Among the most visible and organized private sector efforts was that of the Ayala Corp., whose various businesses, both individually or collectively, pulled together to bring aid to those rendered homeless and helpless. The extent of contributions that Ayala companies pitched in shows just how economies of scale work in massive emergencies. The list of goods and services rendered is impressive indeed: from 10 brand-new Kia K2500 Karga vehicles donated by AC Motors to the Batangas provincial government in addition to fielding trucks to transport goods in the first days after the eruption, to truckloads of 10-gallon water containers from Manila Water in the crucial early stages and even wheeled water tankers later on. From free and unlimited WiFi connection via Globe in affected cities and towns to more usual items like food packs, employee volunteers, and waived, delayed or by-installment payment plans.
The Bank of the Philippine Islands tapped its employees with an in-house fundraising campaign. AC Health, which manages Generika drug stores and FamilyDoc clinics, provided free consultations. Ayala Malls, which as usual during emergencies waived overnight parking fees in affected areas, also served as collection centers for donations of money or relief goods. A variant was the use of student volunteers from De La Salle University by AF Payments (Beep cards), which solicited donations from commuters in LRT and P2P stations.
It’s ironic that President Duterte, in attacking the Ayala conglomerate in relation to the Manila Water and the UP TechnoHub contracts, has accused Ayala of corporate greed, for which he blames the clique of “oligarchs” supposedly controlling the economy. But a look at the projects undertaken by the Ayala group in the wake of the Taal tragedy shows that it was prompted by neither noblesse oblige nor condescension. Rather, it was an admirable response of the business community, as exemplified perhaps by Ayala, to the needs of its customers and clientele, taking shared responsibility for communal rebuilding and shoring up trust in a distressing time and situation.
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