Media’s heroic coverage of ‘Yolanda’
The first images of the fury of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” that were sent from the eye of the storm to the outside were from the media persons who were themselves trapped, battered and in near-death situations when the horrific onslaught from sea and sky began and continued for several hours. The sounds and images did not come out fast and easy from devastated Central Philippines. For many hours, communication was dead and those of us in Metro Manila and elsewhere had no idea how deadly Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”) was, that nothing like this had pounded this country, or this world for that matter, in so many lifetimes.
Despite the dire warnings from weather experts, and even with President Aquino calling on local governments and the citizenry to gird for the worst, there was little that could have prepared those in the path of the supertyphoon for its deadly visit. Nothing and no one was spared. Poor and rich, saints and sinners, old and young, politician and proletariat. The provinces of Leyte, Samar and parts of Cebu and Western Visayas were the worst hit, flattened by wind, rain and sea surges that roared like a tsunami gone berserk.
The Philippine media walked into the eye of the so-called perfect storm hoping to record the behavior of this “big one,” only to find themselves on their knees praying for deliverance, some of them thinking that death would claim them. Wet and shivering in the watery hell, they recorded their own last hours, so to speak, not knowing whether they would emerge from their shelters that were falling apart before their eyes. We would see footage of these only much later.
When the sky cleared and communication was back, some media persons were in near-tears; others stoically helped pull out the dead and searched for members of their news teams. The streets were littered with dead bodies and debris. Entire towns and villages were flattened. Tacloban City was a wreck. Where to go for food, water and medicines?
But before the coverage of the aftermath, there were the live images of Yolanda’s wrath, of Nature on the warpath caught on camera and beamed in real time, at least for a while, until everything went dead. Thanks to technology and the warm-blooded (I almost wrote “bloodied”) and intrepid journalists and cameramen (from TV, print and radio), the bad news was relayed to the world, not with lightning speed, but at least within the day. Thanks, too, to the TV and radio news anchors and print editors who did their best to track down their people who would send the news—that is, if they made it alive.
The good news is that no member of the media perished. They all made it, shaky and shaken but alive. The bad news is that the death toll and the number of missing persons are swiftly rising.
The journalists’ coverage of Yolanda’s landfall and immediate aftermath was nothing short of heroic. We must salute them all, for braving the elements in order to bring us the news, the voices and the human faces of the suffering. Some reporters have since been replaced by their colleagues but they’ll be back, I’m sure, after a change of clothes.
A scene I found touching was how the journalists from different institutions banded together and looked after one another, our own Inquirer reporters among them, throwing to the wind their competitive streaks.
And thank God for small mercies, I did not catch any broadcast reporter, during the immediate aftermath, asking survivors the oft-asked question during tragedies that I most hate to hear: “Anong nararamdaman ninyo (What are you feeling)?”
Oh, but if a collective award has to be given to the media for the coverage of Yolanda’s deadly landfalls, its immediate aftermath, and related issues down the road, it might as well be the passing of the Freedom of Information bill. Is this too much to ask from the lobbying public and the legislators who saw how journalists risked their lives?
We’ve had terrible earthquakes (just last month in Central Visayas), floods, typhoons and landslides that claimed countless lives, many of these partly blamed on human unpreparedness or disregard for the environment. Yolanda was different and in a class all its own. While climate change worsened by environmental degradation could be the reason for extreme weather conditions, Yolanda seemed to have emerged from the belly of a monster with no name. Weather experts were at a loss for words to describe its magnitude and strength, except to say that it was the strongest to hit land—and it had to be the Philippines—ever recorded in so many, many years.
There will be more tragic images and stories to come, more work to be done, but also more hearts and palms opening. Filipinos from many corners of the world are sending help. Foreign aid is coming in, but it must be on our own native resources—material and spiritual—that our rebuilding must depend.
To foreign-based Filipinos who heckle, taunt and ask “What is so-and-so doing, where is the Church, etc.?” I say: You don’t know what’s being done on the ground.
The Philippines is at the center of the world, in the eye of the storm of goodwill, so we might as well prove to ourselves and to the universe that we can rise beautifully from the rubble. We have one another. This could be our shining moment, our defining moment.
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