Grief and renewal in Tacloban | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Grief and renewal in Tacloban

/ 11:54 PM December 21, 2013

Wilma and Jong are “Yolanda” survivors, along with their son, who is in college. But Wilma’s eyes have the dull look of grief, and tears threaten to spill when Jong fishes out his cell phone and displays a photo of their daughter Jahan, who was 15 and a high school senior when the supertyphoon hit their seaside barangay.

“We had fled to a local elementary school,” recalls Wilma, “but Jong had to stay at home to watch over our belongings.” When the water began to rise, Jong ran and waded to the school and urged his family to flee to another shelter, a warehouse. By the time they got there, they recall, the water was rising steadily and they had to cling to the rafters for hours. When the water subsided, they discovered that Jahan was missing. “I spent the next two days looking for her body,” says Jong, confessing that at one point “I began to pray that God take me in exchange for Jahan.” They found her remains kilometers away, but had to wait for a few more days before they could bury their daughter.

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I comment that their daughter was very pretty, at least judging from the cell phone photo. “Thank you,” Wilma says. “But she wasn’t only pretty, she was a good daughter, too. She would come home straight from school and look in on me and ask how I was doing.” Rues Jong: “We had such high hopes for her. She had good grades and was very hardworking.”

Before Yolanda, Wilma worked as house help in Tacloban City while Jong took on part-time jobs in construction. So they put a lot of premium on their children’s education, believing that their children’s future would be the key to raise them out of poverty.

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“Now I don’t know what we’ll do,” Wilma says resignedly. A brother of hers lost his wife and all their five children. All their neighbors, they say, lost someone, or know of someone who died at the height of Yolanda’s rampage.

“I feel like my chest will just burst out of pain and grief,” Wilma declares.

* * *

We are inside a classroom of the Palo Central Elementary School, where mothers who have lost children to Yolanda are gathered for grief counseling by members of Ina, or Inang Naulila ng Anak (Mothers Orphaned of Children).

“All of us have lost children,” Rep. Gina de Venecia tells the gathered mothers. She had helped found Ina, together with TV host Ali Sotto, to offer counseling, provide sisterhood, and emotional support for other parents who find themselves in the same situation. “Don’t bottle up your grief” is the advice of “Manay” Gina to the mothers seated in a rough circle of desks. “Cry when you feel like crying. Even I, nine years after losing KC (her daughter), feel like crying from time to time. But with time, your grief will ease, although I know the pain will never go away.”

Other Ina members have joined the relief and exposure trip organized by the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Inc. (AWLFI) in coordination with Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Rep. Martin Romualdez of the first district of Leyte.

The representatives of Ina—Yna Yulo, Ditas Tan and Titing Brillantes—patiently listen to the mothers’ stories, offering tentative words of comfort and exchanging contact numbers, talking about the possibility of expanding the reach of Ina to Yolanda-affected areas, as it has to other parts of the country.

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* * *

But there is more than grief counseling on the schedule of the group traveling to Tacloban.

Aside from De Venecia, the other women lawmakers in the group are Representatives Linabelle Ruth Villarica of Bulacan, Rosenda Ann Ocampo of Manila, Marie Anne Pernes of Siquijor, Magnolia Rosa Antonino-Nadres of Nueva Ecija, and Victoria Noel of the party-list group An-Waray.

Although she was in Manila when Yolanda wrought havoc on the region, Noel, whose partylist group represents all those in the region that includes Leyte and Samar, feels the full personal impact of the disaster, knowing so many of the fatalities and being privy to countless stories dramatic and tragic.

“It’s like a bad dream, but the actual nightmare began when we woke up” is how Romualdez, whose residence near the airport now serves as a temporary staging and hospitality center to visitors from Manila and other countries, all intent on helping out in any way they can.

In Palo, after a brief meeting with Mayor (and former governor and congresswoman) Remedios Petilla, the congresswomen led the distribution of relief packs, which other women legislators had helped procure and repack in Manila.

Earlier, our group met with Soliman at the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s “hub,” a warehouse where the repacking of rice and other goods was being carried out, and where we are given a briefing on the outreach and relief efforts so far, and the reconstruction and rehabilitation that are now beginning.

* * *

Remarkable indeed is the show of solidarity and cooperation shown by many different agencies and even international bodies, foremost among them United Nations offices like Habitat, World Food Program, Unicef, UNFPA and the International Refugee Commission.

For lunch, Soliman hosted a “boodle fight” of rice, pancit, beef steak and fried chicken as an expression of thanks to the Marines, Navy personnel and police who had been assisting the DSWD “from the start.” Present as well are representatives of private firms that lent personnel and equipment to speed up the distribution of food, water, medicines and other necessities to all the affected areas.

Conditions in Tacloban, Palo and nearby areas, as viewed from the air, are of course still far from “normal.” But people have begun to make their way back to the “new normal,” and teaching all of us—not just Filipinos—lessons in resilience, recovery and renewal.

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TAGS: At Large, Counseling, Disaster, DSWD, Gina de Venecia, Ina, opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, Tacloban, Yolanda
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