Twelve stories up, I felt the floor beneath me shaking mildly as strong gusts of wind buffeted our building. I could hear the same wind from inside, like it was sarcastically whistling as it blew through the slightly open windows. Both my mother and my manager instructed me to stay put, as Typhoon “Glenda” was hovering above Metro Manila and in fact lingered there for about three hours before heading northwest. It must be really bad outside, I thought. It wasn’t until I made my way home after an emergency double-shift at the office that I realized what kind of damage Glenda had inflicted.
The pictures on social media could not do it justice: Trees were uprooted left and right, an electrical post lay flat on one side of the road, debris of every kind was scattered all around. There was no flood where we passed, but I assumed the waters had already subsided. I even saw the huge Red Cross amphibian for the first time that day, standing by in case it needed to transport people to safe ground.
My immediate concern, however, was family members and their safety. I wondered if they had eaten, gotten any sleep, or were busy moving stuff around in case the ceiling leaked again. But when I stepped out of the cab, my anxiety turned to relief. Everyone was doing all right, and our house—despite having no electricity for the time being—was in good shape.
I entered our candlelit abode that Wednesday afternoon thinking that we had in fact gotten used to this scenario. I recalled the time we endured a weeklong blackout caused by Typhoon “Milenyo”—the first instance I could ever remember being affected by something of that nature. I also thought of the time I was away from home when Tropical Storm “Ondoy” struck, and I forded the chest-high floodwaters of Manila just so I could find shelter for the night. And, in a more recent episode, I remembered the time our once-invincible stronghold of a house did not stand a chance against the monsoon rains, and turned into a giant water park.
Thankful as we were that we survived, many people had it far worse during those perilous times. All we had to do was turn on our television set (as soon as the power supply was restored) or our battery-powered radio to find out that our petty problems were just the tip of the iceberg. Then our hearts would break as we saw and heard the terrible news: hundreds of lives lost, thousands of homes destroyed, and countless other men, women and children brought to their knees, needing both human sustenance and divine intervention.
In more ways than one, Juan de la Cruz is forced to rebuild his home whenever Mother Nature stops by for a visit. But Juan de la Cruz always makes sure that the door hits Mother Nature’s rear end on the way out, because he will not allow her to get the last word. I guess that’s what makes us who we are as Filipinos—crafty, resilient, unyielding. Time and again we have licked our wounds and learned our lesson, resolving never to repeat the mistakes of the past. We pull each other up and help one another get our bearings, in the spirit of authentic bayanihan.
And, true to our eternal optimism, we refuse to let anyone or anything rob us of our hope. We are a proud nation, after all, where “it’s more fun” here than anywhere else in the world, even when it rains like hell. Don’t believe me? Ask the couple who got married while the typhoon raged overhead, or the group of friends who did not let the flood get in the way of their outdoor drinking session.
This time around, I felt we had smartened up. Billboards on Edsa and other major thoroughfares were taken down as early as Tuesday morning, school authorities did not wait until the very last minute to announce the suspension of classes, and offices dispatched their crisis management teams at the soonest. In homes across Luzon, enough food to last the rest of the week was stored, candles were readied in case of a power outage, and mobile phones were fully charged so that everyone could stay in touch. In places where the brunt of the typhoon were forecast to be felt, local government units wasted little time in evacuating the people under their care. We were prepared for anything, it seemed. Almost as if daring Glenda to hit us with her best shot, because we knew we would give her ours.
And so Glenda came and went, but she didn’t leave empty-handed. Fatalities were still recorded, and damage amounted to more than P5 billion. But for the most part, it appeared as though all our previous experiences have taught as a thing or two. As much of a silver lining as this is, I couldn’t help but wonder: Can’t we be like this even in the “typhoons” of everyday life? Shouldn’t we be just as quick to take action when the lives of others are put in jeopardy by a brewing storm of bad governance? Does it not concern us when the cyclone of corruption threatens to take away everything we have earned? And why aren’t we seeking high moral and intellectual ground, engaging instead in baseless mudslinging and choosing to play around in puddles of ignorance and indifference?
I tried looking for answers in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” the other day. It is a fascinating read, depicting the different responses of people when a disaster strikes them: On one side are the intellectuals, who think long-term and are focused on the bigger picture of being rescued, and on the other side are the savages, who are more short-term in their goals and whose main concern is being fed and getting through the day. Both are equally important, yet the two groups of children cannot put aside their differences and are unable to work together for the common good. As the story goes, the savages cut ties with the intellectuals because of a ridiculous argument over whose authority is superior, and they wage a violent war against each other. They are all ultimately found by a naval officer, who laments the uncharacteristic behavior of the children. “I should have thought that a pack of British boys … would have been able to put up a better show than that,” he says.
The same can be said about us. We should be able to put up a better show than this. And we shouldn’t wait for another disaster to strike—natural or otherwise—before we get our act together.
Kyle Franz Laluces, 23, lives in Quezon City and works as a service delivery consultant for Hewlett-Packard Philippines.
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