This is a photograph of Puerto Princessa, Palawan from the Philippines on a very peaceful, early morning, taken just a year ago. The same one I use for the banner above. This is how I want to remember my country.
As some of you know, I grew up in the Philippines in a time when the country was still recovering from a revolution. The economy was bad and the government rife with corruption. Our president then was an inexperienced housewife, picked out by the revolutionists as she was the wife of a famed, assassinated politician, rumored to be killed by dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
Every year was the same. Poverty level rose, and the seasonal typhoons came and gone. Our home was a tiny, two bedroom house that somehow managed to fit a large family of eight. Yes, I did use to sleep next to a refrigerator on a meager cot. Though our house was small, it was built in cement bricks and other heavy materials, very much unlike the houses here built in plaster and wood. It was meant to withstand the strongest typhoons. The only worry we had were floods and earthquakes. Since our street was in a stable area, the occasional floods can only reach up only to our ankles. Typhoon Ondoy from four years ago, however, flooded the area so severely to the point that our old house is now deemed inhabitable.
The yearly typhoons I’ve experienced were a mere signal #1, #2 and very rarely #3. That’s equivalent to a category 1 and 2 hurricanes. We go through at least five typhoons a year. While there were some casualties, most were just the trees tumbling down or rooftops of old buildings ripping off from gusts of winds. That’s the norm. Again, the houses were built to withstand the strong winds, but not the floods. So one year in 1991, when a flash flood struck one of the southern regions that killed more than 5,000 people, it was traumatic. This is Philippines. They don’t censor the news. Piles and piles of dead bodies were stacked up on each other and buried into mass graves before they rot. There were bodies of men, women and children, ordinary people that could have easily been my neighbors, my teachers, classmates and yes, even my family.
When the earthquake struck my city back in 1990, it was the same thing, except more terrifying. It struck around 4:30 PM just when most classes were about to end. My sisters and I tagged along with my parents to pick up my brother and sister from school when the ground shook. Lasted less than a minute. The electric wires hanging above us sparked violently. Since it was the first time I had ever experienced an earthquake, it really meant nothing to me while it happened. It was the aftermath that terrified me. Most of the victims they showed on TV were school children, still wearing their uniforms, many still holding their pens and notebooks. They were crushed between pavements, their faces covered in dusts, their eyes and mouth halfway open. Those could have been me.
Needless to say, I have grown an incredible fear of earthquakes and drowning. Living in California, the earthquake capital of the States, had not lessen that fear.
Now fast forward to today. Philippines had just experienced one of the world’s most devastating typhoons ever, equivalent to a category 5 storm, the worst of 2013. That’s nearly twice the worst typhoon I had ever experienced, much worse than Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. It did not just touched on any particular area of the Philippines as seasonal typhoons had in the past. Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda covered the entire country, including the area in Palawan from the photograph above and the areas recently struck by an earthquake as mentioned from my previous post.
This was what Philippines looked like during the storm.
Those cement houses meant nothing. They were completely flattened. If that didn’t kill you, then the storm surges and flash floods did. There was no way out.
I’ve read most of the stories before the typhoon hit, all the preparations and warnings beforehand. I didn’t hear one word when the typhoon reached land, and then afterwards, I couldn’t stomach the headlines I’ve been coming across. When I finally gained the courage to see what’s out there, I didn’t turn to NBC, CBS, not even CNN. Instead, I went straight to the source.
Below is a short clip of the aftermath from a Filipino news source. I debated for a while whether or not I should post this. It is a rather depressing video, but no more depressing than the ones I’ve grown up with. As I said, I didn’t turn to any of the mainstream news because I knew none of them could really portray the devastation. I want people to know how horrific it really was.
It doesn’t come with English subs, but I’ll highlight some of the portions.
Here are some of the translations (to the best of my abilities):
“In this video, there was an area where I came across a dead body and I asked a young boy ‘whose body is that?’ He answered, ‘my father. No one wanted to help me carry him out.’ So we helped him. He broke down earlier, the kid in the orange shirt. That was his father…”
The next scene at 1:00:
“Here, three children, siblings, were caught in the storm surge inside their house. They did not survive, along with their grandmother. I was told that their parents didn’t even know their children were already dead…”
Pray, donate as much as I want, I still can’t erase the guilt over the fact that I’m safe on the other side of the world, no longer in harm’s way, while the rest had to go through this.
I’m sorry, Philippines.
I know it will be a long, hard road before I will get to see that sunrise again.
I said it before in my last post and I will say it again.
If you would like to donate to the Philippine Red Cross, please do so here.