by Amie Dural Maga, Sagip Migrante Team New ZealandAmie Dural Maga, Migrante New Zealand with Coni Regalado in Tacloban Leyte.
“Habang nasa bahay ng kapitbahay na tinuluyan ko, ang laging laman ng isip ko noon:Makikita ko pa kaya ang mga anak at apo ko? Pakisabi kay Dennis at sa lahat ng mga kaibigan niyo, maraming salamat sa pag-alala at paghahanap sa amin.” (While I was at my neighbour’s house where I evacuated, there was a constant thought in my mind: Will I ever see my children and grandchildren again? Please tell Dennis and all your friends, thank you so much for thinking about us and searching for us.) — Message from my mother, Ernesta “Nanay Guy” Dural
For almost one week, I was one of those anxiously waiting for news about my family in the Philippines.
The Filipino bayanihan spirit (helping others) saved my family in Leyte and Samar from the deadly wind and waters brought by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan). In the crucial days following Yolanda’s large-scale devastation, local and international bayanihan saved my family and many others from the bigger disaster of national government that failed to deliver urgently needed food and water for the survivors.
Responding to our appeal to support relief and search missions conducted by Sagip Migrante, the Filipino communities, Kiwis as well migrants of other ethnicities donated over 16,000 NZD 9th November to 14th December 2013. Big thanks to you all for entrusting funds that have been used to food, water, solar lights and medicines, as well as seedlings and farming tools to help the poor peasant communities recover.
My brother, mother, cousin and her children were among those who survived Yolanda with the help of neighbours and friends who opened their homes for them before, during and after Yolanda struck. We are most grateful to all friends who assisted our search and successful evacuation for my family. Special thanks to all the volunteers of Sagip Migrante, Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), UP Manila Pahinungod Volunteers, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Partylist and All UP Workers Union. Big thanks to Auckland Philippines Solidarity (APS) and Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) for launching relief appeals in support of Philippine partners with untarnished record in justice and peace advocacy, relief and rehabilitation projects.
Brother and friends: No time-out for ‘nature’s call
When Yolanda made its first landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, the roofs of my brother’s friend’s house all went flying. No one was brave enough to go down to get the hammer to secure the main door to stop the vicious wind from causing further destruction. While the scared and hungry little ones were wailing, my brother and his friends pushed all their might to keep the door closed tight. At the final hour of Yolanda’s wrath, one of his friends shouted, “Guys, time-out, I really need to go to the toilet now!” But no, they couldn’t have one less body to go for a moment. He was badly needed to secure the door for all their sake.
On the 6th day since Yolanda struck, we finally got news that my brother and his friends survived. My brother was a mountaineer and surfer so I had high hopes that he would survive. After watching several news coverage on Tacloban and Tanauan, we prepared for the worst while hoping and praying for the best for my elderly mother and aunties.
My brother told me that when Yolanda was gone, they were actually confident that relief would come soon, knowing that there was an airfield in Guiuan built since the Americans came to colonise Samar during World War II. On the 2nd day without the sound of helicopter or airplane coming, they started to find their way to the closest possible place where relief goods could be dropped.
The people of Samar and Leyte valiantly resisted one coloniser after another – first came the Spanish, then the Americans and Japanese, then the Americans back again. In fact, the centuries-old foreign and feudal control of the vast hectares of land made Eastern Visayas the 3rd poorest region in the country. Over the decades, the impact of typhoon after another has worsened due to massive logging and mining by the transnational corporations and their local cohorts.
With the massive devastation left by Yolanda, I can’t blame the victim-survivors who felt neglected by the Philippine government who now welcome the US troops engaged in relief missions with open arms. But Filipinos must not forget the bloody legacy of colonial and post-colonial US military presence in the Philippines aimed to protect US economic interests, i.e. unhampered US plunder of Philippine natural resources and cheap labour.
When US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently visited to Tacloban, news reports highlighted that “the US won’t abandon typhoon-hit Philippines.” The renewed US commitment to the ‘security’ of the Philippines is music to President Aquino’s ears, but not for the people who suffer the man-made disasters brought by massive US plunder of Philippine natural resources.
We are most grateful to the kind people of America and citizens around the world for extending emergency assistance faster than our own government could do. But we are gravely concerned that the violations of Philippine sovereignty and patrimony, along with the numerous cases of rape, civilian deaths and displacement committed by US troops during their military exercises in the Philippines, and in the brutal wars of occupation of Iraq and elsewhere, are now deceptively covered up by the friendly images of US troops engaged in the relief missions.
We must not forget that in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, 112 years ago, US troops perpetrated the island-wide massacre of thousands of Filipinos, including women and children, in response to the killing of 48 U.S. soldiers by Filipino freedom fighters. In honour of the martyrs of Balangiga, freedom-loving Waray and all concerned Filipinos must be vigilant in standing up against the return of US troops who are now taking advantage of Yolanda tragedy to reclaim Philippine provinces strategic to US geo-political and economic interests.
Mother and Aunties: Too old and weak to run to queue for relief packs
In Tanauan, Leyte, my 72-year old mother survived the storm surge as she was able to evacuate early, first to a neighbour’s 2-storey house, and next to a 3-storey “White House” being looked after by a neighbour on behalf of a foreign national who owned the house. On the 3rd day since Yolanda’s wrath, the first relief goods they got were brought by a radio network. By then, the victim-survivors were wondering why it was taking too long for government aid to arrive when several media groups from Manila already found their way to reach their villages. As the relief goods arrived, my mother was unable to run but her kind neighbours always made sure to save food and water for her. In Tacloban, my elderly auntie and uncle also could not run to queue for relief packs. Thankfully, a grandson who volunteered in a church ministry was able to bring some relief goods for them. In another remote town in Leyte, my biggest worry was for my Auntie who was on wheelchair. I was grateful there was no storm surge in her village. As in many of the affected remote communities, food, water and petrol are now very difficult to acquire. For Auntie, it became all the more difficult to get her insulin and other medicines in other towns further in Samar and Leyte since Tacloban was badly-hit.
Cousin and 3 children: Up in the roof of a neighbour’s house
The very first news I got on Tacloban was about the high casualties in San Jose. We worried for many friends in the villages near the airport especially for my first cousin (a single parent) and her three children. When I checked my cousin’s Facebook latest post, it was the day before Yolanda struck when she described how a lot of people were panic-buying in Gaisano, Tacloban. She noted that in her case and others who had no money to buy a good stock of food supplies, they could only panic. On the 5th day since Yolanda struck we got news that my cousin and her children all survived. They barely escaped the vicious winds and storm surge as they climbed up the house of a neighbour. All of them got wounds and they had to walk all the way to St. Paul’s Hospital in Tacloban to get anti-tetanus shots.
Sagip Migrante Team New Zealand in Leyte
With the personal mission to evacuate my family from Tanauan and Tacloban to Manila, I was booked on a flight to Philippines arriving on the 22nd November.
On 23rd November, I was able to catch up to join the Sagip Migrante search and relief team in Leyte led by Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Sectoral Party (MSP) Chairperson. We were able to visit families and confirm the whereabouts of around 20 family members requested to be checked by overseas Filipinos anxiously waiting news about their loved ones. It was difficult to search the others as many roads are still unpassable and mobile phones have been lost, damaged or unable to recharge.
Mid-day of 23rd November, Becky Horton of the Christchurch-based Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) and I represented Sagip Migrante Team New Zealand as we joined the distribution of relief packs to over 3000 survivors in 7 villages of Tacloban near the seaport area where there were a high number of casualties. Two weeks since Yolanda’s wrath, nine bodies including two children were found and still remained at the seaport area. In the following days, we monitored news that dozens of bodies were recovered everyday.
Of the total 10,000 relief packs distributed by the multi-sectoral efforts under Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), 500 relief packs (worth P250,000) came from Sagip Migrante donations. Each pack contained: 5 kilos of rice, 1 kilo dried fish, ½ kilo monggo, 1 kilo salt, several packs of biscuits and 3-4 pieces of canned sardines. Sagip Migrante also sent solar lights for the relief missions.
Sagip Migrante also conducted set up kitchen and distribution of relief goods in Cebu then assisted the relief mission of Serve the People Corps in Coron, Palawan on 22nd November. Half of Coron, Palawan was submerged by Yolanda landfall. Aside from providing 32 relief packs, Sagip Migrante prepared a soup kitchen for 1000 people.
Sagip Migrante conducted its 2nd wave of relief missions in Samar on 4-7th December.
The next wave of relief operations in January 2014 will be focusing more on rehabilitation efforts such as the building of boats and delivering much needed seedlings to selected communities. We are also intending to look into how we can help schoolchildren in some communities.
Remote towns still unreached
As I settled my mother temporarily in my in-laws’ place in San Mateo, Rizal, we were about to send relief goods for Leyte but my in-laws got a call from a local official in their hometown in Eastern Samar that their place was among those still unreached by aid agencies. That was over 2 weeks after Yolanda. My in-laws hurriedly packed everything we could send to their hometown.
It’s been over a month now and the support from international community has been overwhelming. It is up to the national government to ensure that all these support reach every single Yolanda victim.
As the multi-sectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) noted in a statement, “The independent international probe is necessary to draw lessons from what happened before and after Yolanda. The Philippine government must be held to account and must be pressed to undertake necessary steps towards effective disaster preparedness for the future.”
In closing, I wish to share the message from our home office Migrante International:
“The swift kind and generous support you gave for the survivors of the Supertyphoon Yolanda is somehow a symbol of hope for the new year’s challenges. Your prompt response and outpouring of concern have shown once again how migrant Filipinos can be counted on when their kababayans at home are suffering. We know that one way we can really thank all our members, friends and supporters is by ensuring that their generosity will, indeed, reach those who are truly in need.”