By Lito Banayo
Ang Pahayagang Malaya
October 1, 2009
Those of us who had the good fortune to be spared from the life-and-death crisis that was the killer-weekend Typhoon Ondoy brought about, and whose only annoyance was being caught up in endless traffic, or having had to suffer the inconveniences of flooded streets and brownouts, will do well to ponder at the travails of our fellows --- friends, relatives, as well as simple kapwa-tao.
My friend Ric Golpeo, who is the executive director of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, was on his way home with wife Emma to their thirty-year old Provident Village residence. That house was built in the last years of martial law, after Ric had saved some from his years of working for the Puyat interests. They had just come from a nearby supermarket, and used to flooding in this Marikina neighborhood, they parked their car at the entrance, which never got flooded in the three decades they had lived there.
What happened next came too fast. They didn’t even have time to walk or wade to their residence. The rush of floodwaters came too fast that they soon found themselves clambering through rooftops in the establishments fronting the Provident Village gate. They stayed atop the highest rooftop possible, along with twenty other men, women and children shocked at the awesome inland tsunami that confronted them. They were there all afternoon and all night Saturday, way past the wee hours, into Sunday morning, hungry, cold, desperate for help. Only on Sunday afternoon did they find the courage to come down, when the floodwaters had abated somewhat to chest-deep. They finally reached their house, more than 24 hours since Ondoy poured in torrents, only to find both first and second floor ceilings collapsed, and all their lifetime savings and possessions destroyed. The car in the garage was ruined, and the car they left at the entrance gate had tumbled along with others.
Ric and Emma are thankful just to be alive.
My friend Rollie Estabillo is similarly situated. His house in the Tandang Sora neighborhood is beyond repair. Rollie has retired from communications work at the Philippine Airlines, before that a news editor of long standing and respected stature. Again, to be alive is a blessing he could only thank the Almighty no end.
Our editor, Joy de los Reyes, who had lost his wife to the Big C just months back, is in similar straits. And Nonie Pelayo, Weng Salvacion, Delon Porcalla, Claude Vitug, Cielo Banal, countless more colleagues in the media, suffered terribly at the hands of Mother Nature gone berserk.
Picking up the pieces of shattered lives will not be easy. Possessions saved through years and years all lost, and the more painfully expensive means to move on, to re-build, to rehabilitate, all these face them now.
My daughter’s friend is at his wit’s end. Three years back, he became a young entrepreneur, putting up a small company selling corporate giveaways. Peak season is of course Christmas, and so he had stocked up on raw materials and supplies to be assembled and packaged for his clients in time for Christmas distribution. Deep in short-term debt, to be recovered once the clients pay him probably well after Christmas Day, Ondoy’s waters rendered his shop and factory useless, and all his merchandise gone or destroyed beyond utility.
How many others are similarly situated? Internet cafes with now zero value, stores with their wares beyond salvage, and picking up the pieces virtually impossible because all those pieces are gone?
Worse is the sense of frustration. The anxiety of staying in rooftops through rain and cold, and waiting interminably for rescue that never came, and now, relief so niggardly because so many have to share so little.
Let me share with you this sad story, which was sent to an FSGO member by someone trembling with disgust, seething with justified anger, at a government that simply melted from existence when crisis struck:
"Yesterday, at the height of the floods, my sister’s husband Rey, whose family lives at Provident Village in Marikina, got a call from his brother. They were at the roof of their 2-storey house --- his wife, his brother, 2 kids, his sister, and their 85-year old father who just got out of the hospital last week.
"Not wanting to rely on our USELESS government to rescue them, Rey went to Makati and scoured the stores for a motorized boat that he could buy. At around 6 p.m., he finally found a store at Reposo street selling a six-seater motorboat for over 100 thousand pesos.
"Immediately after, he put the boat on his pick-up and motored as far as he could to Marikina. The nearest dry land was the Sta. Clara Church, still way too far to Provident. Suffice it to say that for somebody who was maneuvering a motor boat for the first time, Rey arrived at Provident at 12:30 a.m. When he entered the village, everyone was screaming, thinking that it was already the government’s rescue team. Rey was the first to brave Provident on a motorized boat with nothing but sheer will steering him.
"Meanwhile, our useless government was holding a press conference announcing relief operations delayed fatally because of excuse after excuse. They kept saying that they could not get through because the currents were too strong for them! HELLO! Why couldn’t they while my private citizen of a brother-in-law who does not even know how to use one before he purchased it, could?
"Rey had to turn a deaf ear to people screaming for help as he entered their village because he had his family, especially his 85-year old dad in mind. The waters were too high that he was actually holding on to the Meralco wires! He was shouting for his brother’s name as he could not even locate where their house was amidst the sea of mudwater. When he finally found them, he had to hold back from breaking down as he saw his dad at the apex of their roof holding to a string of blankets just so he will not get swept by the currents!
"It took Rey 2 hours to navigate back to Sta. Clara church to drop off his dad and nephew, came back for his sister-in-law and another nephew. It was 3 a.m. by the time Rey reached Sta. Clara church again… By this time, media were there and NDCC people assisting his sister-in-law to get off the boat. Gibo Teodoro had the gall to tell media that government rescue operations are now on-going, alluding to the footage of my brother-in-law rescuing his family!!! And these stupid NDCC people were even asking Rey’s sister-in-law to remove her life jacket and return it to them! Hello, everything was theirs, from the boat, to the life jackets, to the sheer will and determination to keep their family alive!!!
"He wanted to keep coming back to save other neighbors but his tired body could not take it anymore. So he decided to take a rest at his sister’s house at Valle Verde till around 9 a.m. today. Then they went back only to find how cars were piled up like matchboxes. His brother’s Patrol, Camry, and Galant were supposed to be safely parked at the village main avenue as historically this was the highest point of the village. Sadly, the cars were nowhere to be found, washed away like toy cars... but what was even worse was seeing bodies already floating around, including the body of a 3-month old baby stuck in a car windshield!
"As it was too devastating a sight for them to take already, they decided to just lend the boat for others to use to save more lives.
"Meanwhile, we see our government making all these excuses why they cannot save people faster... and we remember GMA spending 800 million pesos in contingency funds for her endless travels abroad…and Mikey Arroyo shamelessly admitting how his net worth ballooned within the few years that his family have been in power. Such shameless greed!
"I love the Philippines and I do wish for a better Philippines for my children’s sake. But during times like these it makes you wish that you were living in another country where you dial 911 and help will be forthcoming.
"Rey had the presence of mind, sheer will, and financial resources to buy a boat on the spot and put matters into his own hands. But what if it were the other way around and he had to wait for our USELESS GOVERNMENT to rescue his dad? We only shudder at the thought of what would have happened to his family, especially Lolo Manny, if and when rescue finally comes --which for many less fortunate souls, until now have not (yet) come!"
Further this writer cannot comment on the above cri de coeur of a narrative.
Another friend, Art who comes from Cebu, had a simple, common-sense idea. What if Gibo flew a helicopter in the afternoon when the rains had stopped (yes, Gilbert Teodoro is a licensed pilot, just as poor boys played with paper planes, and we from the middle-class played with plastic), and simply threw "salva-vida", or salbabida the way we pronounce them, inner tire tubes, into flooded neighborhoods, which probably cost less than 200 pesos each, instead of scrounging around for rubber dinghies and not knowing how to bring them through tangled traffic that Ronnie Puno’s police could not solve enough for military trucks to pass through (kuno)?
What if? But bunker mentality got the better of the NDCC and their president, who made a great to-do about riding in a military 6x6 to preside over a conference in Aguinaldo, and two days after, open Malacañang in a silly propaganda effort to (kuno), become some kind of evacuation center for the victims of Ondoy, only to be repulsed at the numbers that lined up, numbers her pusillanimous staff could not even manage efficiently, probably because the idea was so hare-brained to begin with.
Dear God, why do you punish your people with useless leaders?