Instead of debating the Yolanda casualty count, let’s list and honor the victims

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January, according to scholars, is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and beginnings. He was represented by a double-faced head – one face looking toward the past, the other toward the future.

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New Year’s Day, by tradition, is the time when we make resolutions, personal and collective (family, club or nation). Coincidentally, the word “resolution” also has a dual meaning. One meaning points to the past, resolving old problems. The other, plans for the future, resolving to do things better.

As a collective resolution for the Filipino nation, I want to tender this modest proposal to the powers that be and the public:

Instead of quibbling forever about the exact count of Yolanda/Haiyan casualties, let us now list them all down, by name, by place and by story (if the victim has one to tell). As we finish up in interring the dead (particularly the 1400 dead bodies still in body bags in Tacloban, cited in my previous column), let us turn our attention also towards how we are going to remember this awful chapter in our lives and our nation’s history.

The way to do this properly is to build a memorial and memory bank. And the way to jumpstart this is to begin assembling a documentary record of this disaster.

Not another forgotten crisis
When he visited Tacloban on 22 December 2013 and after touring the ravaged city, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared to the media and to the world: “We must not allow this to become another forgotten crisis.” He then called on donor nations to ramp up aid to the Philippines.

“I am appealing to the donor community, to speed up, scale up their support,” Ban said, adding that he had met with the ambassadors of key donor countries in Manila the day before. He said he was deeply moved and inspired by his visit to Tacloban, where despite the many challenges “people are working hard to recover.”

What worries Ban is the danger that Yolanda Haiyan will be quickly sent down the memory hole, where it will become just another cataclysm in an endless sequence of cataclysms in the world.

Remembrance, reflection and responsibility
This is why a Yolanda memorial is important and necessary. This is also why work on the memorial must begin early this year when the event is still raw in the national psyche and seared in the conscience of humanity.

This is by no means unprecedented. Many countries remember their great disasters in significant ways. In Italy, they marked Mount Vesuvius, to commemorate its famous eruption, which took the lives of thousands and leveled cities to the ground.

If in the case of the Holocaust in World War II there are some who deny that it ever happened, absentmindedness in the case of Yolanda will turn it into just another typhoon in the nation’s history

The basic challenge facing us here is how to acknowledge this event in our recent past and memorialize it without being trapped in it.

At this point, we are experiencing what all mourners go through, shock over the loss of friends and loved ones. After every traumatic loss, there is the danger of being paralyzed with grief. And the realization also that recovery requires a measure of forgetting. Priests and holy men wisely counsel us: life would be unbearable if the wounds we suffer on life’s battlefields were always raw and gaping.

Historian Carol Gluck at Columbia University makes the case for three R’s: remembrance, reflection and responsibility. “We don’t want to transmit all the burdens of the past,” she says. “We’re not looking for a constant open wound. What we need is remembrance for those who died and the tragic event. We need reflection for understanding how it really happened. We need to take responsibility for the past and therefore the present and future.”

Disasters, no less than loved ones, tug at our minds and our hearts not to be forgotten.

The memorial I propose should strive to attain the following:

1. It should honor and remember the dead by listing them by name, by provenance, and by giving their surviving families a place to visit and venerate them. The more heroic stories should be recalled in narrative.

2. It should tabulate and list the assistance and aid—in money, in kind and in service—that different donor nations and organizations provided during the magnificent relief and recovery effort that showed the extent and depth of global empathy during our ordeal. This should be memorialized in words and pictures.

3. The same listing and narration should be done on our own government’s and people’s efforts in the relief and recovery effort, and the coming rehabilitation effort.

4. It should assemble a documentary record of this unprecedented catastrophe—beginning with the forecasts and bulletins on the super typhoon by the meteorologists, including the media accounts of the perfect storm, the rescue and relief effort. While they are still readily available, copies of the dramatic broadcast reports and the excellent reports and commentaries in print should be secured.

By undertaking this project, government and the private sector can join together in doing something practicable and significant on Yolanda. It will require the active participation and leadership of government. But individuals and civic organizations can also join by volunteering their services and providing contributions.

The project will give the people of East Visayas something practical to do, beyond just regretting their bad luck, it will help the victims’ families to cope with their loss.

The memorial, if planned and executed well, will be fitting tribute to all the victims, to all the ravaged communities, and to everyone who helped us in surmounting this catastrophe.

Constructive praise
When fuel prices went up—at the crack of dawn this New Year’s Day—everyone’s blood pressure went up a notch. What another increase?—was the wail heard everywhere.

Shell, Petron, Chevron and Total all raised the prices of their fuel products down the line.

The increases were imposed without explanation. They just happened. The government fuel price regulator did not issue a bulletin; they don’t say anything anymore; they just bow to the wishes of the oil companies. As for the energy department, they say that they just monitor prices.

The public needs an explanation on how fuel prices are adjusted and why. If it is triggered by the slightest developments in the international scene, the energy regulator and oil companies should tell us.

What is the justification for this New Year’s day greeting to us? Is it related to the terrorist bombings in Russia, a major oil producer, which happened just a day ago?

If fuel prices can be adjusted upwards here at home at the slightest tremor in the price of crude, how come they are not adjusted downward just as quickly when crude‘s price goes down?

Are we talking of futures here – i.e. commodities bought or sold at an agreed price for delivery at a specified future date?

I keep seeing this horrible scene in my mind wherein the managers of local oil companies sit at desks and their computers watching for the slightest fluctuation in crude prices, so that they can raise the prices of fuel at the pump.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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4 Comments

  1. One of the basic duties of a Christian is “to bury the dead…”

    It is now 58 days and counting, and the 1.600 bodies are still in an open space, unburied…

    to add insult to injury is truly heartless….!

  2. Tama kayo, sa ating mga christianong pilipino sagrado ang katawan ng namayapa.
    Tama lang sana kung may kaunti pang natitirang pagiisip, moralidad at
    pagalang sa mga nasawi. Bakit hindi magkaroon na isang ecumenical
    mass sa Tacloban at pagkatapos ilibing na lahat ang nasawi.

    Tutoo sa sinambit ni Pnoy at sa nakita nating mga ipinakita niya matapos
    ang unos na wala ng halaga sa kanila ang mga nangamatay.
    Kitang kita natin ang ka inutilan ng team Pnoy, na magaling magkaka-tyang
    pero kulang sa gawa. Wala man lamg may matinong pagiisip na mag
    ulat mula sa mga tao niyang gaya ni Mar, Gasmin, Soliman, Ochoa,
    DOH Sec, at iba pa, para isama sa daily briefing ni Pnoy na boss
    napaka sansang na ng amoy dito sa Leyte at Samar, dahil di pa
    naililibing ang libo libong patay. ano po ba ang dapat gawin. at
    baka lalo makapinsala at magkasakit ang mga buhay.

    Kitang kita natin ang kawalang malasakit at dignidad ng mga
    namumuno sa administrasyong ito, na patuloy sa pagsisi-nungaling
    sa kanilang mga boss.

  3. It is only right that a memorial be built, listing down the names of the people who perished during the Superstorm Yolanda. In this way, we can make the grieving relatives of victims, our nation and the world know that those who died have not been forgotten. The countries which sent aids to the Philippines during our hour of need should be listed down too in recognition of their assistance to the Filipino people.

    The Aquino Administration’s response to this disaster, as in the previous ones, had been slow, uncoordinated and inadequate; it’s lack of compassion shows when it let the bodies of 1,400 victims rot and feasted on by flies in an open field for weeks in Leyte. But this is the time when BS Aquino could prove once and for all that he is not as cold-hearted, inept, and lacking in compassion, as many people think, by getting a memorial built for the victims.

    When the 2004 Tsunami struck Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia that killed tens of thousands of people, those countries held televised solemn ceremonies honoring and remembering their dead. The Philippines, under Aquino, should do the same as soon as possible to remind Filipinos that life, even if one is poor, is precious.

  4. To honor loved ones who perished in Yolanda is something any country in the world would do collectively as a people. Don’t expect that of Abnoy as it will only put attention to his disgraceful, now oft-repeated in ignominy by the world press and Filipinos, attempt to peg the deaths to ONLY 2,500 at most. At once heartless, aloof, horribly unemphatetic and just plain wrong. A statement uttered with such callousness that only this retarded Abnoy could. Surely among his most disastrous display of the coldness in his heart as a human being.