We owe Leyte and Samar

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Ma. Isabel Ongpin

Ma. Isabel Ongpin

Leyte and Samar on my mind. I have seen a lot of the Philippines but not enough of Leyte and Samar. Sometimes they seemed too far away, too far from the national byways.

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Once I went to Catarman in Northern Samar.  It was not the world’s end that I imagined. On a clear day one could see across the San Bernardino Strait, Mayon Volcano in Albay. The names in Samar intrigue me. Old Spanish names like Lope de Vega together with native ones like Palapag Bay, Cape Espiritu Santo (if it is still named such) and Balangiga. Much history that we are not acquainted with too well has taken place here. We took the road from Catarman all the way to Tacloban via the San Juanico Bridge. It was built by Australian Aid and was good.  We passed Calbayog with its beautiful bay. When I got to Tacloban despite everyone else flying back to Manila, I stayed behind and hired a car and driver to take me to Palo, Dulag, Tanauan, Burauen. It was lovely country, green plains of rice and a forested mountain ridge behind.

On another occasion, I went to Southern Leyte in connection with a housing project built at St. Bernard for the Guisangon landslide victims. Again the drive through the coastline down to St. Bernard from Tacloban was bucolic. Houses with bamboo fences, native materials, neat, with gardens blooming. A highway was being constructed around Liloan, a port to Mindanao just across. Hope that highway has held fast.

But still I felt there was much that I had to see—Capul Island, off Samar where the Manila galleons called, Guian with its 16th century church encrusted with shells, a national heritage church, the bay which is said to be lovely when the Pacific Ocean is pacific

Dearth and death
All the above were in my bucket list. Also, at the back of my mind as I traveled through was the image of want, the spectre of poverty, the lack of opportunity so that young people left and came to the cities to work, mostly in menial jobs if not educated. And many of the underage youngsters from Leyte and Samar were in that boat, having dropped out of school because of extreme poverty. Agriculture was not supported, industry was nowhere.

And when some came back to marry, farm, live with their families after having saved something from their labors, the typhoons would come, or the carabaos would be decimated by epidemics, or their parents would have schistosomiasis. Some of the ones I personally knew died in childbirth when they had twins and the rural midwife could not cope, or would lose their lives hemorrhaging to death from lack of medical facilities that were nearby and affordable. One had a child with diarrhea, and ignorant about dehydration from lack of medical service in the area, she waited too long. When the little girl turned limp, she was hurriedly put on a motorcycle for the district hospital. It was too late, along the way, she closed her eyes and went to the other world.

I know we are still a poor country, but Leyte and Samar are exceptionally poor. That Yolanda raked her scythe on these two islands with such apocalyptic results is just the culmination of suffering in a land of suffering.

Now that we confront the desolation and the tragedy, now that we see that something has to be done, we should spend whatever treasure, whatever resources, whatever technology we can beg or borrow to bring them not only back but better than before, stronger than ever, with enough infrastructure, enough basic services, enough opportunities and enough attention that typhoons will not rule their lives, just disturb them temporarily without causing the holocaust that we have seen. In this modern world, calamity can be mitigated.

The world is ready to help, we should be ready to let the help get through meaningfully and substantially, adding our own cooperation, our own goodwill, our own concern for fellow citizens who have been left to fend for themselves too long against the elements, against indifference, against inclusion into the national discourse, national progress, the national identity.  A new and substantial identity has to be created for Leyte and Samar beyond the poverty and neglect that they have suffered all these centuries.  This country owes it to them.

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