Words

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Katrina Stuart Santiago

Katrina Stuart Santiago

There are no words for what has happened.

Even as it is also all that we have, helpless in Manila as many of us are. It was words, too, that kept me watching, waiting, for government to prove that it was in control of the situation that was wrought by Typhoon Yolanda.

On November 7, PNoy had warned about Super Typhoon Yolanda’s strength. “Storm surges in Ormoc, Ginayangan Ragay Gulf in Albay and Lamon Bay in Atimonan will bring grave danger. And waves in these areas may reach up to five to six meters high,” the good president had said.

“Let this be a warning to local government units: Your constituents are facing grave danger. Let us do all we can while ‘Yolanda’ has yet to make landfall.”


To the public he said: “Coordinate with and follow authorities. Evacuate if your area is in danger. To those near the shore: do not head towards the open sea,” PNoy implored.

Filipinos were also told to stay informed about which communities will be affected by Yolanda, by checking the websites of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and Project NOAH.

‘You mean food?’
On November 8, the day of the storm, before we realized how bad it actually was for Filipinos in Samar and Leyte, Aklan and Cebu, reliefph.com asked DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman on twitter: when you say you have enough goods, you mean food and also medicines blankets clothes, etc.?

And she said: “From us (DSWD) food and nonfood items are enough. From DOH, medicines also enough. Thanks . . .”

ReliefPH.com was not updated on November 8, nor November 9. Because we had such little information, we had no idea really how bad things were. Because we were fed words celebrating the bravery of news reporters delivering the news “Live!” we were distracted.

Because I believed that government was in control not just because DSWD had said they had enough, but because November 9 news reports had Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras saying that “We have all the government resources.” This included “air and naval assets” bringing relief goods to affected areas.

I resisted updating reliefph.com uncertain of the function of relief operations all the way in Manila—how do we even begin to get those goods to the most affected areas when airports were badly damaged, too? And given that the DSWD had said they have enough, would relief efforts in Manila even be needed.

By the evening of November 9, images of the ravaged Leyte and Samar provinces, stories of towns not getting enough relief goods—if they were getting any help at all—took over the news, those media heroes nothing but memory.

November 10, as I settled into updating the reliefph site, relief operations were also underway mostly in places where systems for gathering goods and getting volunteers were already in place: media companies ABS-CBN 2, GMA 7 and TV5, schools like the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, and the University of Santo Tomas.

Government inefficiency
That these systems are in place, of course, is already a horrible thing: it means that we have done this so many times before, it means that we have had to augment government’s inefficiency with our own sense of aid and support too many times.

But the case of Super Typhoon Yolanda is different, not only because this was the strongest storm we have seen in recent years. It is because it happens at time when we know for a fact that government has money to spare, that our Congressmen and Senators have been spending money on things other than disaster preparedness.

Super Typhoon Yolanda is different because we want government to use its resources properly and well, we—I actually— waited for them to do so. Only to prove that this is not a question of money, as it is a matter of preparedness.

It is a question of PNoy ordering the evacuation of those towns in Samar and Leyte. A complete evacuation of every province, every town, that he had warned might be hit by storm surges as high as five to six meters.

Why were relief goods not distributed?

The question is this: if relief goods were already in Tacloban when the storm hit, why were these not distributed right away, to every Juan and Juana, Juanito and Juanita who survived the storm? Why would people resort to looting if relief goods were actually getting into their hands, whoever they were, wherever they had walked from?

The question is this: if air and naval resources were enough and available, why is it that towns like Guiuan in Easter Samar and Dulag in Leyte, Libacao in Kalibo Aklan and Culion in Palawan have yet to receive any relief goods as of today?

And this is the thing with the words that government continues to spew from their well-spun web about how responsible they are and how unapologetic. We hear these words at a time when the citizenry’s words prove government’s assertions untrue. When the president said “low casualty counts” in Aklan and Palawan on TV last night, November 11, reliefph.com received this call for help for Libacao Kalibo, for the second night in a row:

“Alexis Reyes @queenalexis88 —PLS HELP LIBACAO, AKLAN. Severely damaged. Isolated. Need aid asap. Access thru CERRES. Contact me 09174637964 officer, LGU. No aid po up 2 now per Mayor of Libacao. 90 percent homeless, no food, aid, rescue. PLEASE HELP. <Govt> Been directing me to Regional Office VI but people in Libacao can’t go there. Still isolated.”

On this night that the President wanted to tell us all that his government is in control, reliefph.com got this txt message: “Gud eve po! Help people in Dulag Leyte, especially Barangay Del Pilar, wala na silang makain dun, maraming nagkakasakit. Magdala kayo ng pagkain dun . . . kahit kendi or tubig lang. Salamat po.”

Others text messages, tweets and Facebook messages have asked about Tolosa Leyte, Tanauan Leyte, Jaro Leyte, Carigara Leyte, Brgy. Market Site Dulag Leyte, Barugo Leyte, Brgy. Del Pilar Dulag Leyte, Baybay Leyte, Hospital Village Guian Eastern Samar, Sulat Eastern Samar, Isidro Eastern Samar, Talustusan Naval Biliran, Cabongan Naval Biliran, Ormoc, Culion Palawan.

Truck driver urgently needed
On November 12 I received this message via Facebook:

Hi Ms. Katrina. I’ve been following your updates on Typhoon Yolanda and I turn to you now because I am frustrated with the lack of news regarding the towns of Tanauan and Tolosa in Leyte.

My cousin, Jojo Advincula, traveled on different buses from Manila to Samar and on foot from San Juanico bridge to Tolosa, Leyte to reconnect with our relatives. He arrived in Tolosa on the 10th but he was unable to see any of our relatives and family because of the chaos. He walked back to San Juanico Bridge without speaking to any of our family members.

I was able to get a hold of him today and he reported the lack of rescue operations in these towns. He said that people are going hungry.

I am also monitoring a Tolosanon forum with 2,000 members but no one can confirm that relief goods have reached Tolosa.

When I first heard about the typhoon, I prayed that my fellow Leytenos and their properties be spared. Then the news trickled in and I no longer cared about property damage; I just wanted my family to survive. I know in my heart that they are okay. And my wish is for them to hang tight until we can send them the help that they require. Please help me ensure that Tolosanons receive the help that they need.

I still haven’t heard from my grandmother, Generosa Advincula, my aunties, Celerina and Mansueta Advincula, and my cousin, Shazien Advincula. They are all from Malbog, Tolosa, Leyte.

If you have any information about Tolosa and Tanauan, please post it on your wall. I will keep following your Facebook wall for updates.

PS: My cousins and I are arranging for trucks loaded with relief goods to travel from Manila to Eastern Samar and Leyte. Two trucks have left this morning. My cousins have been advised by their mother (stranded in Borongan, Samar) not to push through with any more trucks as private vehicles are being held up in Samar. We are looking for 3 more drivers so that when we get the signal to go ahead, we can deploy the trucks as fast as we can. We will pay the drivers until the mission is completed. Unfortunately, we do not have any takers because of the risk of traveling to Leyte by land carrying a truck full of relief goods. I’d appreciate it if you can let me know if anyone is interested.

Thank you so much.

Kind regards,
Ariane Corinne Cinco.

There are no words for the pain that these people are going through. No words for the suffering of their family and friends who have been isolated by this disaster. No words for the countless and faceless and voiceless who are suffering the inefficiencies of a government that will not admit to its faults and weaknesses. That will not admit that they have yet to reach too many towns, too many people, in need and dying of hunger and thirst.

No words.

But blood on our hands.

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2 Comments

  1. I find this government so inutile, so unreliable, so disorganized. They cannot even come up with a plan on how to save the remaining lives who need medical help, food, water, and shelter. Thousands of our compatriots need help, NOW! The international community are mobilizing their own military personnel, volunteers, money, food, equipment, etc. to help us but there is no leader to show up and mobilize the government. No concrete plans of actions, back up plans, contingency plans! Is this a repeat performance of the bus hostage of Hongkong visitors on a very large scale? Indeed, blood in his hands!