Category: life and death

What is there

Posted by Daryll Delgado on Facebook
6 Dec 3:48 am

There is a man covered in mud from his bald head to his bare feet, walking towards and waving at my brother, Derek, unaware that he is unrecognizable. Until he and Derek arrive at the same house, A__’s house, then Derek realizes that this is A__’s father who had fought against, swum under, and finally just gave himself up to the muddy ocean that had engulfed his house, his neighborhood, his entire village.

There are two girls, who pass them by, walking barefoot but briskly, their faces streaked with dirty tears, their eyes scared, their bodies rigid. There are many others walking, walking, walking, and picking up pieces from the debris, and then walking some more. My sister, Aimee, and her husband are among them, as they try to get to her husband’s family in a subdivision close to the sea. There is a woman, they say, who is not walking, she is just standing, in the middle of the street, while people walk by her in a daze. She is wailing, damo’n patay, damo hin duro an patay! When they get to the subdivision, there are indeed bodies being moved from the streets to the small chapel. One of the casualties is our dear uncle, a cousin and very good friend to our dad.

There is a woman on the side of the street, but she is not wailing, not moving, not walking. She is lying on her back. She has extraordinarily thin arms and legs, and a very swollen belly. People cover their nose and mouth when they pass her, but they do not cover their eyes. This is one of the first sights we see, when my husband and I arrive in Tacloban City.

There is a child frozen in the act of crawling out of a shelf or a cabinet. His body is upside down, his head is twisted unnaturally to the side, and one hand is missing. There are dogs, many dogs, sniffing the rubble and debris for their masters, or for food, and one of them walks away with a child’s hand between his fangs.

There are men walking out of the mall, helping each other carry an exercise machine, a freezer, a 50-plus-inch led TV screen. There is a woman carrying a mannequin all by herself, and a family of three in Santa hats merrily walking down the street with a shopping cart full of nothing but canned baby formula milk. There are others who scavenge for clothes, my brother Dennis tells us, and they come out of the department store dressed as super heroes and villains, Spider Man, Super Man,and Penguin.

There is a rumor going around, said a friend of ours whose family is taking shelter in our house : Tacloban is gone. Strong winds had sucked out the entire bay and threw it all up very violently onto streets,houses, offices, churches, hospitals, schools, restaurants, hotels. There is another rumor: It will all happen again very soon, and the waves will be much higher, the current stronger and even more ferocious this time.

There are suddenly even more people on the streets, running as fast as they can to the hills, to the hills! By evening, there is a sight no one has ever seen – the mountains are illuminated from the foot to the peak with people’s flash lights, candles, torches.

There is still, for all intents and purposes, a house. There is no roof, no ceiling, no windows, no book shelves or books, but there is still a winding staircase with elaborate balusters and steps made from dark hard wood slabs on which the rainwater cascades like grand waterfalls when itrains. And there is a black granite floor that collects the water into many puddles the kids like to trample and splash on.

There is a room on the ground floor where the family used to congregate every night when the parents were still alive. It is now being slept in by strangers who have traveled from distant lands – Iran, Israel, America,Bolivia, South Africa – to clear the streets, feed the hungry, slowly revive the city.

There are two old trees that used to partly hide the house from the street with its thick foliage, birds’ nests, and intricate branches reaching into the balcony. They are now leafless and branchless, and nestless. The barks have been peeled off and, at night, under a bright moon, the trunks look like the ghosts of two pale, old men stranded between this world and another.

There are firelies all of a sudden, and crickets, but no birds, my sister-in-law, Debbie, notices.

There is a rumor about that other rumor, Dennis tells the strangers who have become friends and family to us now. The city mayor’s daughter, Chona May, had been washed away and her mother, the beautiful city councilor who used to be a movie starlet, had screamed and screamed: “Chona May! Chona May!” Her screams pierced the silence and absolute darkness of the evening, waking people in San Jose from their nightmares. “Chunami daw, chunami!” And that’s how everyone suddenly scrambled to their feet, fled out of the city and into the hills, in fear of a chunami or tsunami.

There is a truth and there is a lie, my brother says. The mayor’s daughter did not really perish, and he doesn’t even have a daughter named Chona May, but it is true that his beautiful wife is the city councilor and she did used to be a star.

There are people who do not like this joke, but some people laugh, for the first time, and a little of the old sparkle return briefly to their weary eyes.

(With reports from Dennis, Derek, Aimee, Dandee, Debbie, William, and random friends and strangers in Tacloban)

Ana’s bonfire (and her father’s portrait of Tacloban)

Facebook Note by Karlo Marko Altomonte
23 Nov 10:07 am

When she noticed that water was flowing ankle deep into their home, she told everyone in the room, her family, that it was time to leave. She made her way to the door and as she opened it, the water started rising and her along with it. She grabbed on to a branch to avoid getting swept away by the current. She recalled how painful the wind was on her face. She stayed floating for a few minutes, and as rapidly as it rose, it started receding. She didn’t let go of the branch and in just a matter of a couple of minutes, from being in danger of drowning in floodwaters, she realized that she was in danger of falling to her death from her perch on the topmost branch up a kaimito tree some thirty feet up. She looked around and was relieved to see most of her family members grabbing on to the branches of the same tree. But not everyone was there.

Soon after the Typhoon Yolanda left, Jun Fernandez received the news in Baguio – his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren who lived in Tacloban were missing, and were presumed dead, according to eyewitnesses who last saw them. There was no way they could have survived after being swept away by a series of storm surges that brought tree-high waves. His younger daughter was determined, she told her father that she will travel to Tacloban that same night to look for her mother, her Ate and the two children, aged six and four. There was news that the body of her AteEva has been found, and Ana wanted to see for herself if the news was true.

Ana would call her father in Baguio after seeing the body of the woman she was told could have been that of her sister. “It’s not her,” she told her father.

After hearing of the situation in Tacloban in the days that followed, and realizing that Ana herself could be putting herself in harm’s way by going there, Jun decided to follow. He has accepted the loss, but wanted to make sure that his daughter Ana was safe. He arrived in Tacloban four days after Ana did. As they prepared to cook some food that night, Ana, together with her aunt who was saved by that kaimito tree, told Jun that the last time they received some relief goods was on the day Ana arrived four days earlier, they have had to stretch that small amount of rice and couple of canned food for four days. A cousin was able to buy rice in between, at P100 per kilo and only after walking for kilometers for hours on end in search of food.

“It was unreal, unbelievable” was how Jun described the scene before him. The dead lay unclaimed, unattended, survivors were preoccupied trying to stay alive to bother with them. The memory of the sight of the bodies of three infants by the road would haunt him forever, he said. One of the infants had an arm missing, along with much of its face. Nobody could ever be prepared for what Jun shared with us, “what can you do? Dogs were trying to stay alive too.”

The story of how one Iglesia ni Cristo church was closed to non-members of this sect. A sister of Jun’s wife was one of those who tried to seek refuge inside one, and was turned away. But not all churches closed its doors, the other non-Iglesia ni Cristo places of worship provided shelter and saved thousands of lives. Even a softdrink warehouse was opened to the people who needed shelter.

“Did that church close its doors on evacuees too?” Jun wondered as he passed a church with its doors closed. He decided to go closer to try to take a look inside and regretted doing so. Peeping through the gap on the church doors, he saw the whole inside of the church filled with lifeless bodies, piled up to three bodies high. That church, filled with evacuees before the typhoon made landfall, turned out to have been inundated in the blink of an eye, drowning everyone inside.

Ninety percent of the population of Barangay 88, according to what Jun gathered on the ground, died. The death toll could very well breach the initial estimate of 10,000 which top government officials have been trying to deny.

For a time, Tacloban was hamleted – nobody in, nobody out. This was due to the alleged infiltration and looting by rebel forces. In one instance, according to news reports, a military convoy bearing relief goods was ambushed by rebels.

Contrary to the picture of inept and uncaring government personnel that the mainstream media have been forcing us to accept, according to Jun, from where he was, he witnessed heroism and selflessness and portraits of self-sacrifice – he saw soldiers, policemen, government workers, themselves exhausted, wounded, hungry, also grieving, who hardly ate or slept to do all they can to ease the suffering of the survivors. There was enough food to go around, that’s true, but there were not enough hands to get them to the victims fast enough. Soldiers would take a bite or two from their own food rations before passing this on to the nearest survivor begging for food. A brief lull in between carrying sacks and boxes of relief goods or people on their backs was an opportunity to close their eyes for a few minutes to rest. On a regular day, we already know how we don’t have enough policemen and soldiers in this country, how we don’t have enough doctors in every town, what more in times like this when many policemen, soldiers are themselves victims? They don’t need to hear every single day how inefficient they were, how badly or wrong they’re doing their jobs. Specially coming from people who saw nothing more than what Cooper or Sanchez or Failon or Enriquez or Tianco chose to show them, in the warmth and comfort of their own homes swiping on a computer screen or clicking on a mouse. What Tacloban needs are extra pairs of hands.

In your opinion, based on what you saw, what could’ve prevented this much destruction, or this many deaths? I asked Jun. Nothing except evacuating whole provinces, he said. There was almost no escape, even those living far inland away from the shores were tossed around by floodwaters and strong winds, overwhelmed by unbelievably strong rains. And Jun points to poverty and the resulting illiteracy of many of our countrymen as an added culprit. The warning they received from the local officials was for a typhoon with potential wind speeds of over “300 kph” and the possibility of “storm surges.” “Kung sinabi nilang parang tsunami, o kaya parang dalawang Ondoy, mas naintindihan siguro naming kung ano’ng klaseng bagyo ang parating,” said one survivor. Tsunami they’ve been hearing a lot on the radio and on television, a “storm surge” is a relatively new concept, if not a totally alien term, for most of them. “300 kph” is just a number. As Jun shared with us, we did not speak to them in a language they could have understood better.

Jun would break down in between telling his story, or would try letting a chuckle out after a rather funny anecdote, or forcing a smile – they were all painful to watch.

Ana wanted to stay longer, stand by the shores of Tacloban in the hope that her mother, her ate Eva and her two children would show up. It would take a long time for anybody who lost a loved one or two, or four, or everyone and everything they had, to accept what happened. Jun and Ana got on the next bus out of Tacloban, and decided to start their own journey towards acceptance and healing.

One particularly cold evening after the typhoon, Ana, gathered some damp wood and started a fire. The soldiers have been trying to get one going, in vain, everything around them was drenched. But Ana, a true Baguio girl who can start a bonfire with her eyes closed, soon had a nice, warm fire going. People started gathering around her bonfire, soldiers gathered more wood and placed them in Ana’s able hands.

For one evening, amidst the destruction, the deaths, the despair and feeling of hopelessness, Ana’s small bonfire lighted up her part of the world, and kept people warm, eased their pain, started the healing of broken hearts. And most importantly, let everyone around her know that they were not alone, that there are people who can help provide some light in this time of darkness, and keep that fire going until the sun rises again tomorrow.

environment 5: ormoc & security


Junie Kalaw

The Philippine environmental crisis took what is possibly its heaviest and cruelest toll on human life in Ormoc City. According to eyewitness reports by survivors, the waters had come abruptly, almost in the wink if an eye, sweeping everything in its path, a veritable deluge which the camera conveyed as so many bloated bodies floating like so many discarded dolls.

In the comparably torrential rush to absolve itself, the government attributed the denudation of forests in the Ormoc area to logging activities harking as far back as the 1950s, declaring that there hadn’t been any logging in the area in recent years. Media caused more disturbance by reporting intimations from sources within the government itself that politicians, military officials, and Department of Natural Resources (DENR) officials were, in some as yet indeterminate sense, culpable. The partisan character of government’s response once more evaded the fact that ecological responsibility is shared beyond the time-frames of electoral politics; similarly, the readiness of certain quarters within government to blame their cohorts indicates a tendency to pass the buck. But this is the way that government mocks the people’s suffering. We would have been surprised if it got around to pointing out how the geothermal facility in Ormoc contributed to the disaster, for that would have come too close to its plans for Mount Apo in Mindanao.

Our concept of security needs reorienting. We erode fertile topsoil at the rate of one billion cubic meters a year, enough land to produce 10 million sacks of rice. There are 13 badly eroded provinces in the country today that qualify as unrealized security risks. If conditions in one or two areas decline enough to reprise Ormoc next monsoon, will the new administrationsimilarly wash its hands of responsibility?

Disaster relief operations in the country are usually undertaken by the military, who admittedly may be relied upon to fulfill this function. During such occasions, they are said to be diverted from their normal task of overseeing the country’s security. The frequent occurrence, however, of environmental disasters today compels us to ask if the current definition of “normal” military duties requires updating, having been drawn from an old and narrow perspective of national security. Isn’t it time that this old concept be amended to include ecological security, with the army tasked to protect our forests: the navy, our coral reefs and fishing grounds, and the air force our atmosphere?

For far too long, in all countries that have not had the fortune of having a long history of neutrality, the military has competed for resources that have promoted violence instead of peace, its concern being to maintain and modernize its armature, which amounts to a potential for violence. It will be argued, of course, that peace is precisely what is expected to bring about to the extent of adopting a functional rationality in the extreme case of war. However, it may in turn be argued that the concept of war has already changed substantially, as when the government itself speaks of the need to do war against ignorance or poverty, or when an industrial society exports toxic waste to secure its own people’s health, or strains another country’s standards of safety for its own profit.

The idea of ecological security entails the use of information as a weapon and shifts the focus from human targets to natural structures. Securing the integrity of natural structures then becomes a limit beyond which the military becomes obsolete because it will have transformed itself from being an instrument of genocide into a facilitator of the life process

10 November 1991

of typhoons and dams 2

Archive the monster dams

By Marlen V. Ronquillo, Manila Times 30 Sept 09

What is the global mantra nowadays? It is something like this: Always turn a crisis into an opportunity. Or, do not let a crisis go to waste.

How do we turn Ondoy’s wreckage into opportunity? From the surface, this is quite hard to even think of right now, given the magnitude of the death and destruction brought about by Ondoy’s record-high rainfall. Even those mildly suffering are still stunned over our own version of Katrina: instant death, submerged towns and cities, desperate cries for help of the dying, the inadequacy of the rescue efforts.

You have a mental account of what took place in places like Bocaue and Cainta. People lazing around on a Saturday morning (some sipping coffee, some still bundled in bed.) Suddenly, the water rises. One hour later, they are trapped in a watery inferno. Some make it to the rooftop. Others fail to make it.

The stiff, ice-cold and graying bodies of infants that littered the low-lying towns of Metro Manila, Rizal and Central Luzon cannot find any form of justification. They had glimpsed life—only to be cut short in a cruel, instant death.

But like in all aftermaths, the survivors have to take up the tools and go on with their lives. Grief is always transitory. I know. I lost everything to the Pinatubo eruption. The day after the Big Bang I had nothing except the shirt on my back—and anguish. The investment of a lifetime, an integrated farm just 30 kilometers off the volcano’s crater, was doomed by hot sand. Two weeks after, however, you start shifting through the wreckage to build anew.

Life’s unfailing narrative is rebuilding from tragedies.

The first priority is a concern of public policy—the system that has favored the construction of costly, multi-purpose dams. The giant dam policy should be reviewed, then archived. It is a 19th century policy prescription and it is no longer relevant nowadays.

The giant dams, during times of excessive rainfall, have to let go of excess water to prevent the collapse of the holding structures. Every water release, though calibrated by the standards of dam managers, has a terrible impact on the low-lying communities along the rivers and tributaries that absorb the released water. Precisely, this was the case on Saturday. Quezon City’s traditionally safe areas were submerged neck-deep after the water releases from the dams.

The dams are rendered safe by the water releases. But the communities and the people that these dams are theoretically mandated to serve through potable water supply, power needs and irrigation water have been either maimed or killed by the water releases.

If the dams are dangerous during periods of excessive rainfall, they are also not performing up to par during the dry season.

If you pass by the giant Pantabangan dam during the dry season, you would see the spire of the old town church jutting out of the low-level water. Because the watershed areas that are supposed to replenish the dam’s water supply during the dry season are fast-vanishing, Pantabangan is barely-functioning during the peak of the dry season. During El Niños, it is in worse shape.

Magat dam, a giant, multi-purpose dam like Pantabangan, is likewise spooked by the same problem of denuded watershed areas. Like Pantabangan, the dry season always sees Magat suffer from FTP, or failure to perform.

All the giant dams such as Magat, Pantabangan and Ca-secnan had been funded by loans given government guarantees. They are costly, their huge cost made more terrible by the huge interest payments.

The interest payment from the loans used to fund the construction of the giant dams alone is enough to fill the classroom void, the textbook lack and the inadequacy of public school teachers.

Ok, what is the alternative to these costly dams often suffering from bouts of FTP?

Invest in research and development (R and D) to develop safe, less costly and more efficient technologies for irrigation. Then, give RE (renewable energy) a big push to lessen the dependence on the multi-purpose dams for power needs. This will remove all the reasons for building these costly and unsafe dams.

Countries across the globe are doing the same thing, reviewing their giant dam construction projects in favor of safer more efficient substitutes.

Archiving the dams is truly a 21st century imperative.