The wrath of Ondoy
Tintin Bersola-Babao (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Sept. 26, 2009. The date will be forever be etched in our country’s history. Ondoy wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands of our kababayan.

We all have our own tales to tell, our own tragic and heroic experiences which we are all only eager to share — and learn from.

I would like to share mine.

Sept. 26, Saturday, 6 to 8 a.m., while Julius and I were on board, broadcasting over at DZMM for our radio program, it was raining but not yet as hard, although it had been raining non-stop the whole night. We thought it was just another ordinary type of rain. But heavier rains started to fall the entire morning until the afternoon. We actually saw how the water rose in the low lying areas of our subdivision until we saw only the roofs of our neighbors’ houses. We shook our head in disbelief. This was the first time this kind of worst flooding happened in our subdivision. We were just lucky that our home was spared, since it’s situated in a high place.

Then I got a text from Eric Villarama and his wife Donita Rose, asking for help for Roxanne Barcelo, our neighbor. In the news, I also learned that Jean and Jennica Garcia were trapped. Julius and I made calls. Roxanne was just one of the many people we were trying to help during Ondoy. But we ended up being frustrated and helpless because people we called were too busy and nobody could lend us rubber boats.

Julius and I turned to Twitter, Facebook and our celfones to communicate with government agencies and private individuals — anybody to help. But as the floods rose, and it was getting dark, Roxanne and her family were still trapped. If we only had a rubber boat or a jetski at home! Roxanne and family braved the night in their home and waited for the water level to subside the next day, as with thousands of Filipinos caught unexpectedly in the same grave situation, left with no choice but to wait for rescue to come… uncertain if they would survive.

But who was ever really prepared for Ondoy?

I admire our neighbors Bayani Agbayani, Cesar Montano and Gerald Anderson for braving the neck-deep floodwaters. Anything could have happened to them… be electrocuted, bitten by water snakes or drowned by the strong current. Artista man o hindi, napakadaming tumulong. And if I begin to enumerate the names of those who sacrificed or put their lives on the line to save others, this space would not suffice.

In Julius’ blog entry in his art40 Multiply account, he wrote:

“During my coverage yesterday in Montalban, Rizal, a lady came to me and gave me a cup of coffee. She was covered in mud. I asked her, “Bakit naman nag-abala pa kayo?” She said, “Gusto ko lang po itong ibigay sa inyo.” She lost all her belongings but still she showed me the utmost hospitality. This is one of the reasons why we thank God for making us who we are... Filipinos.”

Eighteen-year-old Muelmar Magallanes saved 30 people in Barangay Bagong Silangan, Q.C. But on his last attempt, after saving a baby, Muelmar could no longer handle the strong current; he hit a wall and drowned. Muelmar and others before him are not just heroes. They are angels sent to us with a purpose. Destined to live a short life so that others may live longer. Thank you, Muelmar.

Sept. 28, Monday

I went with Julius who did a live broadcast for TV Patrol in Provident Village, Marikina. I wanted to see the affected areas myself. I filled my vehicle with bottles of water and bread, and clothes from my friend Estelle. We personally distributed these goods to the residents of Provident and the depressed area at the back of Provident where about 200 families lived. They were happy to see relief goods actually reach them. They revealed that many of them chose to stay home rather than line up in evacuation centers. They refused to leave their homes, afraid of looters. They were smiling and managing to laugh despite what they were going through. I admire their fortitude. They were just so thankful that food and water came. They invited me inside their homes or whatever was left of them. And there I saw with my own eyes the magnitude of their loss, their pain. It will really take some time for them to move on and rehabilitate their lives. Yet they are thankful, thankful still, that they are alive and breathing.

Sept. 30, Wednesday

My four-year-old daughter Anya understood the calamity. She was watching the news. And she asked me how to spell the word “help.” I was surprised that she typed the word H-E-L-P on my Twitter page while I wasn’t looking. I had to explain to my followers that I wasn’t the one asking for help but that Anya was asking help for the victims of Ondoy.

In the afternoon, I brought her along with me to the World Vision office (we are WV ambassadors). We donated slippers for children and adults. Anya had fun packing the relief goods. After three hours she was so tired, and lay down on the sacks of relief goods. I learned that other parents also brought their children along to help pack goods. Calamities are a good time to impart the right values to your children. Make them aware. Make them share. Make them realize how blessed they are. Inculcate in their minds the lessons and meaning of what they are doing for others. That this is not just a simple act of charity. It is social awareness and responsibility. Let them know that children, like them, sadly are victims of nature’s wrath and man’s folly. Yet they are just too young and innocent to fathom what is happening to them. Aside from the nightly prayers that Anya offered for the victims, she knows that one is never too young to help.

Oct. 5, 2009

We returned to the WV office, this time to donate school supplies, toys, Ainon Baby products, etc. for the Child Friendly Spaces that WV put up in chosen evacuation centers.

Many children lost their school items to the flood. This was our way of helping them move on as they try to put back normalcy in their lives. If my health condition and pregnancy permits, I am going to read my books to these children. I am also inviting friends — clowns, balloon twisters — anybody who can entertain the children to help ease their trauma even for awhile. Every little action counts. There are so many ways to help and make a difference.

In Julius’ blog entry:

“Sometimes the feeling of helplessness and frustration overcomes me too. Whenever I talk to these people, they just don’t ask for food. They ask for wood, so they can build a new home. Water, so they can clean their houses. Money, to start a new life. Things that we have difficulty giving instantly. Let’s pray for more faith and centeredness in our people to not lose themselves in a time like this.”

In my journal entry, I wrote:

“Ondoy was Humanity at its shining moment.“

I pray to God to bless all the victims, all the selfless volunteers and life savers, who, despite what they all went through, the worst ordeal…

still have the strength to help others,

still manage to smile, to laugh, to care for others,

thankful that they are still alive. Thankful that they survived.

Bless them and have mercy on them Lord.

until you see them up close,

until you shake their hands,

until you look into their eyes and hear their stories,

only then will you feel the depth of their trial, their pain, their loss...

God, save our country.

AINON BABY ANYA BARANGAY BAGONG SILANGAN BAYANI AGBAYANI HELP IN JULIUS JULIUS AND I MUELMAR ONDOY ROXANNE
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