Man who did not abandon Tacloban passes away

Lalaine Jimenea - The Philippine Star

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – A young businessman who showed the world his love for Tacloban amid all the chaos after the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 has passed away.

Kenneth Yu Uy, 41, scion of a rich Chinese-Filipino family here whose interests include rice mills and hotels, was the man who President Aquino scoffed at when he was cited as a victim of a shooting incident because of the looting and violence that ensued after the tragedy.

“Eh buhay ka pa naman, di ba (You’re still alive, anyway),” Aquino told Uy.

Media may not forget his moment with Aquino, but Taclobanons, especially his friends, best remember Uy as “the man who did not abandon Tacloban.”

Uy was among the few businessmen who reopened their businesses as soon as possible to bring back normalcy and a glimmer of hope to the battered city.

He opened the doors of Asia Stars Hotel to relief workers and his bakery to sell “yolandisal,” the dough which had to be manually rolled and pressed, to hungry Taclobanons.

When every other Yolanda victim who had the means took the first flight out of Tacloban, Uy opted to stick it out, telling friends this was the time they were needed most by their city.

Uy succumbed to a heart attack last July 16. He is survived by his mother Lucy and brother Kervin.

Big boss, big heart

Uy was a big man with a big smile.

“But his heart was even bigger,” said Hector Go, a long-time business partner and friend.

Go cited as example the yolandisal which Uy insisted on selling at only P2 each.

“Boss, let’s sell that at P5 each,” Go recalled telling Uy, but the young businessman would not hear of it.

“If we sell it at that price, people cannot afford it,” Uy answered.

What was important for Uy then was for people to have food so that they could eat and have the strength to survive another day.

Go said Uy was not the typical businessman as he was always brimming with optimism and would only smile at financial losses, believing that there would be better days.

After opening up Asia Stars Hotel to volunteers, Uy tried to convince other businessmen to do the same.

His commitment to the city transcended even a threat to his life. Two days after the onslaught of Yolanda, Uy was at a gas station trying to obtain fuel for their generators. A mob gathered, thinking that Uy would get all the fuel for himself. A shot  rang out, and Go said they had to move Uy out of the area.

Not his fault

Meanwhile, Jeff Manibay, a convenor of One Tacloban, told The STAR he was the reason why Uy got the sharp end of Aquino’s tongue. 

Another victim who refused to leave Tacloban, Manibay actively helped in relief efforts.

On the third day after Yolanda, he decided to go to the command center at the Tacloban City police station because he wanted to talk to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Manibay said he and his friends passed by Salazar Street “near Sam’s Trading” where shots rang out.

He was all the more determined to tell Roxas to bring in more security forces to curb the growing violence.

It was at the command center that he met Uy. They learned that President Aquino was flying in so they waited for him.

Manibay recalled his impatience when Aquino arrived but had to go through a program first. He was aghast when the report read to the President was “unbelievable.”

The report, according to Manibay, said there were only 72 people dead, that clean water was available and that there was no peace and order problem.

He raised his hand and told Aquino that he can go to nearby Magallanes Street and see no less than 700 dead people piled up there.

As for clean water, he pointed out he had just been in the command center’s kitchen and they were using rainwater to cook food.

And to emphasize the deteriorating peace and order, he pointed to Uy, saying, “That man nearly got shot this morning, buti na lang hindi tinamaan.”

That was when Aquino told Uy, “Eh buhay ka pa naman, di ba?”

Manibay admitted he might have irritated the President because he was practically shouting already, but he still feels bad about Aquino’s response.

As for Uy, Go said the businessman was equally shocked at the President’s reaction, and only managed to say, “Anong klase siyang presidente (What kind of president is he)?”

But being the good-natured man that he was, Go said Uy just forgot about the incident and concentrated on bringing Tacloban back to its feet.

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