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A time to heal

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2013 - 12:00am

After Yolanda, it isn’t just the landscape of storm-ravaged areas that was  is being  torn apart. In the blame game that followed the worst typhoon to hit planet Earth this year, some Filipinos are tearing each other apart viciously with their political views and opinions about who could have done it better, faster, stronger. Passions are being stoked by the strongly worded commentaries in the reportage of foreign correspondents. Some agree with their tenor, others don’t.

 I don’t doubt the accuracy of CNN’s account of the devastation of the typhoon’s aftermath — I just feel that in the first few days, there was not enough emphasis on the Filipino’s strength, and resilience, which they belatedly honored. I don’t remember — or I must have missed if ever there was one  — a story on CNN about the heroism of Filipinos, whether from the government or private sector, in the crucial days after the typhoon. The doctors who haven’t slept, the outnumbered gravediggers, the military pilots, the NGO volunteers.

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Some of us are tearing the rainbow that is us by peeling away each color — yellow, green, orange, blue — until there is nothing left of the rainbow. Instead of reinforcing the invisible glue that holds the rainbow together, some of us are dismantling it.

Some people are posting photos from the May 2010 campaign showing food packs with a yellow ribbon. These were from the private sector for the 2010 campaign, but people are making these food packs appear like they’re from government and they’re being distributed with yellow ribbons in the aftermath of Yolanda. With the people’s disdain for “epal” or shameless proclaiming of their “generosity,” you can imagine the vitriol people spit on the administration and their allies. And same goes with opponents of certain politicians. They’re putting out photos of relief goods with the politicians’ faces — how authentic these photos are, I don’t know.

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But I am still confident that if we turn this tragedy, much of which we could not have controlled, into a rallying point for Filipinos instead of a stumbling block to their unity, then we could emerge a greater people. I am reminded of Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, wherein he talked about the generation that fought valiantly in World War II, then participated in the painful, painstaking rebuilding of America in the difficult years after the war. He believes much of what the present generation of Americans enjoy are the fruits of the labor of this “greatest generation.”  Tempered by war, used to self-sacrifice, challenged by the rebuilding that followed and spurred by the goal to have a world vastly different from the hell they lived through.

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Some inspiring stories of survival are from people who took their destiny into their own hands, or were fortunate enough to be related to take-charge people.

Kim Barik, a Manila-based fashion stylist who was born in Tacloban, couldn’t just sit around and wait for help after the onslaught of Yolanda. Her stepfather and seven siblings were in Tacloban when Yolanda unleashed its fury, and she had no idea whether they were alive or dead. One day passed, and still no word from them. Two days.

On Monday, the waiting became unbearable. So Kim and her mother rented two vans and hired four drivers, filled up the vans with relief goods and bottled water and drove all the way to Tacloban via Sorsogon, taking the ferry to Allen, and then reaching the devastated Leyte capital by 2 a.m. Wednesday. She remembers it was pitch black, with dead bodies everywhere.

Debris littered the streets. At daybreak, she saw people and the expression on their eyes was just so “cold.”

“They had lost their vibrancy,” Kim recalls of the friendliest people she has ever known. Her family survived by clinging to the roof of their submerged two-story home for two hours, and by using the roofs of nearby houses as stepping stones to safety.

Kim saw military men trying to restore order in the city that was pummeled by nature. And yet, they were outnumbered. Kim saw grown-men attack a 12-year-old boy who had food in his arms, just so they could grab the boy’s ration.

She also heard horrifying stories from her relatives. Her uncle had died of leptospirosis. An infant niece was fed rainwater to survive. When an old woman fell from the second floor of a department store at the height of the looting, Kim was told, people just gasped, then resumed their rummaging of what was left of the goods. When they would step over corpses, they would just say, “Ay, patay,” then walk on.

“The scenes I saw were straight out of The Impossible (starring Naomi Watts, about the tsunami that hit Thailand) and The Walking Dead,” recalls Kim, 23.

“People had somehow lost their humanity,” Kim laments.

And yet, there were many, like her stepfather, who refused to leave Tacloban until every member of their immediate family was accounted for. “Walang iwanan,” they told her.

And so after four hours of searching for relatives, Kim was only able to gather seven of them before she and her mother had to leave Tacloban in order to protect themselves in case lawlessness escalated. (Thankfully, her stepfather was able to get out on a Singapore Airlines mercy flight that same Wednesday.)

Kim is now back in Manila, but she cries every night at the loved ones she had lost and the city of her youth that is no more. She finds a balm in volunteering to help out the refugees from Tacloban who arrive daily at the Villamor Airbase.

She hopes, one day, she will see the warmth back on their cold eyes.

(To be continued) (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

BUT I GREATEST GENERATION KIM KIM BARIK NAOMI WATTS ON MONDAY PEOPLE TACLOBAN YOLANDA
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