Monday, October 5, 2009

tragedy and the best in everybody

Whenever news about the Philippines reaches international headlines, it's often about something negative - the president's extravagant New York dinner, a war in Mindanao, a volcano acting up in Bicol, a flash flood in some province.

Friends in other countries would ask their how are yous when they hear news of some gunfight or natural disaster. I often have to explain to them that I live in the city, where it's safe, far from where most of those things happen. Since last week though, I've begun to rethink my common answer. Typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ketsana) delivered six months' worth of rainfall to the National Capital Region within two days, rendering a national catastrophe. It's the worst flooding in the city ever. Murky, garbage-tainted flood waters came up to two storeys high in many areas, leaving even the wealthiest residents to escape to their roofs and submit to the wind and rain. Some were stranded for days.

We're all used to seeing squatters and provincianos suffering or losing their homes; but this time it's quite alarming because we see well-to-do people stranded on the roofs of their posh mansions with nothing but the clothes on their backs (Embedded on a lot of people's minds is the image of that model/actress trapped on the roof, drenched, crying and desperate [and even the actor who, all cavalier, came to her rescue with a speedboat] ).

Everybody is either a victim or close to someone who is. The urban poor, who have been used to demanding the "rich" for their right to be given a more comfortable life, have suddenly realized that we are all just human beings after all. Since almost everyone suffered in the same way, no one is complaining.

Despite the tragedy, Filipinos still manage to find something to smile about: joking about their lost possessions, posing in front of a passing news camera, betting on the "swimmers" in flooded underpass-turned-watersports complex. The tears are still there of course; the reality of loss and death is too real to ignore. It's just that Filipinos are so used to hardship, we're good at being survivors. Over and over people display their resilience.

What is most admirable is the spirit of community and genuine care going on. Nobodies helping out nobodies - people getting on their phones and Twitters to pass on information about victims they don't know needing rescue. Young men setting off on their jetskis and surfboards (others choosing to swim the muddy waters) to save random strangers. Plain citizens dropping off packs of food and bottles of water. In fact, all those plain citizens put to shame most government officials and organizations their in promptness to respond and effectiveness to reach. Ondoy brought out the best in everybody.

Everyday hero
stories are everywhere, it's overwhelming.
The one about the 18-year old boy who rescued around 30 of his neighbors - the last of which were a girl and her baby - by bravely swimming them across the raging flood at the height of the storm, and then losing his life in the process.
The dutiful security guard at a QC hospital who dove into the dark torrents to save a lady doctor who was stuck on the roof of her car.
The city jail inmates - the nation's "worst"- who shelled out money from their own pockets to raise a significant amount to give to the relief fund for the society that condemned them.
The families who opened their homes as evacuation centers for neighbors, even for random strangers.
The man who took his jetski and evacuated squatters who were marooned on their roofs.
The TV host who used her massive influence to get equally massive donations and assistance.
The various churches and private organizations who immediately organized operations for repacking, cooking and delivering relief goods.

It's just incredible.

Anyone who has ever criticized the Filipino for not loving his country should see what's going on now.

This is the sort of good news that should be making it to international headlines.