LEYTE: A TIME TO HEAL

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.

ALSO: What drives P-Noy?

The last three years were not easy for President Benigno S. Aquino III. His presidency has had to surmount natural and man-made catastrophes of historic proportions, from typhoon Yolanda to Superstorm Janet (Napoles). So on bad days when, just like any human being, he would rather just chill, what gives him the strength to get up and get going? “I have a mantra,” he said at last Tuesday’s Bulong Pulungan at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, where he was given the “Man of Steel” award by the forum’s core group. “Pag iyong talagang ayaw mo nang bumangon, lalo na bago ipasok iyong diyaryo na naghahanap ka ng good news, ang mantra namin ay, ‘Para sa bayan (For the country)’.” The President stressed that his responsibility to the Filipino people is his tonic.


    LEYTE: A TIME TO HEAL

MANILA, DECEMBER 9, 2013 (PHILSTAR) PEOPLE By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (photo) (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 19, 2013 - 12:00am 0 229 googleplus0 0
 


Leyte-born Kim Barik tries to forget the trauma of what she saw in Tacloban by helping in relief work
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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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

What drives P-Noy? PEOPLE By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 5, 2013 - 12:00am 0 2 googleplus0 0


President Aquino receives the ‘Outstanding Exemplar-Man of Steel’ award from the Bulong Pulungan core group. (From left) Beth Tagle, Frank Evaristo, Danny Sarayot (partly hidden), Mandy Navasero, Domini Torrevillas, Donnie Ramirez, Jullie Yap Daza, Deedee Siytangco, Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., the author, Joy Fong and Chay Santiago.

The last three years were not easy for President Benigno S. Aquino III. His presidency has had to surmount natural and man-made catastrophes of historic proportions, from typhoon Yolanda to Superstorm Janet (Napoles).

So on bad days when, just like any human being, he would rather just chill, what gives him the strength to get up and get going?

“I have a mantra,” he said at last Tuesday’s Bulong Pulungan at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, where he was given the “Man of Steel” award by the forum’s core group.

“Pag iyong talagang ayaw mo nang bumangon, lalo na bago ipasok iyong diyaryo na naghahanap ka ng good news, ang mantra namin ay, ‘Para sa bayan (For the country)’.”

The President stressed that his responsibility to the Filipino people is his tonic.

“At the end of the day, all these is for the country and the country has faces. There are people who are directly affected by our acts and by our omissions.”

He said if he shirks from the challenges of the job and the slings and arrows that come with it, “Parang, papatalo ka, ‘di ba, (parang) pinabayaan mo iyong bayan.”

“Bottom line, everything we do affects so many people, and there is no time like the present,” he added.

P-Noy said his presidency would be measured by several new infrastructure and by the new “can-do” attitude of the Filipino people.

The other “exemplars” honored at the forum were Gawad Kalinga led by founder and chairman Tony Meloto, DOST Secretary Mario Montejo, Commission on Audit chief Grace Pulido-Tan, Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Chita Morales, Bureau of Internal Revenue chief Kim Henares, GSIS president Bernie Vergara and PAGCOR chairman Bong Naguiat.

Asked by Jullie Yap Daza what would be his most concrete (literally) legacy when he steps down in 2016, the President said, “NAIA Terminal I, I think, will be finished — the refurbishing — by that time.”

“Hopefully, NLEX and SLEX, the connector will also be up and running by that time, and the TPLEX. More importantly is the airports will be substantially finished — airports, plural — Panglao, Mactan, and so many others. And also at least the start of the light rail systems.”

Aside from these concrete and measurable accomplishments, the President said his other major legacy would be the transformation of the mindset of the Filipino people.

“More importantly, is, I really want an expression — to see the expression on the faces of our people the ‘can-do’ attitude, that nothing is beyond our grasp and our reach. That is what I am hoping to see, hopefully, not just the day before I leave, but more importantly after I leave, that it continues and becomes stronger,” he stressed.

He said his best day in 2013 was the day he returned to Bohol about a month after the killer quake struck. He saw resolve, not defeat in the people’s eyes.

“I think that tells us really of the resilience of our people, but more importantly, the seeming wellspring, or bottomless wellspring of hope, and more importantly, that acting on that hope — to really improve their lot in life.”

***

Asked by Chay Santiago if he could turn back the hands of time, given all the burdens of presidency, would he still have run for the post?

Noynoy Aquino harked back to what his late parents, martyred opposition leader Sen. Ninoy Aquino and former President Cory Aquino, always used to say: “That, if they could have done something (for the country) and they chose not to, then they would not have been able to live with themselves.”

President Aquino looked confident and relaxed — grateful even — during the forum, which was a Christmas party.

As writer Chay told P-Noy, “You did not plan to be President, but now I see you as very much more comfortable with the position.”

Indeed, he was — is — comfortable even on the hot seat. He rewrote his prepared speech before the forum and said its main theme was, “Thank you.”

Sandee Masigan asked the President what makes his work all worthwhile, even when it is usually a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” (The President said he prays for his critics in media, and stressed he was not joking.)

There are moments, he replied, that really warm his heart. “Again, I go back to the most recent example, Bohol. If they were looking for someone to blame, since I am the Chief Executive, they would put the blame on me. But I didn’t feel that in Bohol.”

“I guess, at the end of the day, I am confident because I rely on our people and the people will always be true to me.”

In fact, the President told Thelma San Juan that he would not really be saddened if his approval ratings decline in the aftermath of Yolanda.

“You know, at the end of the day, the only criteria I have is: Did I do right? And sometimes the right decision may be unpopular. Sometimes, conversely, the wrong decision is immensely popular.

“But I really have to stick with doing what I believe is right. So our people, I believe, are fair judges. They have been a constant source of support all throughout, even when we had nothing…”

The President expressed optimism that if his ratings indeed decline, they would, “rebound.”

“I expect that the numbers will rebound, in case they do go down, but that is not the important thing. The important thing is: Will our people see me as doing that which is right? And that is what is important to me.”

Deedee Siytangco, Bulong Pulungan founder and its prime mover for past 27 years now, closed the free-wheeling open forum with a simple question: What is the President’s Christmas wish?

P-Noy said he wished for peace, and a respite from calamities.

“Siguro lalo na ngayon, ‘di ba, parang kapayapaan talaga? Sana matapos na iyong libro ng problema natin itong taon na ito… So the wish really centers on, hopefully, there are no more challenges of this magnitude this coming year.”


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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