Having dozed off a bit earlier than usual on Wednesday night, I woke up at around 2 a.m. of Thursday to haunting sounds of typhoon Ulysses’ howling winds. Like many others, it was nearly impossible for me to go back to sleep.
The next few hours, we watched friends on Facebook and Twitter post cries for help from citizens in Rizal province, Marikina City, and many other places. Floods have submerged many areas, some reaching the second floor of houses. Brownouts hit many areas.
We saw children and old people brought to the apparent safety of rooftops. Numbers of local disaster response officials were sought and immediately posted. It was a good thing that some mayors were up all night, giving their constituents something to hope for. Props to Mayor Vico Sotto of Pasig, Marcy Teodoro of Marikina, and their teams.
As the typhoon made its way across Luzon, social media competed with (or complemented, whichever way you look at it) mainstream media in broadcasting news direct from the neighborhoods.
Many wondered if the President and national disaster response officials were actually awake and monitoring the developments. It is important to stress that nobody expected them to personally save each and every person badly needing rescue. The expectation was that they fulfill their legal obligations and exercise control over the immense resources at their disposal. Surely they can and must do something to direct national resources to areas that badly need them, before problems get worse.
It was thus surprising to hear national disaster officials apparently gaslight the rain-soaked and flooded communities when they claimed — without providing evidence — that the problem was that people refused to cooperate with authorities. The same national officials said they were prepared for the typhoon, but they didn’t show it. The President meanwhile bewailed that he has not swam for a long time now, and that the soldiers were preventing him from doing so.
I don’t know about you but nobody was asking the President to swim to Marikina, Rodriguez, or San Mateo to singlehandedly save each child or old person begging to be rescued. What many were hoping to see was a president awake, informed, monitoring, fully in charge, and ordering all national agencies to support local government units that badly need help. The President and commander-in-chief have powers and obligations which, if properly used, could avert situations from getting from bad to worse.
Quite unfortunately, his defenders think like showbiz fans who eagerly defend his inaction by preaching personal responsibility. How about his legal responsibility as president, and his much-vaunted compassion for his people? A past president can be endlessly pilloried for inept response to a typhoon, but the current president cannot be held to account with the exact same standards?
Elsewhere, as all these things were happening, an assistant secretary and an undersecretary saw it fit to go check on the dolomite sand project and proclaim success.
To fill in the gap in the apparent absence and silence of the national government, Filipinos wasted no time in helping coordinate rescues with local governments and the media. They called the attention of officials regarding places that badly need attention. At the same time, they quietly met online with their own organizations to prepare for an explosion of a fresh wave of #ReliefPH relief operations that we now witness spreading across the Philippine portion of the Internet.
Many drew parallels between Ondoy of 2009 and Ulysses of 2020, with almost exactly the same places submerged in muddy floodwaters, the same rivers overflowed, the same challenges being met, this time between a people who were promised change and a government that has been extolled as the most competent and compassionate in the history of the solar system. What perhaps saved Metro Manila and surrounding provinces were the apparently still-fresh trauma of 2009, more activist local governments which learned their lessons, and people elsewhere and online who wanted nothing more than averting a worse humanitarian disaster.
Our connectedness through the Internet informs us that Ulysses also ravaged Cagayan province up north, Aeta communities in Zambales, and many other areas in between. The vice president and the people there also point out that Ulysses also dumped rain water anew in parts of Bicolandia that are still reeling from typhoon Rolly.
By Thursday morning, #ReliefPH donation drives were launched by students, workers, professionals, and others who wished to help. Classes and work may have been suspended, but solidarity and bayanihan were in full swing. At our University of the Philippines, scores of student organizations quickly announced #ReliefPH drives targeting beneficiaries of various flood neighborhoods in several regions. Manila Science High School’s student government aims to help Marikina and Rizal.
#ReliefPH started as a hashtag to mobilize and identify efforts of citizens to address past calamities. That it endures is a testament to the readiness of Filipinos to extend help when it is needed the most. We know fully well about so-called pre-positioned relief goods funded by taxpayers, but we know how the bureaucracy and the presidency could work (or don’t), so we take it upon ourselves to make sure no family is neglected in the aftermath of any calamity.
Ben&Ben’s lead vocalist Paolo Benjamin is right. It is possible to hold government officials accountable while supporting #ReliefPH.
Here are some of the #ReliefPH citizen initiatives you could support:
- Tulong Obrero Soup Kitchen. Donate through Balai Obrero Foundation’s BDO account 1490128806 or GCash 09395073770 (Ronaldo Adonis). Drop your in-kind donations at 63 Narra St., Barangay Claro, Proj. 3, Quezon City.
- Tindig Marikina of Manila Science High School’s Student Government, Helping Hands, and Liyab MaSci. GCash 09335029422 (John Carlo Cueto), BDO 007570218504 (Czeska Francisco), BPI 0189008453 (Katrina Calubaquib) and LandBank 1427053888 (Joshua Origenes)
- Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines. GCash 09776021417 (Johanna Seras), PayMaya 09074822692, BDO 010640050611 (Jon Bonifacio). More info at yacap.orh/relief
- Buklod Bahaghari. GCash 09157687114 (John Marc Cho Santos). In-kind donations accepted at 35 Scout Delgado St., Barangay Laging Handa, Quezon City.
- UP #IskoOps. BPI 3879042088 (Patricia Emerie Dela Pena), BDO 007000543504 (Keana Sumi Rachelle Nerona), Gcash 09503746162 (Joshua Isaiah), Paypal http://paypal.me/mayoipat
- RockEd. Drop your in-kind donations at Commune Cafe, 36 Polaris St., Poblacion, Makati City. BPI 3080007344 (Rock Ed Philippines)
- Citizens’ Disaster Response Center. MetroBank 636363600741-3 (CDRC). Paypal [email protected] More info at cdrc-phil.com
#ReliefPH continues because Bayanihan has never left the Philippine area of responsibility.