To know me, you have to read me. Otherwise, I'm just like everybody else. Without identity. Choose well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


"Where I come from, almost everyone is a hero."

I've read somewhere in Africa there are different forms of rituals many indigenous tribe do, in order for their men to cross manhood. Torture. Scarring. Mutilation. Revolting ways to prove one's worth. Not to mention excruciatingly painful. Although that can be voluntary or coerced. Nowadays, men of stature have different ways to showcase their manliness. Pseudo-benevolence glorified by media. Indomitable strength veiling the puppeteer strings. Eloquent bravery from the stands of their comfort zones. As much as I don't want to admit, but even my fellow women have succumb to the hunger that eats up our society. I really have no intention in delving into the many ways people around the world exhibit unnecessary battles in order to feed their ego, protect their authority, and hold on to power. There are far better things to share.

"Where I come from, almost everyone is a hero." I read this from one of the circulating posts in Facebook about the recent calamities that befall our country. And oddly enough, I found that statement true to its roots. Dating back when we fought for our freedom countless of times against colonization and tyranny. Now, the modern day heroes are those who give their all in service to their fellowmen. The nurses, firefighters, rescue units, volunteers, and even the ordinary citizens. The underpaid. In a country run by leaders who leech off the citizen's taxes in millions, and yet, the first people who you'll see helping out are the underpaid. Neighbors help out neighbors. Orphans look after other orphans. Because, we can't rely on the magnanimous nature of the people we put or not, in power.

Everywhere you look in the news, or on the streets, people have in more ways than one, been affected by the calamities which changed their lives momentarily or forever. Many have lost their homes, livelihood, and people they love. It breaks my heart to read and hear about the misfortunes one has to endure on top of the others. I can't begin to attest which stories changed me more, but my own. I myself had suffered losses but I am still very grateful that the most important of them all is safe and secure, my family.

This isn't the first time I have experienced a calamity. Hardly. But the 7.2 quake that hit our neighboring island Bohol on October 15, was the first natural calamity I've ever had in that magnitude level. As all the others were hardly noticeable. This time around though, roads cracked, buildings collapsed, people died. Catastrophic. Fortunately, that day was a holiday. Schools and offices were closed. And the time it hit was around 8am where malls weren't even open yet. And as if by God's grace, it didn't happen on a Sunday or weekend where churches and tourist's spots would have been full. Because, most of the edifices that collapsed were centuries-old Catholic Churches that were built by our ancestors using crushed corals and beach sand which probably is the reason why it collapsed easily. Had it been any other day, one can't seem to fathom the tragedy it would have become. Everyone was just really thankful that most of us were safe. There were also homes that got destroyed especially that these are provincial areas where concrete houses are not a trend. And even the concrete ones wasn't spared either.

At exactly 8:12am, I was already in my dorm room at the 3rd floor in a 3-storey bldg wearing a green towel, while buffering a TV series on my laptop. I was about to take a shower before hitting the sack when suddenly I felt the floor shaking. I couldn't understand what was happening. I mean, I didn't know that was an earthquake, as I never (as far as I am aware of) had experienced one. It took me a few seconds to realize that I needed to get to safety. My initial instinct was to get out of the building as soon as possible. (Not really a wise move. Something I wouldn't recommend. I guess I forgot all my earthquake drill training.) I couldn't even remember to think about any of my possessions. Like my phone or even wearing a slipper. I went out with just my towel on. Jumping two steps at a time while dust and debris were falling on me but I didn't care. All I know is, I have to get out. It's as if, I felt that the building would collapse due to the intensity of the swaying that I could hardly even keep standing and running. As I got to the 1st floor, I saw some dorm mates squeezing in one plastic table and I remember, TABLE! But as I got out of the gate while the streets were full of barefooted people and some with just their robes and towels on too, I realized, my table was made of glass. Theirs was plastic. Not a great idea either. Even so, the shaking still hasn't stopped. People were panicking because we were surrounded by apartment buildings. Debris were falling as if there was endless supply of dust. Cars were jumping like they're weightless. Electric posts were in danger of falling over had it not been for the wires. It was pandemonium. Nowhere near to go where nothing will collapse on you. It won't be long until a stampede will break out. Fortunately, after a few minutes, mother earth's wrath finally subsided. However, it did not end there. No, far from it.

After it was over, people waited in silence. Like maybe a tidal wave will come or something. It was long before the mass settled down. But nobody went back to their respective buildings yet. Because they know, aftershocks will follow. And by golly, it did. Another one almost as strong as the first one. This time, I saw for myself how our dorm were swaying to the dance of mother nature. Trembling from the aftermath of running and adrenaline rush, I couldn't go back to my room to at least change into presentable clothing and get my phone to call my family. Breathing laboriously and getting chest pains, I needed my medicine. So I thought, it's now or never. I had to go back to my room. After that first aftershock, I hurriedly went back, changed clothes, picked up my laptop, phone, and medicine and went out as fast as I could muster. Called my parents, checked on everyone, asked my 21 year old niece to come over (as my apartment was just a walking distance from my family's area) because I felt like I might collapse anytime soon. We headed to my parent's place as I couldn't bear to sleep in my apartment knowing a multitude of aftershocks still awaits. Which in turn, lead me to move out from there and move back in with the rest of the fam. So much for going independent.
cracks in our dorm
debris on the stairs

Everyday for a couple of weeks, more than 5 aftershocks a day scares the living wits out of us thinking it might eventually become an earthquake itself. A month after, aftershocks are still being felt. And you can imagine how jumpy the working half of the population of Cebu had become. Consider working at the 11th floor of your building with magnitude 5 aftershocks everyday. Man, it's a miracle I didn't get a heart attack. And I couldn't even get a leave off work. It was as hard as it could get. But then, it doesn't stop there. No, again, far from it. Just a few weeks after the earthquake, we got a low pressure brewing which eventually became a tornado that ravaged the northern part of Cebu. Houses were damaged. Trees fell. Livelihoods in the provincial areas were affected. My brother and his family who lived in the north didn't expect it would turn out like that but fortunately they were all safe. Only had some roofs flying and surrounding trees fell to the opposite direction of their house. God is still good.

However, for the 3rd time, it did not stop there. Something far worse was brewing from the pacific sea, super typhoon Yolanda. Just a month after the earthquake and a few weeks after the tornado, an initially cited as a low pressure was slowly becoming a super typhoon. Most of us really didn't understand the gravity of the situation. The news reminders was as how they normally were. In a country where around 19 tropical cyclones or storms enter in a typical year and of these usually 6 to 9 make landfall, we are kind of used to the typhoons. As the storm was fast approaching, the news however were finally sinking in. But details as to the preparedness of the government doesn't seem to make sense. They keep saying it's a very strong storm which could destroy homes but the local government units (LGUs) in our area were not even giving instructions as to evacuations or rescue teams in the event of severe flooding. Our island was at signal number 4 so you would expect there would be rescue units on standby. But there wasn't. I guess you could say most of us didn't really know what to do as the last super typhoon that passed through our island was back in 1990. I was roughly 3 years old then. I vaguely remember a memory of me being shepherded to the 2nd floor of our 2-storey-house as the water level went up to 5 feet high. In our region we don't get too much super typhoons nor severe flooding as we are in the middle of the country so mostly, storms disperse as they hit the land. I felt it in my veins that this wasn't a normal typhoon. I knew that it will be cataclysmic. So I was anxious of the calm. Why no evacuations? Why are the other provinces not evacuating? Why are we storing food, batteries, water in homes if this was going to sweep it all anyway? It didn't make any sense. It was like waiting for an impending doom.

As the live telecast of Leyte was being forecast on the day typhoon Yolanda started to make landfall, the 30-minute difference it made to Tacloban's storm surge was the worst news you would like to see before power lines were cut as the typhoon started to make landfall in Cebu by 10am on November 8, 2013. The news of the 10feet water level in Leyte sent the rest of the provinces to be engulfed in panic. This was when people evacuated to schools and gymnasiums. Which also did not make any sense as schools were not considered that safe yet due to the prior earthquake and gymnasiums doesn't have floors. So if there will be flood, what now? Torn between staying home or evacuating. Both didn't sound safe anymore. You couldn't help but get consumed by the deadliest immobilizer of them all, FEAR. As they say, fear cripples faster than any implement of war. But what can you do, but face the storm.

The winds started howling. Houses shivered trying to hold ground. Rain splattered like there were hooves on the roof. It was scary. The sound was like something out of a horror movie. As we were gathered up inside the nearest gymnasium, because we finally decided to evacuate, I heard cries from children who apparently weren't as oblivious no matter how their parents try to soothe them. Even adults hide their anxieties and fear in shawls and hoods. As I stare at my family gathered and squeezing in with the others, I couldn't help but wonder how we are going to survive, again, if our house will be swept away. Our gymnasium becomes our temporary home. And I couldn't begin to think that it will be again. No. Not again.

It went on for almost 2 hrs. But the good thing on our end is that, there wasn't much rain water. It was mostly wind so there wasn't any flooding at all. Only flying roofs and blown down trees. There weren't any casualties on our area. We were waiting for news on the provinces who got directly hit by the typhoon. But there were no power. Radio wasn't much of a help too as they couldn't get any news from the other provinces. Until by the end of the day, when power went back, we got news that there still wasn't news especially in Tacloban where the typhoon first landed. Wow. So much talk Mr. President about preparedness. We had relatives in Ormoc that we were trying to get a hold of but it's as futile as getting proper news on TV. The anxiety of waiting, and waiting, and waiting about what happened to your love ones in the most affected area was something I couldn't even bear to dwell.

It was after 3 days when we finally heard news about my Aunt and cousins. They were able to evacuate just in time. I was particularly worried about my 82-year-old aunt as she is frail and sickly. I was glad they were all safe and sound. Their concrete house didn't suffer as much damage except for the flooding. But they needed medicine for my Aunt as she keeps getting chest pains, and no pharmacies were open, as well as water and food. I had to do donation drives for both them and the rest of the Yolanda victims. It wasn't much. But I know it can make a difference. Because no matter how small your help is, if everyone helps, it would be a multitude of relief goods that can save many. Because the more you spread the necessity to be involved, the more people GET INVOLVED. It's like paying it forward. A matter of awareness. During this time you'll realize that everyone can be a hero. Stories broke out about courageous civilians helping neighbors. Local and national artists launch donation drives. Almost everywhere you can see drop off stations for relief goods. Media campaigns were made to report the gravity in damages and the lack of help the victims are getting. There was no way the world could not get involved. The response was overwhelming.

And the rest is history.

It has been 3 months since then, where are we now? Back to the old routines. Back to day to day struggles. Back to old political debates. Some houses have already been rebuilt. Buildings have been reconstructed. Roads have been repaired. But how about our lives? What we've lost? Livelihood, livestock, jobs, shelter, belongings, and most especially loved ones? Who do we wake up for? That remains to be seen. Because no matter what, life moves on for the rest of the world. It doesn't stop for us. We have to get back up to survive. And we are definitely SURVIVORS.

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