I have been thinking about writing an article on what is going on in the Philippines since I first saw the news last Friday. There is so much that I saw I realized that I would need to write far too many pages to explain it all. But I will write a few.
I saw the news of Typhoon Yolanda, as it is called in the Philippines, live from PI. They called it Typhoon Haiyan elsewhere. I am married to a Pinay (a Filipina lady) and we get several of the Philippine television networks right here at home via satellite. I think we watched all of them.
I wish to make some observations here from what I saw, and I do not plan on giving detailed answers on everything. I do not have them. But perhaps we can learn from what has happened.
On Friday, November 8th, at dawn, Typhoon Yolanda went first to the Island of Samar (my wife’s home island), right over her Barangay Basyao, then onto Tacloban and through the rest of the Vasayn area, touching Cebu (the number two city of PI) and outward after crossing a few thousand of the seven thousand islands in that nation. That will not mean a lot to everyone on this list, but I know for certain it will to some. Tacloban (the number three city of PI) is where the most damage was done according to the news. That is the main city of the area and it has about 220,000 people not counting the nearby towns and villages.
A good number of the Philippine people I have met through the years are not so big on disaster preparedness. Those that come from a local village (barangay) in particular live very much day to day. Some have some things stored up, but not so many. The poorer ones even in the cities do not always have adequate refrigeration. And even those that do often do not have the space for general prep if they are in the cities. People do what they have always done. Not that it is wrong in itself, but that sometimes costs people much, and sometimes everything.
Yolanda came in as nothing like ever did before. It had steady winds of 195 MPH, and gusts up to 235. From what I could see, and I do not have all the information, Yolanda flattened many villages and a very big chunk of Tacloban, including concrete structures and many of those with corrugated tin roofs. The villages typically have a lot of bamboo framed structures with coverings of palm leaves and grasses.
There were stories of people being pulled out of houses by the winds or the water and their bodies later found in the water, in trees, or not at all. I do not know how many drowned from the twenty foot waves that covered so many people. They were big enough waves that full sized cargo ships are now on land, on top of what used to be homes. I do not see how one could have done enough preparations where they were. Leaving would have been the only solution for most. Living on an island, even a large one, makes that very tough though.
After the Storm
The stories of people surviving way out in the country are out there. I do not know how many made it yet. From what I heard was that some in that group may have survived because they did the only thing they knew how to do. They went to the same mountains and jungles to hide where their parents or grandparents hid 70 years ago from the Japanese. It was the same thing some of the Vasayn people did to get away from the Spanish several centuries earlier. In the past they would also hide in the low laying caves. That might not have been a good choice this time.
There was a strange side note to this. Former first lady Imelda Marcos had a secure and fortified shelter and survived well. Very few others had such an option. Imelda and her now deceased husband Ferdinand Marcos (the dictator) had in the 70’s done at least as much damage to the people of PI as Yolanda did.
The pictures and videos I saw showed that sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there is hardly anything you can do about it. Most of the Philippine people who Yolanda hit did not know it was coming. They have no TV, radio, or even electric in a lot of places away from any city. And even some of them do not even have a radio. The only thing they do is personally watch the weather, buckle down as needed if they can, and they clean up later. It is what they have always done.
The people of PI found there were too many to bury. They took tractors and backhoes of all sorts and buried people with unknown identities dozens or even hundreds at a time. It does not dawn on us, even those who prep somewhat that this can happen. What a horrid situation. But sometimes it happens that way in parts of the world. We have not seen that here in well over a hundred years. May it never happen here. It could though. One of our members on this list has already told me he thinking he may need do that one day, while he hopes not. Me too.
TV and Media Coverage
The Filipinos have several TV networks. ABC-TV5, GMA, and ABS-CBN are the bigger ones. We mostly watched the first two. TV coverage in the Philippines is not really the same as here. They are very much to the point, open in what they say or do, and they tend to be fairly graphic in what they show. What we see is more sanitized; for good or bad, maybe you know?
Some of the saddest things I saw were the dead bodies in the street. They were in the trees. They were floating in the water. And more. I apologize if that was a little rough the way I wrote that. I say it this way so that if some horrific event happens you will at least know what to expect. I have never seen that, but I have seen many dead bodies, including a large number in one place from a disaster. It does something to you if you let it. Prepare your mind for the worse if, God forbid, the stuff hits the fan like it did in PI.
I saw a man one day holding onto his young dead son, who was perhaps ten. He had that thousand-yard stare and did not know what to do. He just stood there. Very similarly, another man carried his very young daughter’s body. He was actively seeking a place he could lay her body down. I do not speak the language, but the reporter said he did not want to put her just anywhere. Later they showed a local church building that survived mostly intact. People turned it into a morgue of sorts. I do not know if that father found that place or another, but others thought it a good place to place their dead until they could be buried. Would I do that as a pastor? Would I allow others? Yes, in a heartbeat under such conditions. We are the Church. The building is to serve the people that serve God. May it never happen. But I would allow it.
Some of the reporters did not just interview the people there, but they became the same people. The network cut to one lady reporter who had just been in another church building. While she was there the winds took the roof off. She was trying to explain what happened, but when she looked around at everyone, she just began to cry. Someone at the studio wanted to cut back when the lead reporter at the studio said, “No, leave her alone. Let her cry.” And cry she did, standing there in the rain. Then she spoke. She said, “WE have nothing. Let’s pray to God for help.” While I would never admit to it if I had, I almost lost it there. Then the other lady in the studio agreed with her, and said “we must pray to Jesus for help”. Often enough on air reporters there have said on other occasions they need to pray for their country, but this one really hit. It took two reporters half way around the world to remind me that God’s people can pray anywhere and any time no matter what the circumstances.
One Philippine TV station began playing early Christmas music with one song in particular that was written to roughly say they were facing very hard times, but if we looked up, looked to the Child that was Jesus, all would be well, that we could make it. When times were bad we must look up to God to save us .
In general the thing that Filipinos know all along happened. They were on their own. Most of the gov people who were supposed to help did not help on time. The people picked up their own dead. The people moved whatever barriers out of the way that they could. The airport tower went down. No lights or radio communications. All the cell towers went down. No one in an official capacity seemed to know how to do anything, at least not at first. Police and other local emergency workers did not show up for work. Some could not, and those that could took care of their own families instead. It dawned on me that it was a very real possibility that the same could happen here too. We could well be completely on our own in some circumstances.
I saw one very good related thing though. The PI president refused to declare martial law. I did not fully understand what he said, but I understood clearly that he said no. He said they would help their people the best that they could, but not like that. I suspect that he remembered well that his own father was assassinated under martial law for speaking up against the tyranny of Marcos. It was good that he remembered.
I also observed that the Philippine people know what their gov did or did not do right. I saw that they did not appreciate what they thought of as meddling by CNN’s Anderson Cooper who reminded them of that “live from Tacloban” (which he could not pronounce). The GMA network played clips of him talking too much.
I will not downplay the looting. People were hungry and broke into food stores. I saw one man standing in front of his store with a pistol in his hand telling everyone to stay away. They did. I later saw a different man open his store and tell others to take the food they needed, and they did. Interestingly enough, there was one very large food warehouse that was never looted or broken into. It became the distribution center for many when the food supplies did finally arrive. Some of the food that was sent by boat or plane disappeared into I do not know where or how. People just came and got what they needed. But it was food. They were not breaking into stores for new sneakers or designer “hoodies” that I saw.
I heard plenty of people, even in their desperation say they would not give up. Some of those lost everything, families included. A few put up Philippine flags to remember their nation. One man who was interviewed said, “We are hurt, but we will rebuild. We will turn to God.”
There was a lot of bravery. Parents gave lives for children. Husbands did for wives, and wives for husbands. People swam out to where the waves took their families. A few came back. Many never came back at all. In one case a sixteen year old gave hers for her mother. Only one could get out, and the girl did not think she would make it. She pushed her mother out telling her she needed to live. That was a very hard thing to hear the crying mother tell. I thought of the Bible verse that says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
It the time of a disaster like this, small motorcycles ruled. I heard time and again that the gas pumps were all shut down. And that it would not matter, because the roads were all shut down. But the riders of these little bikes found fuel and were going everywhere. There were even a few small motorcycles with side-cars holding more people than one would imagine they could carry. I think it was a business for some. I also saw people with soda bottles of gas for sale. For the bikes? Regular bicycles had a lot of good use as well. Even in the worse of times people find a way to do things.
I learned that some people walked for hours to the airport, not knowing for certain, but they heard “the Americans are coming”. It took a few days, but come we did. It is nice to know some still think we are the Calvary, and in this case we were. Americans brought C-130s, V-22s (Osprey tilt rotors), and all sorts of choppers. A lot of supplies. As of the time I am writing this, we have ships on the way. It is not exactly a secret in the Philippines, but just because Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Field closed does not mean all of our stuff left. We still have things there. And our military still stops there. I understand that some of our naval ships can generate enough power to light up a small city. If they have not by the time you read this, I suspect they will. Having no control tower for the airport is no problem. They bring their own. One might think I was still proud of our troops. I am.
I watched Philippine President Aquino wade through a crowd and spent some time handing out water to a very big group. I saw them before and afterwards, but his security team was not visible when he was doing that. They were either very good at blending, or the guy was just very comfortable with the people there.
The US military ran the airport well enough that by Thursday the 14th (PI time), some commercial planes could land even. US C-130’s lifted many from Tacloban to Manila.
A couple of the cargo ships that were on land became emergency housing. Someone figured that the ships were stable enough (we all hope) and were certainly going no place, so people took up residence. In an emergency it is good to consider all possibilities.
Franklin Graham had his Samaritan’s Purse charter a 747 full of supplies to PI. Our church took an extra offering and sent money that way through his outfit. They have a high integrity. I heard that the Southern Baptists are sending help, and I read that the Conservative Baptists are doing the same. I fully trust both of these to do right in this also. I understand there are other Christian organizations also doing right. I read of one Jewish organization sending food aid, and some medical team arrived from Israel. There is a team of American doctors helping at no charge too. There are probably more people doing what is good and right that I do not know so much about.
I read the following in a British newspaper,
“Filipinos have a saying: Weeds don’t die easily,” she said. “When it’s safe, when there is electricity, when it’s livable, I’ll come back.”
I have said many good things about some people from the Philippines. As I think about it, I believe that despite our often selfish society, there are many individual people here who would do every good thing I wrote about above. While I do not think the percentage is as high as it should be, I think a lot of us still have that “I can do it attitude” that would help us get through some very terrible events. We should accept help when we need it, but it is so very important that we learn to fend for ourselves.
We must never take God for granted. He has preserved us thus far. He may not always. He may choose to let us go as a nation one day. Job had a good answer for this,
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him." – Job 13:15
Pray for the Philippines. Pray for our nation. Pray for your families and yourselves. I wish you Godspeed.
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