The outpouring of support to the victims of typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines from the different parts of the world, is quite unexpected, moving and heart-warming. It is as if the volunteers, the rescuers and the donors - You - were trying to outdo the strength and the fury of the superstorm. You did not just extend money, goods and medicines. No. Your first-aid personnel and rescue teams came over promptly to help in the disaster areas, firsthand. Your governments likewise lent us helicopters, fast boats and planes: unasked. You did not just give us words of sympathy, condolences, prayers and well wishes. No. You sent over your hearts to enable the survivors to imagine – life is worth living still. Thank you… Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay kayo!
Thank you for reminding us: Love is real. Respect is still alive. Community of people is not a thing of the past. And it seems to transcend borders, races, statuses, politics, religions, ways of life, technological divides, boundaries – human or otherwise. People of all ages, from all walks of life, of different persuasions – coming together at one moment, for the cause of easing sufferings, of fighting squalor on this end. Your quick and warm response gave us hope, at a time when it felt like giving up was the easier, if not the better, choice. Over here, our hearts are swelling from gratitude and appreciation. Your aid, your help, your faith have made us believe again: Humans are connected by an invisible, never-ending chain. This connection seems to say: Life must go on.
It is a hard thing. To begin again. To start anew. To pick up the pieces of broken lives, floating dreams and shattered promises. To look to the future, to envision tomorrow and to make plans – again. To believe in the here and now. To reconnect to the world at large and to the self within. In the midst of the chaos, confusion and uncertainties. Through the darkness, in the depths of sorrow, the devastation surrounding. It is tough. But we must…
Beyond the drama of rising from the rubble and the ruins, the challenge of rebuilding looms large in the horizon for the Filipinos. Can we, as a people, gather the strength to rehabilitate, to restore, to found anew? Can we go beyond the nearsightedness of our politics, the pettiness of our squabbles and the divisiveness of our daily lives? Can we put in again clean water, food, houses, school buildings, markets, sanitation systems, livelihoods, jobs, churches, means of transport in the disaster-hit areas? Can we put back the smiles in the eyes of the children that have seen dangers, deaths and destruction, at close range?
There is a thousand reason to continually despair, to stay broken. There is a thousand and one reason, to hope. To believe, despite the odds, it pays to be around and alive. When the cameras are no longer there to inform the world how our streets look like, how the tragedy’s victims are coping and how our politicians are scampering to clean up the mess – it remains in our collective hands to deliver the goods of unity and progress. And we have not much to go by, truth be told… Except, at one time, one sad time, our SOS was heard by the world, forging oneness among various and differing people – to lend a hand unconditionally. We will always have that.
As we survey the damage wrought by the violent supertyphoon, we remember our brothers and sisters who likewise suffered and lost from nature’s wrath – the victims of the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, the victims of the Haiti quake in 2010 and the victims of the Japanese quake, tsunami and nuclear plant explosion in 2011. We remember and share your pains, as we know that you and the rest of the world, now share and feel ours. Apparently, the grounds that we walk on are connected, as well as the oceans that seem to separate us – across cities and continents. Certainly, there is only one nature that nurtures and cares for us, the same nature that periodically gets into a rage and challenges humanity’s mettle and forbearance.
Disasters do transform people, individually and collectively, in more ways than one… They may harden the hearts and sensibilities of some, as they may soften the hearts of others, on some far ends. We do not really know… Those of us not directly affected can only sympathize, encourage and to some extent, inspire and be inspired in return. Indeed, it may take months for the country to regain its economic position, years to rebuild and, generations to heal the wounds… We can count the houses and buildings destroyed and compute their costs. We can calculate the livelihoods and businesses lost, and do estimates and plans for recouping them. What we cannot account for, with precision, is the extent and degree of damage to lives, homes, communities – to the relationships torn, suddenly, apart.
The Philippine business sector and the planners have already put their heads together and come up with the figures. Reconstructing the typhoon damage will cost about 6 billion dollars or 250 billion, in peso terms. Said amount is about one-eight of our annual national budget. Yolanda’s effect on the country’s GDP performance or income, on the other hand, is projected at 4% at the most. Yet, these figures only map out the financial and the business aspects of reconstruction and rehabilitation. Chances are, they hardly make sense to the woman in Tacloban City who will commence her life after the debacle – minus her husband and six(6) children. It remains the task of the people closest to the victim and the rehabilitation teams on the ground, to help her struggle, cope and believe – again and anew.
In business, the resources initially put in to get a venture rolling is called capital outlay. In this case, we may call the donations – humankind’s goodwill. From institutions as big as the United Nations, as powerful as the Swiss Bank, as known as the CNN, as revered as the Arab royalty, as established as Coca-Cola, as popular as Randy Jackson and Pink, to the unknown American, French, English, German, Japanese, Australian, Korean, African, Indonesian, who donated via credit cards, to the lowly employee somewhere, who sent over the equivalent of a day’s wage – to the thousand children all over the globe – who skipped lunches and opened piggy banks, so they could send a couple of dollars to the children typhoon victims in the Philippines.
A convergence of efforts, big and small – from soldiers and doctors packing their bags to help directly, to the call center agent donating her shopping money, to the President of Switzerland manning a desk, in a frantic bid to raise money for the victims – this relief fund appears to be about…
This particular instance of altruism by the world is more than governments aiding another, in a time of distress. This is more than UN, coming to help a Third world nation, in its regular aid roll. This is more than America, extending a hand to its former colony. This is more than Hollywood celebrities, in another act… It is people and institutions, established companies and start-up, tiny ones, popular, public figures and private, unknown individuals – humbled enough by misfortune to recognize sufferings of fellow human beings, urging them, “It is not your place to forage in the wreckage, roofless and wet. Please stand up.” It is a human voice, saying, “My little help can make a difference in the life of another.” It is humanity believing in itself, individually and collectively: It can affect changes, it can turn things around.
Stop hunger, stop stealing, bury and honor the dead and, put roofs over the heads of the children. These are men’s ideals, for thousands of years… For the first time, everybody – from the CEO, to the supervisor, to the utility man – thought these principles doable. He can pitch in, he can make these happen.
This appears to be not so much about the amount, as the currency and the form in kind and services, in which the donations come. Taken together, the voluntary contributions has the potential to do a geometric progression, to effect changes in people’s lives in ways we cannot accurately predict. It is a bit higher than your traditional charity. It is more potent than your ordinary aid. And in a sense, it is somehow more powerful than your usual capital. This is not your regular equity, though they may look to some as such. This came from those who did not turn away from the need of others, people they hardly know — screaming help from islands, the names of which they learned, only a few days ago… It involves the intangibles, the ideals and hopes of the donors and givers. This donation is a package of concern, care and hope. It is empowering both to the givers and to those given.
When one finally does the Math, it would seem that the sum of money, pledges, goods and services extended and will be extended to the typhoon victims, is a fraction of the long-run need. The sheer extent of devastation – more than six thousand villages flattened and laid to waste – may look daunting, at first glance… Still, this package is of extraordinary import, as it is also the first time that fund-raising for a cause has reached this pitch, coverage, scale and magnitude. How do Filipinos, who are at the receiving end of this gift, look at this particular gesture of the world? As huge tranches of money, to be distributed as your regular dole-outs, via the maze of our bureaucratic procedures? As another patronage tool, to be distributed to the wards? As largesse, to be sprinted away by our politicians, in the course of performance of duties? As business contracts in the wings, from which a select few may make a killing? As windfall money, to be spent eagerly and without thinking? This fund is sitting atop 5,000 dead bodies and 11 million discontinued and broken lives…
In traditional aid to countries, there is what is called local counterpart – an equivalent sum or a significant percentage of – to be generated domestically, plus the manpower and the efforts of the beneficiary. This, on the premise that the receiver stands to gain more in the outcome. Perhaps, this instance, the same principle should apply… Not all of the relief are in cash form, but a significant part of it, in goods and services. Thus, foreign engineer volunteers will be coming to the Philippines – to help build houses that can withstand storms better and to put in new sewage and sewerage systems; environmental experts will be flying in, to help assess the typhoon’s damage to our watersheds and bio-diversity; and yes, foreign psychologists, too – to help the typhoon survivors process their pains and losses, and help them get their bearings back. These donations are not in cash, though they come with price tags and unarguably, necessary and important in a rehabilitation effort.
Lastly, the bulk of relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation (cash and projects) will be managed and handled by private organizations, institutions and individuals. These entities will likely stay around for a good number of years, to monitor the developments and assess the impacts of their campaigns and efforts – to the target individual, family and community beneficiaries on the ground. The government, for its part, must coordinate the efforts – public and private – in a cohesive and effective plan to reconstruct and rehabilitate the affected regions and rally the nation’s support to realize the endeavor’s medium and long-term goals. In the long run, the government’s role is to see to it that the influx of funds and resources or the cash flow generated by the disaster, will foster growth in the affected regions and redound to the benefit of the disaster-stricken citizens.
The Visayas region is a prime source of migrant labor, internal and external. Thus, perhaps, one of the long-run measures will be what percentage of its working population can get back on their feet after the disaster, to resume productive and relatively normal lives again.
Right now, many tend to view the donations as cash transfers or subsidies to be distributed pronto. They are, the first three (3) months up to maybe, six(6). At least, a considerable portion of the funds and goods that are entrusted and pass directly through the government’s hands must be used, in the short-run, to aid the victims to survive physically and concretely. The first and early phase of helping the survivors is focused on relief - gathering, accounting for and seeing to it that they are alive, and putting in emergency measures on the ground. Mobilizing its social welfare arm (DSWD), the government must give out food, medicines and cash – without discrimination, elaborate scrutiny and long procedures.
Mobilizing its army and the local officials, it must search for and bury the dead, with all the haste it can muster. It must put the sick people and the traumatized in the hospitals, without delay. It must establish health centers, clinics and help desks in the disaster areas immediately, as it must ensure that sources of clean drinking water are available. The government must must likewise see to it that public markets are rebuilt promptly, the supply chain of basic goods in place and no hoarding and unfair pricing practices are happening in the disaster-affected areas. It must see to it that trade and commerce in the regions affected get back on business, in the soonest possible time. It must ensure that local governments at the municipality and city level resume office and function soonest. The national government cannot and must not take over the duties of the elected officials at the local level…
Allow me to be a pasaway (countercurrent) and say that it is not the government’s duty to provide jobs and to build houses for the people. It may do so, especially during extreme situations such as this one, but the cost at once limits the extent and length of time these can be done. Thus, it will be safe to assume, the jobs the government will create in the areas will be temporary, as well as the shelters.
Post-disaster scenario – the government’s duty is to shelter the children and see to it that they are fed and healthy, until such time that their families and surviving relatives are fit enough to work and provide for them. Likewise, it must make sure that schools are rebuilt and classes are resumed, as this is deemed crucial in facilitating normalcy for the children. The government’s role in job creation is to provide incentives for trade and commerce people, such that they will gravitate in the disaster-stricken areas and bring in employments. The government must signal the investors, through policies, tax incentives and short-term measures, that Leyte and Samar, the worst-hit centers, are growth areas. And they will likely be, as the bulk of the money, in the hands of the government and the private sector and donors, will be used for reconstruction of streets, bridges, public markets, school houses and homes.
The second and next phase of helping the Visayas will presumably be focused on reconstruction. Reconstruction will likely, largely be financed by the money, resources and efforts of the (private) donors, their local counterpart companies and organizations, with the help of NGOs and civic formations. The United Nations, for example, has already pledged to give fishing boats and start up capitals to small fishermen and small leasehold owners who are disaster victims. These will likely come in the form of direct grants or assistance, with the paper requirements probably shortened or minimized. The government, for its part, can also give out cash assistance for the first two years, plus open up loan windows for the farmers, fisherfolks and entrepreneurs, in order that they may put up and pursue their livelihoods again.
As the extent and depths of losses and destruction differ among families and across towns and villages, we can expect that the capacity and readiness to work, will also vary among the survivors. Thus, both the private and government arms involved in the effort, must make available various assistance menus and products (e.g., loan products) for the people.
Reconstruction is often proven to engender and bring growth in areas. Construction is the highest multiplier in most economies. But again, this sphere will likely be private sector-driven… The government’s role is to see to it that the procedures for doing them are in place and moving fast. More than that, it is duty-bound to inspire and coordinate the efforts and project long-term vision for the areas affected and the people therein. Voluntarism still plays a big part in the reconstruction phase. The national government arms that will be implementing projects on the ground in the disaster-hit areas will likely be line agencies, with minimal manpower at regional and town levels. They can very well employ the help of individuals in doing site visits, inventory and documentation of reports.
Likewise, reconstruction not only means setting up infrastructures, but also planting trees in the Visayas region. There are organizations and donors that have committed to doing this and they will likely employ the farmers and the locals. But private companies may and can incorporate this endeavor in their social responsibility programs, as partners.
The crucial phase is rehabilitation of the damaged areas and destroyed lives and communities. After surveying the damage and doing the inventory – houses, farms, stores, businesses, roads, private establishments and public facilities and infrastructures – those involved in the relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation program of the disaster-affected areas will likely sit down and decide what part of the effort can they take, deliver and how – given their organizations’ capacity, manpower, resources and commitment to the program. They will likely set targets, deadlines and measures – quantitative and qualitative; short, medium and long-term goals. In a sense, rehabilitation starts at the early phase of helping the devastated population, and ends when the set goals have been met and evaluated. Some areas have been hit from villages, to towns and up to cities. Some areas have been struck at village level only, while others, up to municipalities.
Just by looking at the Google pics of Tacloban City, before and after Haiyan, it looks like that part of the Philippines, is to be rebuilt from the ground up. Architects, engineers, business people, community planners and community organizers, as well as civic organizations, will probably play a big role in envisioning a brand new and invigorated Tacloban and making it happen.
Philippines, as a country, is not only archipelagic and disaster-prone. About 10% of its adult population does not even earn three (3) dollars in a day and probably, 30% does not even earn the set minimum wage. The Visayas region, Samar in particular, is historically, traditionally poor and conflict-ridden. Perhaps, the business side of the Yolanda disaster is: This could be Samar’s chance to rebuild its agriculture on a stronger ground and bring its commerce to a higher gear. On the other hand, Tacloban City is a port. Thus, this rebuilding effort could be its opportunity to establish another, bigger and more modern business hub or center in Central Philippines. But perhaps, we must not also forget that the business people, the entrepreneurs and the professionals in the areas have also been hit badly by the disaster. Thus, the manpower for the effort will likely be composed of people who are also dislocated, tired and suffering from temporary or long-term setbacks.
The Philippine government’s role is to inspire the relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts – that it can be done, with enough or sparse funds, with adequate or insufficient manpower. Inspiring confidence and showing decisiveness is the government’s chief role in this first of a kind debacle and opportunity. It must inspire the donors, the investors, the international community, the overseas workers, the local business people, the mass of Filipino people not directly affected by the disaster and the people affected and badly-hit by Yolanda – make everybody believe that the impossible can be done - that hope can be found in hopeless places and situations…
The government must have a blueprint of its impossible dream for the Visayas region that the people will believe, take as their own and see through to completion. Through the national economic planning (NEDA), trade (DTI) and agriculture (DA) arms, the government must provide direction to the frontliners who will rebuild the disaster-stricken areas. With or without this disaster, the national government’s duty remains to be – governance of the whole country…
At the end of the day, or the years, or the decade – it remains the local citizens’ imperative to rebuild their family lives, communities and societies. The challenge and the stake to get up from the ground are higher for them – that is where they grew up, have lived, have buried their dead and that is the place and the community they hope to pass on to their children… After all, that is what the relief package of the world must be about, for the typhoon survivors to live, live for the world… And if possible, with grace and dignity – not foraging, not homeless, not waiting for the relief and pity of other people…
A lot can probably be said and supposed about supertyphoon Haiyan or Yolanda, and how it so moved, alarmed and touched people around the world to give help. Maybe it is the digital and interactive technology that enabled giving and donating easier and faster. Maybe it is the state-of-the-art broadcast, the wide reach of cable services and the availability of the CNN channel in most of the world’s urban centers. Maybe, it is people coming to terms with the reality of climate change as an urgent world issue. Maybe it is hearing the panic in the voices of Chris Ducker, Paula Hitchcock and Anderson Cooper as they were reporting live from the Philippines, right in the eye of the super storm, in an apocalypse-like setting – but not some movies directed by Steven Spielberg or Mel Gibson…
Maybe it is the sight of wet children asking for food. Or, the confused adults without the energy and means to bury the scattered dead. Maybe it is the extent of the devastation, in so short a period of time, shown through the TV screens. Maybe it is the sight of so many people utterly lost and miserable… Maybe it is all these and the realization that lives could be snapped out that fast and easily… In these hurried and callous times, millions of people all over the world saw another person’s sufferings as his own. And did something about it: They chose to give. We chose to give… Maybe not all about Haiyan pertains to destruction and misfortune. Maybe it is also about faith, faith in our connected and collective humanity. Maybe, the world felt the human species to be under siege and for a moment, understood – redeeming and saving the self is by recognizing and redeeming the other.
This week’s news already carry different headlines, as Haiyan’s survivors have started to labor in obscurity, picking up the pieces and beginning again, in these hard times. The rest of the world will carry on, as before, perhaps …
But maybe, in the future, it will be recalled that at one point, the Filipinos’ misfortune, this side of the tropics, gave the world the courage to give openly and willingly… This gift of compassion, in turn, gave us the wherewithal and the strength to start again, press on and meet life – with its violent quakes, pounding rains and merciless winds.
And the intersection of that single act of generosity and acceptance, can perhaps be called - humanity’s collective soul, shining through…