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Compassion in Desolation

Posted By : jeffrey infante | Posted : August 22, 2014
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The images of carnage in central Philippines were horrific, the scale of devastation unimaginable. In the immediate aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, bodies littered the streets of Tacloban City, Samar and other areas that had turned into a wasteland. Survivors walked dazed amid the ruins of flattened homes, toppled trees and downed power lines. The heart-wrenching picture of a mother grieving over her dead son inside a chapel has been seared into our memory. The killer storm left more than 5,000 dead and over 1,500 others missing.
In the mad scramble for food, survivors looted homes, stores, warehouses and hotels, even carting away appliances. And for days, government officials just froze, shell-shocked by the sheer magnitude of the devastation. It took time before they could get their act together and mobilize relief. “I didn’t even see any [sniffing] dogs,’’ commented CNN broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper, who blew into town to report on the devastation. Yet, there were the untold stories of everyday heroism; of victims sharing their home, clothes and provisions or what’s left of them, with their neighbors.

And then foreign aid came. We were suddenly deluged with it, and they came in waves. The US deployed its Navy aircraft carrier USS George Washington to Leyte, carrying 5,000 crewmembers, aircraft and helicopters, as well as water and food. In a matter of time, American personnel were flying MV-22 Ospreys – rotor planes that can take off and land like helicopters – to deliver relief supplies. Other US aircraft ferried over a thousand relief workers to hard-hit areas, and airlifted thousands of others displaced by the storm.

Soon, other countries from Europe and Asia-Pacific followed suit, dispatching planes and ships to ferry much-needed relief workers and goods to Ground Zero. Still others sent planeloads and shiploads of relief goods and equipment. Israel set up a field hospital in northern Cebu to attend to the victims; its medical personnel even delivered a baby. Australia also sent a hospital ship. Even China, which is locked in a dispute with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea, deployed a Navy hospital ship. More than 40 countries and several international organizations extended help.

It’s by far one of the most massive, well-orchestrated international responses to a disaster-stricken country in recent memory. And it’s just the kind of shot needed by our officials who had been immobilized either by incompetence, lack of preparation, or the dearth of resources to respond to disasters — critically, our very small fleet of cargo planes and helicopters — in an archipelago buffeted by an average of 20 storms every year.

Not to be outdone, Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra prodded NBA players to donate $250,000 to the US Fund for the UN Children’s Fund. Even Hollywood stars, and artists pitched in to raise funds for Yolanda victims. Filipino and American artists in New York auctioned their works for the victims. There are countless others who displayed selflessness, including 6-year-old ShoichiKondoh who shattered his piggy bank to donate 5,000 yen (P2,000) through the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, and the lady Army soldier who breast-fed the babies of victims inside an evacuation center.

While we are overwhelmed by the high death toll, the gargantuan damage to crops and infrastructure, and the enormous cost of rebuilding the ravaged region, we should count our blessings. We should draw comfort from the international solidarity that has come to our aid. But we should make sure that the aid gets to the victims intact.

Some say tens of thousands of our countrymen face a bleak Christmas. But isn’t compassion, an abundance of which we’ve seen and continue to see in the Visayas region, the heart of the holiday season?

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