By Richard J Ford
When I stepped off the plane on the 9th of September 2019, the first thing I did was give my green wrist band I have been wearing for six years to one of the workers at the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport or also known as Tacloban City Airport.
I made a promise that the green wrist band which represented the greening renewal of the land would be removed once I came back “home” to Tacloban, after the Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan as we call it in Australia was gone.
The day I arrived is also the same numerical date of the day the Typhoon struck the Visayas, the 9th November 2013. I was at the time deeply saddened by what has happened because my asawa (wife) Dian whom I am married to for some 27 years now is from Tacloban and so is the majority of her family from there and Jaro as well.
So I was very sad and frightened and in fear of her own immediate family’s safety in our house in Tacloban. Thankfully none of our family and friends was hurt or lost in the Typhoon, but the house was affected. So here is where I decided to write this article as a tribute to those who survived.
“Tacloban was the city hardest hit during the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. The super typhoon barreled through the provincial capital, affecting the 221,174-strong population, rendering 2,646 dead and 701 missing due to storm surges, strong winds, and heavy rainfall (NDRRMC, 2014). This event stands out in the history of Tacloban as the deadliest event in recent history”. Quote from: https://center.noah.up.edu.ph/yolanda-storm-surge-tacloban-city/
Now that I have observed for myself from the news media and my family pics, I saw for myself the changes that have occurred. I am not just talking about the infrastructure but something that goes to the very heart of the Filipino.
I am talking about the ethos, the character of the Filipino, in this case, the Visayan-Waray themselves.
I am humbled to see the tenacity of their being, the way they have been able to pick it all up and renew their lives from the devastating losses that would have personally struck at least many families.
I am humbled because where I am privileged to live in a country that is rich like Australia and then see these poor families pick up their lost lives and carry on again, it is so hard to comprehend.
Like the song, “You raise me up”, I felt the spirit of the people being raised to a new level, one that shows there will be a renewed city arising out of the ashes. As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The ability of the people to when conditions become difficult, people with a strong character become more determined, and that is what I saw for myself in the people of Tacloban City.
My asawa Dian agrees with me that there have been noted changes in the attitude, character and behavior of the people of Tacloban. Walking and travelling around Tacloban and other barangays, I have also seen many changes myself since my last visit in 2012.
One significant change is that before, it appears the people were taking their life and possessions for granted, but now it seems that they now “own” the place, meaning that they have become more helpful and caring for one another and the city is now clean and fresh because of what has happened.
Sometimes sadly, it takes a devastating and heartbreaking event to bring people back to reality and I believe strongly this is what has happened to Tacloban since that terrible event in 2013.
The signs that say, “I ♥ Tacloban” to me have more meaning than it has ever before and this has certainly changed their outlook on life. Knowing that life is short and can go in a split second has also increased their religious and spiritual zeal, meaning that they have become stronger in their faith, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Inglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), and so on.
The infrastructure which still has a long way to go has brought life to the fallen city. New hospitals and medical centres, new business investments, and an increase in hotel accommodation have been the biggest difference. A tourist boost plus the housing projects have given the victims a home of their own.
All these changes have brought hope to a lost people knowing that people in the outside world cared for their plight, to invest in their future. All this is such a great “morale builder” to those who lost everything, including family members, and children suddenly becoming orphans.
The will to survive had been manifested strongly in the way that I saw my heartstrings being pulled and melted, as I admired how they have recovered and rebuilt their lives together, not on their own, BUT TOGETHER.
It is still sad for me to see properties that have been left deserted and abandoned as they were in 2013, but rebuilt around, showing me that some lives have been lost forever and left as a sign to what lives have been unable to be rebuilt again.
The attitude of slowness in their daily life and time for siestas to relax has never changed and has also helped me to admire how much the people live from one day to the next. It was indeed one of my best holidays yet.
Thank you, people of Tacloban City, for an important lesson in humility and respect for such a humble, loving and caring example you have shown to me.
Richard J Ford is the PRO for APCO Inc., Vice President and PRO for both Fil-Oz Liverpool Inc. and the Visayan Association of Australia (VAA) Inc.