Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas after Yolanda

THE wrath as seen in the aftermath of Haiyan a.k.a. Yolanda are still all over Eastern Samar and Eastern Visayas as a whole. But the media myopia simply gazes at Tacloban and Leyte. I do not mind this at all except when it gets in the way of reaching all victims in Eastern Samar as well as the whole Eastern, Central and Western Visayas, that need help till this very second. I personally do not relish the infighting among our political leaders, although it would help a lot if the national government stops making up excuses and simply makes up for its undeniable failures at timely, steady, organized and continuing response to the victims, considering their real needs and problems, among others.
            On my first trip to Manila A.Y. (After Yolanda) I must admit to having gone through an I.T.P.D. (Increased Trauma Post Disaster) syndrome (pardon my having just coined the term) as I was seeing again and again the ravaged coconut trees (our main source of livelihood in Eastern Samar), flattened houses, damaged crops and properties from the safe comfort of a van bringing me to Tacloban airport. I thought of how the killer Yolanda winds and waves have somewhat spared the greater part of my parish (only the shoreline houses, cottages and structures were brought down flat) and not the likes of Balangkayan, Hernani, Matarinao, Giporlos, Balangiga, Lawaan and many other towns and barangays in my province alone. I looked at the people along the roads and byways. There was a heroic effort to return to normalcy, except that the effort was always met by the abnormal everyday scenery of devastation. Till now I marvel at our people’s survival skills and endurance that can only be explained by both past experiences with extra strong typhoons and an undeniable faith in God. For instance, anyone who has seen the extent of Yolanda’s damage in places such as Balangkayan, Hernani, Guiuan, Giporlos and Lawaan would be in awe that only more than 200 hundred casualties are officially recorded not only in these places but in the whole Eastern Samar as well.
            It should make us pause that artists, singers and other celebrities, local and international, are among the first to feel for and with the victims, no matter their race, religion, gender or orientation. But the publicity and media mileage they generate should not make us turn a blind eye on many other local and international groups who, out of sheer human compassion, come to the aid of victims and the Filipino nation as well. Sometimes I wonder if God allows disasters to happen to wake humankind up to their fellow humans, which is not to say that we do not regret their human toll in lives lost and untold suffering caused. On the other hand, who would deny that crises born of disasters have a way of making human beings look beyond the color of their skin and the other biases of their minds and hearts to our common and basic identity as members of a big, big human family? Does this not in itself raise the question of why it should take disasters of great magnitude for us humans to realize the fundamental truth of our human brotherhood and to stop wars and self-destructive rivalries born of hegemonic ambitions? Is not the Yolanda cataclysm ironic in that a disaster sidelined the poisoned relations among nations, which in themselves are a sure recipe to mutually assured destruction among us?
It was so obvious there are gaps in the disaster responses by various groups. Some places, such as Guiuan or Tacloban, are given an avalanche of attention and care while other places, with less media presence hounding their post disaster lives, are left to their own devices. I know for a fact that the Diocese of Borongan and, to a certain extent, the provincial government are trying hard to address these gaps. But their resources are understandably very limited. Thankfully, some local and international aggrupations, through whom we feel the compassionate hand of Mother Church, like Caritas Manila, Gawad Kalinga of CFC, Catholic Relief Services, truckloads of relief and service personnel from other dioceses of the country, Caritas Germany etc., have been on hand to provide us much needed help. Again, the brotherhood of humanity is something we in Church proclaim as not only a matter of belief but also of practice.
This Christmas there should not be a grand celebration in Eastern Samar. But this Christmas will be laden with a lot more meaning and spirituality. We certainly will feel the poverty, vulnerability and lowliness of the baby Jesus in the manger. We will go through same insecurity and deprivations we so lovingly gaze upon in the Holy Family. It should be our hope and prayer that the same blessed emptiness wake us up to the grandeur of God’s humble but unfailing love.
In a place called Brgy Bagtong, near Salcedo, Eastern Samar, I saw a vast heartbreaking scene of coconut trees either blown down, cut up or twisted in all shapes and directions like candles in the Super Typhoon winds. But, to my surprise, a farmer was in the same area. He was planting camote and camoteng kahoy that had now covered almost a hectare of fresh vegetation against a backdrop of wanton devastation. That, I believe, sums up the Eastern Samar spirit. A spirit that runs in our blood up to and beyond Christmas, as we prepare with St. Joseph to stand by Mama Mary, ready to extend all the care we can, on her way to giving birth to him who brings not only cheer but the gift of God’s heavenly kingdom even in the impoverished hovels of the earth.