I am writing this two days after Typhoon Vamco (Ulysses) ravaged a great part of the Philippines, striking right at the heart of Luzon and Northern Visayas with sweeping winds and roof-battering rainfall. The Category-3 typhoon took almost the same path as Goni (Rolly), a Category-5 Typhoon dubbed as 2020’s Most Powerful. So, yeah. We were not in a good place. Not in any way.
On Wednesday, I slept to the hard-hitting heavy rains pouring down our rooftop. On Thursday, I woke up to the creaking of steel that was our roof, bending at the motion of the wind that grazed against everything visible. All windows were shut. The water rose and seeped into the floor of our garage. We transferred all of our low-lying things just in case the water gets higher. Things were worse in flood-prone places like Marikina, whose nearby river rose to an emergency level, forcing residents to evacuate. Some did not. Some were left on the roofs of their homes and awaited rescue.
The same thing happened to many parts of CALABARZON; in Rizal, the heavy downpour mixed with the water release from nearby dams–this, in unexpected hours–toppled over two-story homes. Filipinos took it to Twitter to cry for help, frantically RT-ing information, and rescue requests. It was a breathtaking show of Bayanihan, which was ever alive in our hearts, but even that wasn’t enough.
No, because during these critical days, our top government official was nowhere to be found, has not addressed the storm nor encouraged the people, and when this person was able to give a speech, it was a 6-minute rambling of how he cannot swim (some say this was native Visayan sarcasm and Luzon-ers mistook it the other way), and that he was present. Before this person showed up, Filipinos trended #NasaanAngPangulo on Twitter. It seems that if there’s anything that needs to be done, we had to tweet it, trend it.
We’ve been doing that successfully over the two weeks of high-category typhoons.
The gentle sun shines outside my window, and the flood right outside our house has inched down. There’s still water, but not too much. Not as much water as in Cagayan Valley. Before I slept last night, Filipinos managed to trend #CagayanNeedsHelp, turning local Twitter’s attention to a place in the north yet uncovered by the media. There were a few issues, some tweeted; that media cannot get in without a period of quarantine after swabbing. But the media was badly needed in this severely affected region. The media should have covered that Magat Dam was opening seven of its waterways and should have warned the locals. The media should have told residents to flee to safety.
That media, the one with better reach, was recently shut by the government.
Don’t take me wrong. This is not about the trends Filipinos make on Twitter. This is about Filipinos voicing out their cries in places that had to be seen by the world so our government will be forced to act on their mandate. This is us knowing that only through our collective voices can catch the attention of officials who are trying to cover their ears and eyes in avoiding our pleas.
As of this moment, Cagayan Valley has sunk underneath 15 feet of water. Bodies were floating on the surface. With many electric posts destroyed, even the water has ground. Some say the water will still be rising as Magat Dam will open another floodgate. PAGASA updates, however, that the flood is slowly going down. We don’t know a thing. We’re just getting information from tweets.
Typhoon Vamco is out of PAR but the hurdle isn’t over. In the Philippines, the real struggle is life after the storm. Because for many, in a painful perspective, there’s none. Loved ones dead. Possessions destroyed. Homes flooded, if not complete wreckage. Everything is now covered in mud. This is Ondoy 2020 version, and it’s far worse than the first.
If you are reading this and found it in your heart to help, please do so via these organizations on the hashtag #ReliefPH.
This is not a Weekend Closing. Nothing about this will be closed. This story will be a wound that will forever scathe us, a cry unheard, a scar to those who let their people suffer not just in the storm, but in the lack of concern and empathy. Yes, this is an angry post. And if we are not angry about injustice, we might as well be dead.
Many have already died because of this negligence. And we’ll scream for them.