There is much to applaud about the efforts of various people’s organizations, Church and ecumenical humanitarian groups and media outlets to bring aid to the victims of Tropical Storm Ondoy. Without their outstanding help, it is highly likely that the death toll would be much higher, and the suffering of the survivors would be even worse (yes, impossible as it may sound, it could still be worse).
Having said that, however, it is tragic to see how much help is still needed and how urgent it is to bring that help now. More and more children are falling ill, and their condition is further exacerbated by the fact that the health of their own parents are slowly deteriorating. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that many of them have not had a good night’s sleep since Friday– before Ondoy arrived and turned their lives upside down and on the wrong side. In the meantime, subsisting on canned goods, biscuits and instant noodle soup is never anyone’s recommendation for good nutrition.
Their must be more help to be had! There must be more that could be done to help them, and now!
How, I am not exactly sure. One feels so helpless, and not even the awareness that thousands of Filipinos are now doing their best to help provide relief for the victims is consolation. It’s not a happy thing to know that the help being given is far from being enough. There is no comfort to be felt by those in the relief missions because of how well aware they are that the aid they are giving resembles drops of water in a wide desert and its permanently high noon. They can only give their time and their strength and their goodwill, and pray that more help comes in.
I have been ruminating over the entire concept of providing relief aid. Without question, it is a good and noble thing on the part of those giving the aid (especially if they don’t think about it at all and give themselves pats on the back); but I’m thinking how it must feel like for the recipients.
They must be grateful, I am sure. In their desperation and bewildered state, it is certain that they are very thankful for any and all kind of help they’re being given. But on then on the other hand, it must also be somewhat painful for them to be on the receiving end.
Yes, they were already poor before the calamity struck; but they lived in whatever dignity and independence they could muster. Majority of them worked for their own keep, relying on their own strength and their creativity to scrape a living and to bring home food for their children and families. Perhaps many bought their furniture second hand, or on installment; the same goes for their televisions and their DVD players and whatever appliances they also had in their homes. They did their best to keep their children clothed and fed; and worked hard to keep their children in school and out of the streets.
All this no thanks to the Macapagal-Arroyo government or its predecessors. All this without help from local officials or even those from higher positions (No, financial assistance from congressmen or any similar ‘aid’ is not really aid: it’s taxpayers’ money, and Filipinos who ask for help from local officials are only exercising their right to receive it. As for the officials who give it, they’re not saints: they’re just doing their duty as public servants).
And now, in the wake of Ondoy, these same Filipinos who worked and slaved for their families, who dreamed of simple dreams for their children and hoped nothing beyond keeping their families together despite grinding poverty and the worsening economic crisis, now these Filipinos have been reduced to being charity cases.
They are now forced into the roles of mendicants, and they cannot even see beyond the next meal. The future is too far for them to see: surviving from one hour to the next is already an ordeal in the cramped evacuation centers where the heat is stifling, where there are not enough sanitation facilities, where boredom can take the toll on anybody’s already restless mind and troubled spirit. Desperation clings like second skin, and not even the hum of the ever-present mosquitoes and flies can distract one from the fear of uncertainty: where will they be in a week? what will happen to the children? how will they rebuild their homes and their lives?
This is one more thing the government and the system should be held accountable for: for snatching away the remnants of dignity left to so many Filipinos.
National media sites are rife with reports of how the Macapagal-Arroyo regime squandered funds initially earmarked for disaster operations, and how the government knew beforehand that a calamity was coming because of reports they received from the meteoriologists. Did the government initiate any preparations? No. And now another strong tropical storm is coming and we are all left fearing what could come next.
I suppose the main goal now should be this: helping the victims reclaim their dignity. And to do this means going beyond giving the much needed emergency goods.
It means helping them see their options other than returning to their lives pre-Ondoy; it means, helping them see beyond the horrible tragedy of the moment and giving them strength to claim their rights and demand it from the government who was tasked to protect the people but instead abused the powers it was given. It means opening their eyes to the truth that this tragedy, the nightmares given life because of Ondoy, were man-made and could have been avoided, and that similar tragedies can be stopped in their tracks.
It means enjoining them to help fight this system of corruption and oppression, and encouraging them to participate in efforts to create a better society, putting together a humane and compassionate government, and laying down the foundations for a new way of life where preserving human dignity and life and upholding social justice take precedence over personal gain and selfish ends.
Because in the end, so long as this kind of government remains, this kind of system continues, we are all victims.