A week has passed since Yolanda’s visit, and though our country is known for its hospitality, we wish she had never dropped in at all.
In the past few days, local and international media have been bombarded by different stories, video clips and sound bites. There are heartbreaking stories of mothers or fathers having to watch their children die before their eyes; of people driven to loot and plunder out of sheer desperation; of countless bodies and debris littering the streets — streets that only days before had been full of life and energy and the hustle and bustle of ordinary life. Now there is only the haunting stench of death, sadness and despair.
It would be pretentious of me to know how these people, our countrymen, must feel. I have never personally experienced tragedy of this magnitude. Yet I do what little I can and give what I can give. We know a few people who have friends and relatives in the affected areas and we do what we can for them. I have nothing but admiration for those who are able and willing to go to the front lines, risking their lives to lend their much-needed assistance.
Some people have used the disaster as an opportunity to pontificate. Since I have a good number of contacts on both sides of the fence, I see all sorts of status updates. On the one hand, there are those who triumphantly proclaim God’s absence, or the uselessness of prayer. On the other, there are those who trumpet God’s goodness for saving this person who was their friend or relative or even their own lives, or those who point to their intact church building and proclaim it as a symbol that they are indeed the chosen ones, and being totally insensitive to those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their dignity.
Let me make this appeal to both camps: This is not the time to pontificate, to debate or philosophize — not with the pain so close and the wounds so tender. The same appeal goes to those who constantly criticize the president or this or that official, or media outlet, or whatever. The victims don’t really care about your opinions, your anger or your criticisms. All they care about now is food, water, clothing, shelter and the long road ahead for their lives to return to some semblance of normalcy.
The less time you spend on your rants, the more time you have to think of how else you can help, because if we take the aftermath of Typhoon Pablo as an example, these people will still be needing our help many months and even years from now, when the hype has died down and the media has moved on to its next darling.
Now is the time for comfort and healing, for care and compassion. Whatever our ideological, religious, or political differences, we are one in our humanity. There will be time and opportunity enough later on to argue and philosophize, but not now.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a friend who is part of an organization that gives a series of leadership seminars that empower people to take responsibility and ownership of their lives. I myself have attended these seminars and can attest to their effectiveness.
Recently some of the facilitators of that organization (who are also my friends) left to form their own group and give a similar set of seminars. I asked my friend how they felt about it and if there was any bad blood between the two organizations since it looked like they were set up to compete with one another.
Her reply surprised me with its sincerity and humility, and gave me a very deep perspective. She said, “You know, we don’t think about competition or bad blood. There is no place for anger and resentment. There are still millions of Filipinos who need to hear and learn these things we are teaching. There is so much work to be done. Let’s just do the work.”
Indeed, there is so much work to be done. Let’s just shut up and do the work. Volunteer. Give money or food or water. Support your charity. Suppress negativity and generate as much positive energy as possible. Our fellow humans need all the help and encouragement they can get.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.