Victims need help to ‘shake off the dirt’

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My eyes reddened as I looked at the picture – a grieving father carrying his lifeless six-year-old daughter to the morgue in Tacloban City, a morgue that I could imagine wouldn’t even be able to accommodate the young girl, with hundreds already inside and hundreds more lying on the streets covered with newspaper, blanket, banana leaves and whatever the residents could get.

 

Imagine the emotions that were engulfing this man while he was grieving over his young child’s death — worrying about the fate of his family and friends, worrying where to find food and shelter for his wife and other children, seeing lifeless bodies everywhere, wondering what future lies ahead for them, watching desperate neighbors wandering aimlessly around while others looted stores, and seeing how the typhoon “Yolanda” wiped out his entire town.

Multiply that sad scene several thousand times, and you can imagine the tragedy that befell the people of the provinces that were hard hit by the super typhoon, one of the strongest on record ever and the strongest to make landfall.

The pictures and videos tell them all – totally destroyed homes and buildings, upturned cars, fallen trees and electric posts, bodies lying on the streets and sidewalks, wounded and soaking wet survivors wandering like zombies, crying mothers carrying shivering and hungry young children, people lining up for food and water, people shifting through what remains of their homes trying to recover valuables, rescuers digging through debris to look for survivors and the dead, a huge cargo ship sitting on destroyed homes, desperate people looting stores and malls, woods and tin roofs that used to shield families now lying on streets, and many more emotion-draining scenes.

These are very tragic times for Filipinos, especially those from the Visayas who are still reeling from an equally devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake just a few weeks ago. Can you imagine being stricken by two of the most devastating natural calamities in the world within a few weeks of each other? It can make you buckle under your knees and just give up.

But Filipinos, as the late President Manuel L. Quezon once said, are pliant like the bamboo, a trait that CNN noted in a recent news broadcast on the super howler.

“Time to get to know the Filipino people… unbelievably resilient, long suffering, good natured, uber friendly, loyal, ingenious, and a bunch of survivors. At the end of the day, the Filipinos will just shake off the dirt from their clothes and go about their business… and SMILE. They do not complain much, they will bear as long as they can.

“Maybe this is why they were given the “privilege” of bearing the burden of the strongest typhoon ever recorded.

 

“The indomitable spirit at its finest.”

It may take longer this time to “shake off the dirt” for these “unbelievably resilient, long suffering, good natured, uber friendly, loyal, ingenious… bunch of survivors,” and they will need all the help to pick up the pieces and get back on their feet.

Their recovery will depend on how those not affected by the super typhoon will come to their aid, especially the millions of overseas Filipinos who have the means to help.

We can blame the government for not preparing well enough for calamities, such as these, knowing fully well that at least 20 typhoons visit the country every year. We can blame the government for not using millions of foreign aid given in the past to prepare the country for these calamities. We can blame the government for not building better and sturdier typhoon shelters. We can ask why the senators and congressmen and even President Aquino could not put some of those billions in pork barrel funds to build those shelters. We can ask why the relief goods were not flown to the provinces in the path of the typhoon before and not after the devastation, when damaged and blocked roads and damaged airports and ports now prevent their timely delivery.

But at this time, the interest of the people of Visayas and Bicol would be better served if we paused with the blaming and started coming to their aid.

It is in times of tragedies, calamities and disasters that the true character of a people is measured. And I am proud to say that Filipinos have shown that they are capable of sacrifice, unity and selflessness in this and past disasters.

It is heartening to know that overseas Filipinos all over the world are doing their share by raising money to help in the relief efforts and by gathering much-needed items, such as canned goods, medicine and clothes.

For years, overseas Filipinos have kept the Philippine economy afloat, while at the same time bringing some comfort and relief to their family and friends, by dutifully sending in their remittances to the homeland. More than ever, it has now become incumbent upon overseas Filipinos to again come to the aid of their countrymen devastated by yet another natural disaster. Understandably, the prolonged economic slowdown would constrain our ability to help. But if more people would pitch in this time, it would certainly go a long way in helping the affected families recover from this latest tragedy.

One concern that has been raised during these relief efforts is the restrictive laws that pertain to donations from overseas organizations. One particular law that, to my mind, must be relaxed even for a few weeks is the prohibition on the sending of used clothing.

Republic Act No. 4653, otherwise known as “An Act to Safeguard the Health of the People and Maintain the Dignity of the Nation by Declaring it a National Policy to Prohibit the Commercial Importation of Textile Articles Commonly Known as Used Clothing and Rags.” In compliance with this law, Section 105 of the Revised Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines stipulates: “Donation/Importation of used clothing shall be strictly prohibited to safeguard the health of the people and maintain the dignity of the nation.”

This strict provision of the law was made after it was discovered that tons of used clothing that were purportedly sent from abroad as donations to needy Filipinos were being diverted to shops commonly known as “ukay-ukay.” At the same, it was established at that time that some recipients of the used clothing contracted diseases that were traced to the used clothing.

While we understand the lawmakers’ concerns, the government must consider the desperate conditions that now prevail over the areas inundated by super typhoon Yolanda, where hundreds of thousands of people lost all their belongings, including their clothes. These people will get even sicker if they can’t replace the wet clothes on their backs. Will people even understand the meaning of “dignity of the nation” in these desperate times?

Cash, is of course, the donation of choice, for the simple reason that it can get to the country fastest and, in addition, can help stimulate the Philippine economy. But in these difficult times, many overseas workers can ill afford to give out cash, but would be willing to give away old, but still usable clothes and small groceries and goods that they can purchase from Walmart and 99 Cents stores.

Provincial organizations, especially those representing provinces that were hard hit by “Yolanda,” must take the lead in raising money and needed goods for their province mates. Filipino-owned companies must pitch in whatever way they can. Other Filipino organizations and non-profit groups must be relentless in their fund-raising and relief efforts.

Whatever people can pitch in, the bottom line reflects one of the two popular sentences that typing students often use for practice: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

 

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