Isabela

A little over a week ago, I flew to Isabela along with a handful of other reporters to cover President Noynoy Aquino’s visit to areas hit by typhoon Juan.

Behind me is a Philippine Air Force plane

When we went to a disaster-stricken community in the province, I saw scenarios that I had also witnessed during my typhoon Pepeng coverage in Pangasinan last year: trees torn down, houses and various other buildings damaged, and hungry families gathered in a hall as they waited patiently for relief goods.

As we waited for the arrival of the officials who were visiting another area, a fellow reporter and I looked around for a restroom.  There was a local health center nearby, so we entered and asked if we could use the restroom there.

The 30-something woman inside, an evacuee, let us in with a smile, and then apologized profusely because there was no water in the toilet.  It was a painfully touching situation: there she was without a home and without food to feed her family, and yet she was apologizing for not being able to clean up the toilet for us visitors. We immediately told her there was no need to apologize.

I’m not sure if many people in Manila realize how lucky they are that our region doesn’t get hit by typhoons very often, unlike some provinces in northern Luzon. Some students here complain that their classes were not suspended on time, but other Filipino children are not even left with the option to go to school because their buildings were either flooded or damaged.

As a reporter I get to witness disasters from various perspectives: officials’ and volunteers’ and victims’. It’s always the last that gets to me.

I don’t know how to end this post without sounding inappropriately self-righteous or preachy, so let me just share an excerpt from something I wrote after I covered Pangasinan last year:

I met so many:  fellow media practitioners out to get the news no matter what, ordinary citizens braving the flood just to go to their jobs that will put food on the table, children dancing in the rain.

I got a glimpse of how disasters can bring out both the worst and the best in some people. The worst, in some of those who pushed even mothers carrying their hungry, crying babies as they scrambled for food and relief goods. The best, in the countless volunteers and officials who took the time and the effort to go into the most remote parts of the province just to extend assistance to those in need.

Disaster

Among the special reports I’ve done so far, this story on how the presence of informal settlers along the Manggahan Floodway contributed to the massive floods tropical storm Ondoy caused last year is one of my favorites.

I’m posting this because I think it’s timely since there are a bunch of strong cyclones coming in the next three months, thanks in part to the La Niña phenomenon. Let’s see if stakeholders have learned their lesson this time.

Save for lacy curtains and a crumpled poster of a perfume bottle, the first floor of Sarah Hernandez’s small concrete home is completely bare. Whatever was spared by Tropical Storm Ondoy was moved to the second floor, where she, her husband, and their two young children have stayed for the last three weeks.

On a recent sunny day, with news of another storm approaching, Sarah finally found time to clean. As she looked around the emptiness with a cleaning broom in hand, Sarah said, “Para tayong bagong panganak (It’s like the day we were born).”

One month after Ondoy dumped a record amount of rainfall on Metro Manila and its environs, Sarah and her family are like the untold thousands still far from recovering from the storm.

But in a way that could compound their misery, the Hernandez family and their neighbors are different from other victims. Living along the Manggahan Floodway, one of the biggest flood control projects in the country, they are also being blamed as culprits for the most devastating flood the metropolis has ever seen. READ MORE