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Faith, hope and courage: Three years after Yolanda

COMMEMORATIVE events, like the one organized on the occasion of the third year of typhoon Yolanda’s devastation, are intended to allow us to look back and remember what are the important things in life.

In the case of typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), we can choose to remember the enormity of the destruction it caused. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), 9.8 million people were affected and more than 600,000 were displaced. The latter was due to the fact that 550,900 homes were destroyed and half a million more damaged. Haiyan was indeed one of the most powerful and destructive typhoons recorded in the whole world.

We can also opt to review the problems in the response and rehabilitation programs in order to learn from them. A number of individuals and organizations have done that precisely to improve their capacity if, and when, disasters strike.

Perhaps the saddest part of the Yolanda story aside from the tragedy it brought is the fact that three years have gone and many of our kababayan continue to suffer. Local officials in affected areas have reported that settlers continue to build temporary homes on no-build zones along the coastlines particularly in Tacloban City.

For some reason, many of the victims have not been given permanent homes yet three years after their houses were destroyed by the super-typhoon. Many people complain that government is not fast enough in building permanent homes for Yolanda survivors three years after the deadly storm left them homeless.

Others still complain about poor housing plans and the lack of livelihood opportunities. These are valid complaints that need to be addressed. I am glad that President Duterte has promised to use all the resources of government in order to address these issues. I am confident his new administration can remedy these problems.

But I choose to remember the bravery of those affected by the super-typhoon who refused to simply become victims, but who decided to rise up and fight back against the hopelessness that enveloped their area immediately after the tragedy.

These survivors, these heroes, hung on to faith, hope and courage. I vividly remember the visit of Pope Francis in Tacloban in January 2015. That scene has been forever etched in my mind seeing many of the survivors drenched in rain and the Pope, braving torrential rains in his yellow raincoat, praying and communing together in faith and hope amidst pain and sadness.

As painful as the devastation was, I am constantly heartened by those who employed the good old values of “sipag at tiyaga” in picking themselves up after the storm. Tragedies, while sad, are fertile opportunities for the rise of heroes.

And on this third year commemoration of the tragedy, let us remember those who perished and say a prayer for their souls. But let us also honor the survivors who, through persistence and hard work, took control and rebuilt their lives.

Despite the difficulties and the problems, Yolanda survivors not only survived, they also thrived. We need to use this occasion to continue helping them. To use a cliché, let us not stop helping them help themselves.

In addition, we also need to celebrate the bravery and selflessness of those who rushed to help those affected from day one up until today as the work of rehabilitation continues. Government agencies, foreign institutions, non-government organizations, businesses and ordinary citizens who chipped in anywhere from one peso to millions of dollars in donation. Some of them contributed hours packing goods or building one house after another.

This is what the Filipino is all about. Maybe I am just an optimist but despite our penchant for self-criticism, I still believe that we have a great country and an even greater people. Despite our differences, we still love and care for one another.

In his homily during that visit to Tacloban, Pope Francis summed up this bond that people have with one another in times of despair:

“Let us respect a moment of silence together and look to Christ on the cross. He understands us because he endured everything…We are not alone. We also have many brothers who in this moment of catastrophe came to help. And we too, because of this, we feel more like brothers and sisters because we helped each other.” (Senator Manny Villar)