Last Friday, I decided to help out in the Villamor Airbase relief operations. It was around 10pm and I assumed that they might need an extra hand during the graveyard shift. During several hours there, I learned so much more about the situation our country is facing. Here are some of the stories that stood out.
As I was walking around the airbase, I tried talking to some people in the area. I assumed that most of them were victims from Tacloban. Surprisingly, some of them were waiting to get on a flight to go to the devastated provinces. I was shocked and asked them what exactly they had planned. Why would they even think of going back there? Most of them told me that they wanted to fly back to their hometown to personally look for their loved ones. On so many levels, regardless of how courageous their plans were, it was also very misguided and uninformed.
First of all, they had absolutely no idea what was going on in the airbase. All they knew was that planes were flying in and out of Tacloban and landing in Villamor. They decided to wait it out in the airbase, hoping they could talk the military into giving them a seat in their C-130. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Secondly, assuming they got back to their hometown, their plan was to look for their relatives on foot. They had no previous contact with them which meant they were going to be looking for needles in a dangerous haystack. If they managed to find their relatives, they also mentioned that they were hoping to get another ride with the military back to Manila.
From one perspective, we could look at their efforts as very silly and borderline reckless but then again, desperate times call for desperate measures and our situation definitely fits that bill. I guess my takeaway from this story is how devastating this calamity has been. On top of that, even those who were not directly affected are being driven to careless and illogical decisions. I can only pray for them and hope that proper guidance goes their way.
I felt so helpless because even if I had the chance to set them straight, they just seemed so determined that they actually might lash out on me if I told them to back out of their plan. I could see in their eyes that they had their plan and nobody was going to talk them out of it. Oh, and they had been waiting in the airbase since 3am that day. I spoke to them at 1am of the next day.
There have been a lot of donations and goods being delivered to help our fellow Filipinos. Earlier that day, a volunteer explained to me that they were supposed to repack goods but were not allowed. The reason being that the government agency spearheading the relief operation had not given plastic bags that had their logo on it!
That’s just downrgiht selfish! Victims of Yolanda are waiting for relief goods, everyone all over the world are sacrificing to give what they can and yet this government department delays the distribution because they can’t put their name on each bag being given out?!
I’m hoping this was an isolated story or the message was exaggerated as it was passed along because it is unacceptable. Not only is this an issue during normal operations but what more during a response to a unprecedented disaster?!
What’s next for the victims?
I was able to speak to a family who had just arrived in the base. They mentioned they had relatives in Novaliches but had no transportation. Volunteers were asked if they could lend their cars but there wasn’t enough organization and coordination to ensure that all the victims were going to be taken care of. These families had no money, no cellphones and no work. Yes, I’m extremely happy that they don’t have to live in the devastated areas but how far can they go if they can’t sustain themselves in Metro Manila?
The government department in charge was severely undermanned and unprepared to handle the influx of victims. I’m aware that this disaster has had overwhelming effects on our country but our weaknesses to response to these situations are being heavily exposed. We can’t expect our government to be perfect and fully prepared for such a calamity but I do hope that they learn from this. In the future, I hope we have better response solutions in place. I hope we use this experience to improve instead of drowning in self pity for our current missteps.
Big hearts, no system
I’ve always believed that human beings have this ability to do amazing things when they work as a unit. It’s a proper example of the whole being exponentially more than the sum of it’s parts. Right now, that’s what we need. We need a system that unites us all so we can attack the problem with great efficiency and speed. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we were lacking last friday.
In Villamor Airbase, there were no maps or signs that told me where to go. There were no steps to follow when the victims arrived on the tarmac. Everyone was littered all over the base that you couldn’t tell who were the victims or who were the volunteers. Yes, there was some semblance of organization but it was nowhere near the level needed to properly make the most out of all the manpower and resources available. A good example was that, when I asked several people, none of them could even name or point out who the director of the whole operation was. Where was the leader? Who was in charge? Thank god for those volunteers who were trying to create a system out of thin air but that will always be lacking compared to a holistic plan that synergizes the efforts of everyone.
Personally, even if I was there to help, I still felt useless at times because I knew so much more could be done.
If you have more stories that you want to share, be it good or bad, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @mikaeldaez