The Long View: ‘Bayanihan’

The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:55:00 09/28/2009

Everybody had somebody to worry about once the deluge began. By all accounts, two basic facts stand out: this is the worst flooding Metro Manila has experienced since 1967, and the amount of rain that fell in a matter of hours was comparable to the rainfall that submerged New Orleans during Hurricane “Katrina.” On Sunday night, the authorities estimated that 25 percent of the metropolis was still under water.

The downpour lasted hours, the misery will last many, many days. So many dead, so many stranded, so many have lost so much, and so many, even if safe, are consumed by worry and fear for loved ones or the frustration that comes from wanting to help, but not knowing how.

The stories are so many, all anyone can do is point to the ones he knows of in the hope that it will add to the total picture of so many from all walks of life rising to the occasion to do their small part in the face of such a colossal calamity.

This is my small contribution to that picture, and it concerns a very small subsection of society: the people who worked selflessly, for hours at a stretch, to share information, collate it, and by so doing to give those who otherwise couldn’t help something positive and genuinely useful to do during the gravest hours of the emergency.

There were media people – particularly Ron Cruz in ANC, Julius Babao in ABS-CBN, and GMA’s Howie Severino – who became the focus of the anxiety, alarm, appeals for help and rescue, of so many and who also helped focus the transmission of news and information to the public. They helped inform people of help lines to call, and kept people abreast of rescue activities being undertaken by the Red Cross and civic groups and institutions.

Together with Twitterers and Plurkers from all walks of life, by harnessing FaceBook and blogs, these journalists helped focus the energies of the old and young, here and abroad, toward a common goal: to ensure that cries of help weren’t ignored, that information would be shared and, by so doing, reduce panic and fear. A sense of community was created and bore fruit almost immediately when the rains subsided.

And here I’d like to put forward the example of Jiggy Cruz, who the country got to know when his grandmother, Cory Aquino, passed away. He was one of many filled with anguish as the news of the disaster unfolded, and no different from many other young professionals who felt so powerless to do something positive for his suffering fellow citizens. But he went ahead and set aside his frustrations and, instead, issued a call to action to people who’d expressed interest in volunteering for his uncle’s candidacy.

From early Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning, his efforts helped organize volunteers to prepare themselves to spring into action the moment it became possible to get together and gather and sort relief goods. So even as so many were still trapped in their homes, they had a common goal already in mind; by early evening, the call had been taken up by others for volunteers to go to Cubao Sunday morning to start working.

In the meantime, Jiggy, together with his family, had already put in place what volunteerism requires, if it’s to be effective: logistics and organization. Space had been allocated by Mar Roxas in his campaign HQ; alternative collection points in Makati had been pledged by other volunteers; and the effort was assured of funding both by Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas’ decision to pledge the donations to their campaign in Mindanao to flood relief: and so Tulong Bayan got to work. And continues to work.

The various candidates set aside politics in a time of emergency: Manuel Villar announced he’d send out dump trucks; as soon as he returned from Mindanao, Francis Escudero issued his own call for volunteers to do their bit.

But the larger story here, is not of the well-known, but of those of whom you will perhaps never hear again.

There were Serge Gregorio, Franklin Naval, Thomas Pestaa’o, Gisela Santos, Kaye Domingo, Jun Verzola, Eric Pestaa’o Smith, Vince Yamat and Jordana Calit. Together, they saw that so much information was being shared, but that it wasn’t being collated in one place. Together, they established a Google Map (their “Ondoy situation map for Metro Manila”) pinpointing reports from all over the metropolis, so that rescue workers, relief organizations and volunteers, the media and officials could have a reference point to figure out what, exactly, was happening—and where.

There were Edwin Soriano, and others who established another Google document (“Rescue InfoHub Central”) that allowed people to list cases of people requiring help and rescue (an SOS subpage); to the extent that cases could be evaluated (a Missing/Found People subpage) regarding the threat level to life and limb represented by each case, and the progress of rescue efforts tracked, too. With so many people in so many places requiring help, concerned family members and friends could focus their energies on reporting cases, while volunteers could identify where and how they could effectively help (Emergency Numbers and Where/How to Donate/Help Pages).

And there is Deng Silorio, who’s helped chart a path forward, because the time to begin planning for how to cope with the next emergency begins now. She identified the Sahana FOSS Disaster Management System, a web-based collection of disaster management applications that our officials, rescue and relief workers and volunteers, media, and ordinary citizens should examine so that it can be properly implemented in the future.

Like the dragon boat team that devoted its boats and members to rescue work, or a water business entrepreneur named Arpee Lazaro who gave away water to anyone who needed it, or Carlos Celdran who wrapped relief goods and lifted them onto trucks: bayanihan will get us through these terrible days.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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