A decade hence
TACLOBAN CITY– Joanna Sustento-Bacsa, 32, has already made peace with Super Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ (international name: Haiyan) the world’s most powerful typhoon to hit inland in recorded history on Nov. 8, 2013.
Ten years after losing most of her family members, Susteno-Bacsa, said that there is “so much growth” happening to her today as a Yolanda survivor and a full-time mother to her first-born son.
“[My son] is a very symbolic person in our family. Him coming into our lives 10 years later really says a lot of how much love grows in me, how much love grows in our family,” she said.
“So much have changed, but we are still here doing the work for climate justice,” she added, as she now aligned herself with an advocacy of the “climate warriors” group.
In 2017, she became of face of Yolanda survivors in Tacloban City, the ground zero, when she joined Greenpeace’s expedition in the Arctic to protest on oil drilling, which her group blamed for climate impacts.
“The 10-year anniversary of Yolanda in Eastern Visayas is a time to celebrate survivor’s resilience. Over the past decade, they’ve shown courage and unity in rebuilding their lives and communities,” said Nacional Mercado, mayor of Maasin City.
“This event reminds us of the need for disaster preparedness and resilience in the face of climate change. May we continue to rebuild, thrive, and inspire others to protect our planet and its vulnerable community,” he added.
For Alren Beronio, a young photographer in Borongan City, he recalled how he volunteered his skills for the Catholic Church’s diocesan media office.
His documentation of the typhoon devastation eventually led him to land a job in a local newspaper.
“I ventured into the affected areas of our province, as well as Samar and Leyte, to document the situation through my photos and share it on social media in an effort to seek help,” he said.
After documenting the different stories of losses and survival in the devastated areas, Beronio said he “was fortunate to witness numerous opportunities for assistance, realization about the strength of human spirit, and countless acts of kindness.”
“It was a time when we witnessed both the depths of human suffering and the heights of human compassion,” Beronio wrote.
In 2016, the United Nations Office for Coordination reported that the total aid poured to the typhoon survivors have reached $865,151,866 (or P41.8 billion), with the United Kingdom as the top donor.
While Borongan City Bishop Crispin Varquez recalled the “lives lost, the families shattered and the communities uprooted,” he also pointed out the “countless acts of heroism and selflessness that emerged in the midst of the chaos.”
“We acknowledge the pain and grief that still linger in the hearts of those who survived and continue to rebuild their lives. And we recognize the hand of God guiding us through the darkest of moments,” the prelate said.
In Palo, Leyte, one of the hard-hit areas during the onslaught of Yolanda, Archbishop John Du, of Palo Archdiocese, led the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Hope of Palo on Nov. 8.
“Our God has never abandoned us, and he has given us a mother—a mother to whom we could express our grieving, sadness and mourning. She accompanies us in the journey and difficulties if life,” Du said.
During the visit of Pope Francis to Tacloban City, the Virgin of Hope of Palo was placed in the open-air altar for the Papal Mass for the survivors on Jan. 17, 2015.
On Tuesday, November 7, a group of “climate walkers” also arrived in Tacloban after a 30-day journey from Manila for a solidarity work for climate justice with the survivors for their 10th commemorative activities.
“Our journey does not end here. Because our real destination is in people’s hearts and minds–for climate hope to take root and yield results. As we mark the 10th year since Typhoon Yolanda devastated the country, let this journey remind us that we are not walking alone,” the Climate Walkers said.
“Our voices, our family, and our hearts are stronger than ever. And this collective voice will resonate with the whole world as we keep standing together to call for climate justice,” they added.
Captain Hettie Geenen, of advocacy ship Rainbow Warrior, said their second tour in Tacloban “left an impressive amount of memories, especially the stories we heard [by] just listening to people.”
“[After Haiyan] I had to go out there and learn how Tacloban should recover not only economically, but how do we preserve our resources on how do we now correlate all the other issues affecting our lives?” recalled Tacloban Mayor and Haiyan survivor Alfred Romualdez, as he also worked for the climate resilience in the city.
“While planetary problems require global solutions, action must start in the community. In a world that forces us to forget and ignore, sharing stories becomes a heroic act,” added climate advocate Jerx Aliposa.
Call for climate justice
According to Greenpeace, communities in the Philippines that are least responsible for climate change are on the frontlines of the crisis, losing their lives, homes, and livelihoods from floods, storm surges, landslides, destructive winds, and intense rains brought regularly by super typhoons.
During his commemorative speech, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. maintained that “putting our experience at the heart of this event reminds us of the calamity that brought unimaginable destruction to the Visayas, to the Philippines.”
“It serves as a poignant reminder of the power of nature and our vulnerability to that power. More importantly, it underscores the importance of disaster risk reduction and management in the Philippines,” Marcos Jr. said.
“The Filipino spirit is incredible. It has been demonstrated during and in the aftermath of Haiyan and of coronavirus disease pandemic. Our ability to come together, to support one another, [and] to rebuild during such adversity is always an inspiration,” he added.
He urged the Filipinos “to learn from this experience and make sure that such devastation will be mitigated or somehow prevented because we are now better prepared and we are now better adapted to the vagaries of very severe weather events.”
Yolanda affected over 14 million Filipinos across 44 provinces, damaging about P95.48 billion of properties and infrastructures, and killing over 8,000 people, mostly in Tacloban.
(RONALD O. REYES)