Monday, September 28, 2009


I've just returned tonight from an overseas trip that I was supposed to begin posting about on my way to the airport last Thursday. In light of the tragic events that transpired afterwards, it's a good thing I forgot to hit the "Publish Post" button before I frantically flew out the door half-packed and half-witted due to a late night and an early flight.

The weather had been fine when we left although we had known a tropical depression was supposed to be on its way. The first frantic texts came in on Friday evening. I, like everyone else I was with, was blissfully unaware of what was happening in Manila until the texts started pouring in.

My first notice of the unfolding tragedy was when my maid texted, asking where I kept the spare keys to my cars. Puzzled, I naturally demanded why she needed to know that. "Sir, tumataas na po ang tubig, baka pasukin ang kotse ninyo. Baha na po dito sa Maynila, walang tigil ang ulan." was her reply.

As if on cue, one by one the people in my group started receiving news about the grave situation. Like the flood, the news - and its corresponding level of grimness - came first in trickles, before swelling and surging like a deluge. "Nag-evacuate na daw sina Carrie sa Marikina! Lampas-tao daw ang tubig!" "Nasa bubong na daw sina Frank at yung pamilya niya. Ganun kataas ang tubig!" "Panic buying na daw, hanggang labas ang pila sa Monterey!"

People started frantically texting their families and loved ones until one by one, the responses ominously stopped. "Nawalan na daw ng koryente sa Paranaque!" "Wala nang signal ang cell sites!""Diyos ko, ano na kaya ang nangyayari sa atin?"

Some fellow bachelors in my group worried about their unattended apartments and the belongings left exposed there to the mercies of fate. The married ones worried about their kids. While the younger singles fretted about their families and other loved ones.

But what could we do? We were miles and miles away. And even if we were in Manila - what could we possibly have done to prevent the tragedy from happening at all?

Helplessness comes in many forms. Those truly, truly helpless were our poor countrymen who bore the full brunt of this merciless catastrophe. Those who huddled on their rooftops in the night as swirling waters submerged their earthly belongings. Those who were swept away and lost in the raging rivers of death and destruction. And those who were stranded as traffic ground to a standstill, sitting ducks in stalled vehicles while the elements laid waste around them.

We, thousands of miles away, were also stranded in helplessness. And because we were away on what was initially a big, exciting, yet official business function, we could not stay in our rooms desperately watching CNN for updates after all the texts from home went dead.

We could only be impotent, hosted in a First World country, smiling while mingling with international VIPs as free champagne flowed in an open bar and endlessly replenished hors d'ouvres were proferred to us. As, thousands of miles away back in our Third World home, our countrymen were mired as floodwaters freely flowed in an open bar of death, ruining lives and ending some forever, and another endless helping of misery was being force-fed to our country.

Truly, tragedy is often marked by bitter irony.

My heart goes out to all who lost their belongings and homes. All who lost their loved ones. And all who lost their lives in this most cruel of random events.

And to my fellow bloggers who endured this catastrophe: unlike foreign news reports that tend to blur human suffering into yet another nameless, impersonal, sad but distant news item, your stories and your personal losses put a human face on this tragedy. I only became aware of the scope of this cataclysm from short news reports and truncated texts from home. Reading about your very personal, very real experiences made me aware of its depths, and it hits home.

This is a sad homecoming.


  1. "This is a sad homecoming."

    you wrote this really well. i feel very sad about what happened, especially when i read blog posts about it. it wasn't so bad in my side of the world but all you need to do is turn on the TV or take a walk outside to see how it affected and still affects all filipinos. truly, a very tragic experience.

    glad you're safe. :D

  2. @ citybuoy : Hey, Nyl. You're up late, too, eh. Glad to hear you and yours were safe from this storm. My family, too, was unscathed by this disaster, to the point that my brother was even able to pick up his kids from Makati last night without encountering any obstacles.

    Luck is random, yet I remain grateful for ours.

    I'm unsure if my cars went underwater when I was gone; the maid very tellingly did not answer when I queried her via text. She would only say my dogs were all right.

    I'll wait till tomorrow to find out for myself. And compared to what other people lost, even if my cars don't start, it would be nothing.

    Nothing at all.

  3. yup. couldn't sleep. too much coffee.

    i know what you mean. i feel a little silly, complaining about having nothing to do last night. all the while, some poor innocent people were losing houses, cars and loved ones.

    haaay... this whole thing just blows. super duper blows.

  4. What happened last saturday was unbelievable, regardless you're half a world away or in the eye of the storm. the only thing you can do is watch and pray that it'll be over.

  5. @ engel : Actually, disbelief was our initial reaction. After all, there was nothing on the news yet, and hearing about "chest-high waters in Metro Manila" just sounded too unbelievable.

    It was even harder to believe when you hear it while you're in a country with almost-perfect weather year-round, where poverty and want are unheard-of and where we were supposed to be enjoying a junket-cum-business trip.

    Of course, as you know by now, our initial disbelief was eventually replaced by shock, concern, worry, and eventually, helplessness.
    And then a kind of blank-faced resignation and acceptance. A lot like the stages of grief, now that I think about it.


    The storm may be over, but the aftermath remains.
    And grief. Lots of grief.

  6. I was in Manila that day and even I didn't realize the extent of the flooding until I saw the pictures on TV and the net the following day. Places that I assumed didn't get flooded were actually waist-deep in water... and somehow, not that much news about the España, Avenida, Taft areas. I guess they're used to the flooding

  7. Yes, thanks for the compassion via words. Mahirap nga to feel helpless din especially if we wanted to help sana. Real na real yung statement na the bachelors were worried about their unattended residences and those married about their kids. I live in Pasig and after checking out the river that we were told was raging just a meters away from our home, we witnessed how true the info was. We literally ran back to the house to transfer stuff from the ground floor to the next level.

  8. I have to comment about this passage of yours.

    "Those truly, truly helpless were our poor countrymen who bore the full brunt of this merciless catastrophe."

    From what I saw, it was the poorest who had least to lose from this tragedy. It was the higher income ones who were caught disastrously unprepared to deal with the situation.

    Nevertheless, these things make us realize that we're all equal under the grace (and temper) of mother nature.

  9. @ Rygel : Thanks for that input. Siguro nga kasi sanay na tayo sa delubyo kaya medyo parang "Ok, bagyo, big effin' deal" ang normal reaction natin. But it's when we see the very real evidence of the tragedy via pictures and video that we realize the true extent of the horror.

    @ Karl : Binaha ba ang bahay ninyo? I hope you and yours are all right.

    @ Knox: Actually, I meant "poor" in the sense of "kawawa",and not "dukha." But yes, it can also be interpreted that way.

    This flood was a great leveler in more ways than one. And while victims in the higher income brackets indeed had "more to lose" materially than the impoverished ones, I have no doubt their suffering and mental anguish were the same.

    And yeah - Nature can be a mutha, can't she?