The businessmen of Tacloban: What now?
MANILA, Philippines – What has become of our city?
In the afternoon of Saturday, November 16, this was the nagging question in the minds of about 50 business owners in the city hardest hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
They had never met as a group – and never even minded meeting as a group – before Saturday. It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy of this scale – considered the strongest typhoon to ever hit land in 2013 – to bring them together.
But the memory of Typhoon Yolanda is now 8 days old, and they could no longer stand what they call "red tape" and politicking in aid distribution.
Yolanda unleashed its fury on November 8, washing away homes, causing deaths in the thousands, and leaving the rest scouring for food to survive.
Business is not all there is, they seem to tell themselves now.
They have chosen to do business – earning from what others consume – for different reasons. Most of them out of filial piety, because their parents and their parents' parents have made trade and commerce their life's craft.
As profit is mistakenly associated by some with greed, Saturday afternoon was all the more proof of that false perception.
The afternoon was spent planning how to bring back a sense of normalcy, no matter how minute, in the city they have called home.
Now, they speak of priority needs for all: power restoration systems, road clearing, relief goods.
They intend to bring it there, no matter the cost.
In referring to their employees, the business owners use possessive pronouns. They call their employees their people, and they feel as much a sense of responsibility for them as they do for their families.
"We want to go there and take care of our people. Our people there are starving… Business will come later," one businessman said. He intends to go back to Tacloban on Tuesday, November 18, to do exactly that.
Catherine Tiu, a food supplier, said she welcomed employees in her home atop a hill during the storm.
Marilyn Go, whose family also supplies food, said they gathered, wondering about what had become of the people who call them "Ate" and "Ma'am."
"The employees are nowhere to be found, kasi sila mismo (because they themselves are) devastated. We have to locate our employees, give them relief goods," she said.
Looters from Samar?
As traders and sellers of Tacloban city, they felt their security at risk when people started ransacking homes for furniture and appliances in the aftermath of Yolanda.
Tiu said it was fine during the first two days. People were struggling for survival, after all.
Some of the grocery owners even willingly opened their warehouses for people to go in. Some, of course, weren't as gracious.
Tiu and Go both agree that the looting went beyond satisfying survival needs. Some even came all the way from Samar to get goods and load them in trucks.
"Mga tao namin taga-malapit sa San Juanico tumakbo sa amin, 'Ate, ang daming pababa ng truck galing San Juanico.' They saw thousands and thousands of people coming from the Samar side," Tiu narrated.
(Our people living near San Juanico ran to us saying, "There are lots of people going down trucks from San Juanico [Bridge]." They saw thousands and thousands of people coming from the Samar side.)
"Lawless" was the term they used to describe the situation, especially after witnessing prisoners escape from jail.
"Naririnig mong pumuputok, nagbabarilan, and nakikita mong naghahabulan," Tiu said. (You hear gunshots, firing of guns, and you witness a chase.)
Rising from debt
Yolanda destroyed structures and livelihood without discrimination.
One businessman said, if there is anything positive that came out of the tragedy, it is that you now know who you can count on.
"You get to know who your friends really are," he said. "Makikita mo yung tao, na maski ano, (You see that the people, whatever it takes,) they just give what they have to those mas (more) needy."
He added that the store owners would have willingly rationed their goods to survivors, after seeing the devastation caused by Yolanda. Looting prevented them from doing that.
Despite being visibly disappointed, they said they will go back to Tacloban once peace and order is restored. They don't mind living in less-than-ideal conditions, as long as they are secure.
When they go back, they will be in debt. Credit under their names will surely haunt them – credit that was to be paid by the supposed profit from their now looted goods.
A Tacloban-born entreprenuer said he wishes for a better Tacloban after Yolanda, one where people will work for what they have.
"Sariling sikap na talaga," he said, perhaps also referring to how he has grown his own business.
It is the same man who gathered the 50 or so businessmen to respond to what they, as locals know, are priority needs of Tacloban, no matter the cost. – Rappler.com