Japan sends Filipino-speaking aid workers to calamity areas

Bea Cupin
Japan's medical mission in the typhoon-hit areas comes with workers who speak the Philippines' national language

BREAKING BARRIERS. Shigehiro Matsuda from JICA. Photo by Rappler

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Mary Anne Moraleta survived the storm surges of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan). While hopping from house to house, however, she got her foot trapped between ripped off roofing from her neighbor’s house.

The wound has been bandaged but not cleaned. She’s scared to have it cleaned at a nearby clinic set up by the Japanese because of the language barrier.

Siguro kung Pilipino, okay ako, at least p’wede kong sabihin na dahan-dahanin,” she said. (I’d be okay if medical workers were Filipino. At least I can tell them, please be gentle.)

Moraleta doesn’t need to worry. Shigehiro Matsuda, a deputy team leader of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) contingent can speak fluent Filipino.

Malakas kasi ang relasyon ng Hapon at Pilipinas, siguro wala kaming choice na hindi pupunta, hindi tumulong sa kaibigang Filipino,” he told Rappler on Tuesday, November 19. (Japan and the Philippine have strong relations. I guess we can’t choose not to come here, not to help our Filipino friends.)

The JICA team arrived here Thursday, November 14. By Friday, they were conducting medical services and delivering relief goods to areas in the Samar and Leyte islands affected by Yolanda.

Matsuda learned Filipino at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, where he studied for 2 years. He’s no stranger to Tacloban City either.

Ilang beses akong nakapunta sa Tacloban City kaya siyempre alam ko kung paano ‘yung lugar na ito, kaya talagang malungkot ako noong makita ko ang kalagayan,” he said. (I’ve been to Tacloban before, so I know what it looks like. That’s why I was really saddened to see its state after Yolanda.)

Another team of JICA members is set to arrive in Tacloban within the week to continue medical and relief services in the islands. Other team members can also speak Filipino, Matsuda said. Filipino members of JICA also help.

JICA is only one of the many international groups that have come to the Philippines to help in Yolanda relief operations. At least P11.65 billion in foreign aid has been pledged to the country. Some $52 million of it coming from Japan.  

“Resilient” is an overused word to describe Filipinos when disaster strikes, but it’s what Matsuda would use for the victims of Yolanda. “May mga ngiti pa sa mukha nila, so medyo relieved na ako,” he said. (There are smiles on their faces so I’m a little relieved now.) – Rappler.com

Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.