Haiyan survivors to Pacquiao: Help us

Paterno Esmaquel II
In typhoon-hit Tacloban City, a place of tears becomes a place of cheers

NO TEARS. Typhoon Haiyan survivors in Tacloban cheer for Manny Pacquiao, who beat American boxer Brandon Rios in a fight in Macau on November 24. Photo by Carlo Gabuco

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Clutching a SIM card she got from a donor, 58-year-old Emma Parientes took the muddy steps into an auditorium Sunday, November 24, to watch a fight that she saw as a source of comfort.

Parientes found herself in this place, too, half a month ago. Back then, fear and uncertainty filled the Tacloban City Convention Center, which sheltered her and hundreds of Tacloban residents from Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

On Sunday morning, cheers erupted from this place of tears.

Hundreds trooped to the Tacloban City Convention Center to watch their hero, boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, in a make-or-break match with the younger Brandon Rios.

Inside this astrodome, Parientes took her seat an hour before the fight began. She looked around, then fixed her eyes at an area right behind a giant screen. It was filled with memories.

Less than 10 minutes later, Parientes started wiping her tears.

Umiyak ako kasi naalala ko ang kalagayan namin dito. Hindi pa man nagsimula ang bagyo, diyan kami. Ang akala ko, mahimbing ang tulog namin,” she said in an interview with Rappler. (I cried because I remembered our condition here. Even before the typhoon hit land, we were there. I thought we would be sleeping well.)

CHEERING FOR MANNY. Signages in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban City have changed: from calls for help to expression of support for Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao. Photo by Patricia Evangelista

‘To forget my problems’

Parientes said Yolanda almost killed her.

While thanking rescuers she survived, this mother of 11 is now alone. Her children live elsewhere.

Her husband, Alberto, is missing.

Like her husband, over 1,600 people remain missing after Yolanda swept away homes and tore families apart. Over 5,200 people died.

Among the living, Yolanda affected over 10 million people – including Parientes.

Parientes said the boxing match will make her forget her problems.

Kasi kung mag-isa lang ako, iyak nang iyak. Naaalala ko ang mga anak ko at ang asawa ko,” she said. (Because when I’m alone, I just cry and cry. I remember my children and my husband.)

Parientes added, “Sana manalo si Pacquiao para matulungan niya ang mga taong mahihirap galing sa bagyong Yolanda.” (I hope Pacquiao wins so he can help the poor people after Typhoon Yolanda.)

Parientes got her wish past noon on Sunday. Pacquiao defeated Rios via unanimous decision at the Cotai Arena in Macau.

Typhoon survivors clapped, cheered, and waved Philippine flags. It was another sign of hope in this ravaged city. (Watch more in the video below.)

‘Help us’

Talagang nagdasal ako para manalo siya para makatabang siya sa amin, para makaraos din kami dito sa ano. Ibabangon namin ang Tacloban,” a woman said. (I really prayed he would win so he can help us, so we can pick up our lives. We will rebuild Tacloban.)

The boxer promised to help them, she added.

Ngayon nanalo siya; aasahan na lang namin, ‘di ba, kung magbibigay talaga siya. Pero alam ko magbibigay talaga ‘yon,” she said. (Now he won; we will just wait for it, right, if he will really help us. But I know he will really help us.)

Junjun Mabini, 31, said the boxing match lifted their spirits.

‘Pag nakita namin nanalo si Pacquiao, nawala ang problema namin, kahit na nabagyuhan kami, nasira ang bahay namin,” Mabini said. (When we saw that Pacquiao won, we forgot our problems, even if a typhoon hit us, even if it destroyed our houses.)

Waving a Philippine flag, he faced the camera to address the boxer.

Mabini appealed to Pacquiao for help – for food, for milk, and even for a simple visit.

“Ang mensahe ko lang kay Pacquiao: Pacman, ito dala dala ko ang flag natin, ‘yong bansa natin. Sana pumunta ka dito ng Tacloban. Tulungan mo kami sa kalagayan namin ngayon,” Mabini said. (My only message to Pacquiao: Pacman, I’m holding our flag, the symbol of our country. I hope you can go to Tacloban. Help us recover from this condition.)

For a day, this place of tears became a place of cheers. From Pacquiao’s winning match, typhoon survivors returned to their daily battles – with one more thing to smile about. – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.