THIMPU, BHUTAN – Up here in this remote mountain nation where I have been based this past month – in the last Himalayan kingdom and far from any ocean – my years spent in the Philippines as US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank seem so far away.
But the photos and footage of apocalyptic scenes from Tacloban and the numbers slowly emerging from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), UN agencies and others reporting on Super Typhoon Yolanda’s impact bring back all too clearly images of past tragedies in the region.
Many compare the storm surge that swept across the eastern Visayas to the tsunamis that devastated the Indian Ocean region in December 2004 and northeastern Japan in March 2011, killing tens of thousands.
An estimated 9.5 million people affected by Yolanda (international name Haiyan) across 9 regions of the Philippines. A total of 618,175 people currently displaced. At least 1,200 dead according to the Philippine Red Cross. Possibly more than 10,000 killed in Leyte alone. The initial numbers are horrendous.
As communications resume with cut-off communities, my fear is that the news and the numbers will only get worse. But there also will be great tales of fortitude, bravery and recovery, and examples of that indomitable Filipino faith and spirit that I also came to cherish and admire during my time in the Philippines.
I have faith in the Philippines.
Save as many people
In my own shattered city of New York after the World Trade Center fell to terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001, then Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear ultimately. And I don’t think we want to speculate on the number of casualties. The effort now has to be to save as many people as possible.”
So too, rightly, will be the near-term focus in the Philippines as government, aid agencies and humanitarian organizations mobilize to provide relief to the injured and homeless. Food, water and shelter are critical needs now. Rebuilding and reconstruction will follow.
In New York, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11, Giuliani declared, “The city is going to survive, we are going to get through it. It’s going to be [a] very, very difficult time. I don’t think we yet know the pain that we’re going to feel when we find out who we lost, but the thing we have to focus on now is getting this city through this, and surviving and being stronger for it.”
Substitute the Philippines for the word “city,” and the sentiment and call-to-action is just as relevant today. The Philippines will survive, and the Filipino people will get through this difficult time. And as difficult as it is to imagine now, the Philippines will be stronger for it.
A friend in Manila replied to my concern, with a simple message: The Filipino spirit is truly amazing, but all this reminds us how we cannot, and must no longer, take it for granted. There is so much work to be done.
As the tragedy of September 11 played out a dozen years ago, US President George W. Bush asked for “prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered and for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened.”
He prayed then that people “will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.’”
People of many faiths will have lost their lives to Yolanda. As with the Bohol earthquake just weeks ago, natural disasters make no distinction as to religion, ethnicity or gender. And so to all the people of the Philippines of any faith, and even of no specific faith, I say my thoughts and prayers are with you, as are those no doubt of people from around the world.
For nearly 4 years, I left New York behind to make Manila my home, and traveled across the country from Coron to Tacloban, and Batanes to Davao. And just as my own home city of New York rebuilt after a tragedy that I could never have envisioned, I know, too, that so will the Philippines. – Rappler.com
Curtis S. Chin served as US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush (2007) and is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC. He is a Board member of Community & Family Services International and World Education Services.