The True Spirit of Bayanihan
Before typhoon Ondoy hit us last Friday, I had been monitoring the direction of the storm as we laid out plans to go to the beach with the family on the weekend. For those who want accurate monitoring, go to typhoon2000.com,windguru.com, or windfinder.com. These sites will aid you in monitoring weather disturbances and the strength of wind and waves. I cancelled my trip after seeing that the storm was going to hit Central Luzon. The waves were as high as 3.8 meters, with winds raging at 20 knots or 38 km/h.
That Saturday, my daughter kissed us goodbye and headed for Alabang. She had a football game. Since it was too early, I did not notice the strength of the rain. When I got up, I was worried to see our garden (which had an excellent drainage) so flooded, it combined with our pool. Our garden looked like one big swimming pool. Immediately, I had my daughter stay in a relative’s house, as the SLEX was clogged. I was told later on that people stayed in their cars for close to eight hours.
Thousands of Filipinos also woke up with the same shock. We are lucky that it was just our garden. Other people’s houses were already surrounded with high levels of water. Cars were all submerged. I started to get a lot of SMS from people in trouble and stuck on the roofs. The only thing I could do was to forward all pleads for help to Sec. Cerge Reymonde. He acted on it, but requests for help were just so many and caught everyone by surprise. Rich or poor, no one was exempted of this tragic flood. It is one of the largest, as I recall, to date.
We grew up in Pasay City. We enjoyed most of our childhood days with an instant swimming pool every time it pours. Our house was at that corner of Edsa and Taft, which is now a family mall. My father was heavily into civic action with his Pasay Citizens League for Good Government, so relief operation for floods and fire was very common. I grew up with this kind of environment. Back then, Filipinos were very responsive to tragedies. This time, the different sectors were not ready for this magnitude of damage. Even most Filipino families that live in flood-prone areas did not expect the typhoon to hit them with such magnitude. As the PAGASA stated, one month of rain fell in just about eight hours. For a while, it felt like the time of Noah’s Ark.
Even our Go Negosyo TV host Gladys Reyes sent an SMS to my team, informing them of her situation. She was also asking if I had an amphibian truck, but I don’t have one. We heard her family was rescued by the heroic Judy Ann, Ryan and friends using inflatable air bed. There were also requests for chopper assistance, but it was impossible to fly during that period due to strong rains and wind. Most pilots from the private choppers are not trained to fly rescue operations.
We all have our personal stories to remember. I also heard the story of our Joey Pepperoni employees. They work in our newly-opened branch in Marikina. The water was so high that they tried to take refuge in the NCO call center in the same building. However, they were refused entry into the call center. They begged that they be allowed to stay there even just for a couple of hours, but the security guards still kept the doors closed. Our employees had no option but to swim for two kilometers, barely making it. Most of them were women.
I am glad that instead of criticizing the government and finding fault in the system, this time, most of the media called for support for the victims of the typhoon. There was an enormous response of support. Everyone I know to came to help in our relief operations. Go Negosyo and Gawad Kalinga pooled resources and manpower with RFM, setting up the RFM Relief Center in our two-thousand square meter basketball gym. The Go Negosyo entrepreneurs and Gawad Kalinga Corporate Partners came to donate and volunteer together with their families. A lot of celebrities, GK community members, and schools came to support. There are also a lot of corporations and entrepreneurs who set up their own relief operations, as the task of helping hundreds of thousands affected is quite big.
This is the true “Bayanihan Spirit” in action. While the rich and poor is affected, the rich and the poor also came together to help our Filipino brothers. For us, it was a family affair that reminded me of our childhood days, doing relief work in our small home in Pasay City with my brothers and sisters – more for fun that time. Marie, who is the most spiritual among us, led the operations in the relief center. My wife amazingly brought together close to 50 housewives from prominent families to cook adobo and hotdogs, contributing a total of 30 thousand meals for the victims. (I am sure their husbands didn’t like the smell of adobo all over their houses, as each wife cooked one thousand packs each.) It was heartwarming to know that all the women she asked did not say no. And, yes, the big businesspeople are doing their share by getting involved. My parents’ home was also turned into a factory of packed food, with all the grandkids working since classes were suspended.
While this has been one of the biggest tragedies lately, events like this make us stronger as a nation. It breaks the walls between the rich and poor and the compassion for each other is felt and seen. This is what brings a nation together. Rather than seeing people cursing and complaining, we see a lot of people moving forward, still smiling despite what has happened to them. Love ones have been lost. My condolences to the family of Red Bull Team Manager Tony Chua. I personally knew him during our PBA days. He came to his wife’s rescue but lost his own life.
Filipinos are unique and are battle-tested when it comes to the struggles in life. The true sense of patriotism is seen and felt in the bayanihan of the rich and poor. This is love of God in action. God bless our nation.