It’s been 3 days since the devastating storm that has now paralyzed most of the southern islands of the Philippines. Although technically we felt the typhoon in the Metro Manila area it was tame by comparison. Even though satellite images appear to cover the entire Philippine archipelago, the only significant weather I remember was sporadic rain and a few gusts of wind. The past few days have been surreal considering the southeastern islands’ damage reports coming in are catastrophic. It’s been hard acknowledging the damage in Samar, Tacloban, and Leyte knowing the distance from Manila to these regions is comparable to the drive from my house to Holy Cross.
I feel like not many people know about these islands and places in the news: Samar, Tacloban, and Leyte. This island chain in the Visayas primarily speaks Waray, a Visayan (central and southern island) language. While most Filipinos speak Tagalog and English, many who originally come from the provinces speak an alternate language. In the southern islands, the two predominate languages are Cebuano and Illongo. This region also was very famous for decisive World War II battles including the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which saw the US Navy sinking the Imperial Japanese Navy’s biggest battleship ever constructed. This battle contributed to the legend of US Naval legends like William ‘Bull’ Halsey and even more so to Army General Douglas MacArthur who in an iconic photo stepped foot on Leyte fulfilling his promise to return to the Filipinos and Americans who had been overrun by the Japanese three years prior. Thus, the region is still very much ingrained in the consciousness of many people.
Although I haven’t been to these areas, I know of them through second hand experience. During my internship with the Embassy last summer I was tasked with escorting the US Pacific Fleet Band to their performance venues in Manila. A week prior to their visit to Manila, they steamed into Samar and played a concert that was so pleasing to the 7,000 residents that the mayor of Samar declared them citizens for life and asked that they live out their days on the island. After seeing some of the videos of these performances on YouTube, I was really inspired by their enthusiasm for music.
The devastation has been horrific, but I have seen so many Filipinos ready and eager to help. Volunteers are making aid packages across the country in offices of the Department of Social Works and the volume of donations to the Red Cross and other organizations has been widespread. The Filipinos embody this spirit of pitching in through ‘Kababayan,’ which literally translates to countryman, treating other Filipinos with love and kindness and trying to help them back on their feet. This spirit of ‘Kababayan’ is mutually felt across the world through Filipino immigrants all pitching in to help out the typhoon stricken regions.
After seeing several natural disasters including one earthquake and four typhoons, I don’t know how to describe the spirit of the Filipino people through adversity. The closest thing I could come up with is their spirit is like a yo-yo, a Filipino invention. While natural forces work to push them down, they are resilient and stick together like glue in order to work against whatever tries to keep them down through a collective willingness to improve their quality of life.
Paul Fontelo '13