The Structure of Filipino Resilience: A Reflection on Yolanda Experience

On November 9, 2013, Doc Averell U. Aragon posted in
Pilyo Club something from the CNN about the Pilipino people and supertyphoon Yolanda that hit our country the day before; checking over the net, this is what I found more about Dr. Aragon’s post:

“TIME to get to know the hardy Filipino people.…unbelievably resilient, long-suffering, good-natured, uber friendly, loyal, ingenious and a bunch of survivors.

“At the end of the day, the Filipinos will just shake off the dirt from their clothes and thongs, and go about their business…and SMILE. They do not complain much, they will bear as long as they can.

“Maybe this is why they were given the ‘privilege’ of bearing the burden of the strongest typhoon ever recorded.”

This was just one of the numerous praises received by Filipinos on the CNN website yesterday after Super Typhoon Yolanda, considered one of the strongest typhoons in the world this year, battered the country with catastrophic winds and heavy rains on Friday.

The heartfelt comment was posted by dudesk001 on the Comments Section of the CNN article entitled “Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of strongest storms ever, hits central Philippines” written by CNN reporter Jethro Mullen. The article was posted on the CNN website on November 8, 2013.

As dudesk001’s moving message spread online and made the rounds of several Facebook news feed accounts, thumbs up notes for the Filipinos’ resilience continued to pour into the Comments Section of the CNN articles on Yolanda.

Grateful Filipinos also sent their messages of thanks to those who sympathized. There were also some racist remarks which earned negative comments from Philippine citizens and foreigners.

Some of the other messages read:

Bonifacio Arapan: “the Filipinos are one tough human race with the help and mercy of our GOD we will get through this,thank you to all of you who prayed for our safety and to all who showed their concern even if they dont know anyone here in the Phillipines To GOD be the glory.”

Anthony: “May God give the peoples of the Philippines the strength and guidance to ride out this storm.”

Aubry Prince Carlisle: “I don’t see how anyone could joke about something so serious. I am certain that if this was someone they (the jokesters) truly cared about (e.g., family, friends, spouse) they wouldn’t be making insensitive jokes about people dying. Nothing about this incident is remotely laughable. Death is not amusing. And trolling is not an excuse to express ignorance or crudeness towards others.

Be Walters: “To know any Filipino is to love them. I believe the worst storms only hit the places with people best equipped to deal psychologically with the aftermath. You can kill some people and take out trees and houses, Mr. Typhoon, but you can never alter what makes that place special.”

rb1948: “Three tours taught me that the Philippines is a great country with hardworking, decent people. Good luck to my Filipino friends.”

Sdgman:“This is heartbreaking. The Filipino people are great friends of the United States and we will stand by them and help them through this.”

A 26 Nov 13

The comment above, said to have come from CNN, is considered a praise to the Filipino spirit, that of resilience but what is “resilience”? I think “resilience” is the capacity to mobilize resources not only to protect oneself, or family, and community, from the more devastating impact of a traumatic experience but also to access what ever little external resources there is to survive, recover, rebuild and keep moving forward in life stronger.


Personally I only have an abstract idea of the supertyphoon and probably every Filipino did have the same as mine. It was the first time I heard of Typhoon Signal # 4 and while many thought that it might really be strong a typhoon, nobody seems prepared enough for it. The Inquirer describes the supertyphoon Yolanda experience as follows,

Deadliest natural disaster
The Philippines endures a seemingly never-ending pattern of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters.

Residents pulling relief goods pass by dead bodies that lie on the street after powerful Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. AP

This is because it is located along a typhoon belt and the so-called Ring of Fire, a vast Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

However, if the feared death toll of above 10,000 is correct, Haiyan would be the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the Philippines.

Until Haiyan, the deadliest disaster in the Philippines was in 1976, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the Moro Gulf on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, killing between 5,000 and 8,000 people.

Haiyan set other apocalyptic-style records with its winds making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year, and one of the most powerful ever recorded.

Witnesses in Tacloban recalled waves up to five meters (17 feet) high surging inland, while aerial photos showed entire neighborhoods destroyed with trees and buildings flattened by storm surges that reached deep inland.
“The effects are very similar to what I have seen in a tsunami rather than a typhoon,” the Philippine country director of the World Food Program, Praveen Agrawal, who visited Tacloban, told AFP.

“All the trees are bent over, the bark has been stripped off, the houses have been damaged. In many cases they have collapsed.”

A: 26 Nov 13

I found this on CNN website comment told by an online administrator,

“The only thing that can be done for these poor people now is to pray for them. This storm is one of the worst ever, and considering the housing over there is sub-standard, the death toll will be in the thousands and the homeless and displaced people will be over one million. Damages will be catastrophic. They will have a storm surge that will wipe out everything in sight, with a 195 mph wind, and I don’t even want to think of what that will be like.”

Several days after the disaster and the whole world getting its gears together to provide relief, I am reflecting about the the disaster and the notion of the “Filipino Resilience”. There is a book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled David and Goliath that I am reading, which somehow opened my mind and understanding on what it means to be resilient. In the section of the book where Gladwell discusses the “advantages” of disadvantage, he covered a discussion on resilience. He argues that something disastrous can bring out the best in a person and that becomes the person’s advantage. What are the responses of people to something terrible and traumatic? The Psychologist McCurdy gives us the Theory of Morale,

“The morale of the community”

“Traumatic experiences can have two completely different effects on people: the same event can be profoundly damaging to one group while leaving another better off” (Gladwell, David and Goliath, p.134)

After the disaster, the people can grouped into three – the casualty, the remote miss (Directly hit survivors) and the near miss.

1. The casualties (dead)
In the aftermath supertyphoon Yolanda,

TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) – At least 10,000 people died in the central Philippine province of Leyte after Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, lashed the province, swallowing coastal towns, a senior police official said on Sunday.

About 70 to 80 percent of the area in the path of Haiyan in Leyte province was destroyed, said Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria.
“We had a meeting last night with the governor and the other officials. The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died,” Soria told Reuters.
A: 26 Nov 13

Latest count says the causualty is about half the initial estimate. CNN updates the count as follows and its (supertyphoon Haiyan) impact:

(CNN) — The death toll from this month’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has spiked to 5,235, a national agency reported early Saturday.

That figure — posted at 6 a.m. (5 p.m. ET Friday) on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s website — marks a significant increase from counts earlier in the week. On Thursday, for instance, the toll stood at slightly more than 4,000.

The same agency also reported that 23,501 were injured due to the epic storm, with 1,613 reported missing. The missing amount is 31 higher than a day earlier.

The monster typhoon left behind a catastrophic scene after it made landfall on six Philippine islands on November 8, leaving many without immediate access to food and medical care.

It flattened some communities and displaced about 3 million people.

A: 27 November 2013

2. The Directly Hit Survivors
We are most likely wondering what happened after Yolanda passed through Tacloban City. What did the people do? How was it like to be there? Below is a description of the experience,

“Tacloban is totally destroyed. Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families,” high school teacher Andrew Pomeda, 36, told AFP, as he warned of the increasing desperation of survivors.
“People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food, rice and milk… I am afraid that in one week, people will be dying from hunger.”

Those who survived do not only think of staying alive but also find the strength and courage to take care of their dead if they can. Below is the story according to Patricia Evangelista,

“The bodies are piling up. Tacloban, Tanauan, Palo, village after broken village.

“We are told there are none left, the streets appear clear of everything but debris, until the corpse truck trundles down the road, the men in masks and gloves trudging into side streets and alleyways, coming out in pairs hoisting white Red Cross body bags. Sometimes the bags are laid out on the road, unzipped, checked, marked with felt pens.

“The journalists follow the trucks, foreigners with tripods and fluffy boom mikes. Sometimes it is old women who follow, hanging on from the backs of motorbikes.

“Their sons are inside, they say. They want to know where to pray.”

A: 26 Nov 13
Patricia Evangelista, Multimedia Reporter
A candle on a trench
Tacloban City November 20, 2013 9:02pm

Seeking relief is necessary and when there seems no more resources that can be found in their place, people move for survival. Cito Beltran describes it this way:

“It helps that people in Tacloban have tried to find relief elsewhere, some walking hour upon hour as if re-enacting the Jewish Exodus. Last Wednesday while waiting for my flight at Mactan airport I chanced upon passengers disembarking from a Philippine Airlines flight out of Tacloban, they all had one thing in mind; to get out and wait until there is law and order, or start all over but not in Tacloban. From the looks of it, Cebu City or Cebu province stands as the new Promised Land while Tacloban has become “The Dead City.””

A: 26 Nov 13
Posted on Friday Nov 15th at 5:00am

CTALK By Cito Beltran
What will come first: Law and order, or total anarchy?

3. The near miss (Other Survivors)

There are other people who have also been hit by the supertyphoon but while their houses had been destroyed, their community or town ravaged, trees uprooted and fell, none of their family members had been severely injured and nobody died. In areas like in the province of Capiz, there were fewer dead and many have remained alive after Yolanda passed through them. They must have felt strong enough if not invincible.

“Zak and I are saying goodbye to Tacloban. For now, at least. Kuya Roque, Lito, Arnold, Jorge are on their way back via Allen, while Paterno, Patricia, and Naoki stay behind.

There are no words to describe what the past week has been like.

Haiyan took away so much, too much, from the Visayas. It will take a long time before life will go back to normal. It will take a long time before normal can even be a tangible thing.

But after meeting survivors who smile despite losing everything, aid groups that continue to come in despite the conditions, and the volunteers who give their all to help strangers, I can’t help but feel that there is hope and we will prevail…as we always do.”

A: 26 Nov 13
Bea Cupin, Multimedia Reporter
Leaving Tacloban
Tacloban November 23, 2013 1:54pm

Finally, there were those who refuse to become victims but victors. Below is an FB post by Edicio Dela Torre that exemplifies this,

I don’t know if you read this story posted by Eldie Nollora David. It inspired me to make my second poster to promote Balay MIindanaw’s message: “We refuse to be victims. We choose to be resources.” This really moved me. The boy’s name is Benjie. He is one of those whom we call “street children”. He literally begs for money everyday outside Mang Inasal along JC Aquino Ave., Butuan City. He was within the vicinity in one of our drop-off stations in our donation drive for the victims of typhoon Yolanda manned by members of the Alpha Phi Omega. One of our volunteers in the drop-off station was surprised when Benjie came near to the station and handed to him a P1 coin. Apparently, he was giving his “donation” taken from the proceeds of his begging. That caught everyone by surprise. But the story doesn’t end there. Several minutes later, Benjie came back to the station and again gave another P1 coin (apparently this was after he was given P1 by begging). Maybe he realized the his first P1 donation was not enough that’s why he came back and gave another peso. Even if in the current situation of Benjie where he stays in the vicinity to beg for money, notwithstanding the many occasion where he is ignored, he possess the value of being socially responsible. If in his young heart and mind he already felt the responsibility to help those in dire need, the more that we who are not in his situation should feel the same kind of responsibility. Even with the small “earning” that he has, he shared it to those in need. I hope everyone can reflect on this. While almost everybody expressed sadness in FB after seeing the plight of the typhoon victims in the Visayas, we can be more significant if we extend whatever help we can give. Let us be “BENJIE” at this time where thousands of our countrymen are dying and suffering. LET US ALL HELP! By: Edicio Dela Torre

There is another priest who spoke about hope after the disaster.

“Father Petilos urged people not to focus only on the misery.
“Even if we have this kind of situation, there is still hope,” he said, noting that some families in the city had begun the long, slow process of rebuilding their lives.

“Yes, we may have been damaged,” he said. “Devastated. But we’re not dead.””

A: 27 November 2013
Ipinaskil ni Chot Velasquez sa 2:00 AM
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Mga etiketa: climate change, climate entropy, disaster, resilience, supertyphoonyolanda

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