I have a problem that should not even be a problem: Ever since I was in college, somebody often greets me “Happy Chinese New Year!”
You would probably reply, “So, what?”
The problem is how do you exactly respond to such question properly?
You see, it is true that I have Chinese blood. I think it is obvious with my physical traits: almond eyes, round face, sallow complexion and thin lips. But to how much am I Chinese, the answer is I don’t know. My grandparents from both side of the family are all mestizos or mixed blooded.
That is why I could say “Thank you very much! Same to you!” However, that would also feel so wrong. The reason: I grew up not practicing any Chinese tradition except eating tikoy or nian gao in Chinese New Year. I think all Filipinos are now doing it now, though. Worst, I do not know of any relative who could actually speak and read Chinese.
However, if I said, “No, I’m not a Chinese.” A part of me feels like I’m lying. It is like I’m denying my Chinese ancestors who probably braved through the stormy seas on the West Philippine Sea from China just to be here. Also, how can I explain my physical Chinese traits? How would I also explain my surname which sounds like a decent from the Chinese.
But of course, my body has some other stories to tell because of my other bloodline coming from Spain. First, I am considered a tall girl in the Philippines. I am only 5’5 but you see, most girls here are only 5’0. Also, my body frame is unusually large if you compare my bone structure to other girls. However, the weird thing about having a large frame is having unproportioned hands and feet. People I know wouldn’t believe that my shoe size is only 7! My face is round but you could also notice how prominent my cheekbones are. I have this wavy hair that has a mind of its own. I colored my hair into creamy, light brown now but my original hair color is chestnut brown, another unusual trait for a Filipina. Also, my eye color is almost in the shade of honey; however, regular Filipinas have black to very dark brown eyes.
So who am I?
I am a Filipina.
I don’t think that we are still living in an era where the true Filipina beauty are solely confined to those ladies who are brown-skinned and large expressive eyes. The Philippines now are considered one of the biggest melting pots in the world. We can now see people that are seemingly from different parts of the world in our school or neighborhood.
Also, we must not discriminate others. Nobody now has the right to look down on others just because one looks different from the others. We must embrace our uniqueness. We are the colors of the rainbow if only we could be one.
I am indeed happy living in an era where we are having this openness in the subcultures of our society. We no longer have classes during the end of Ramadan to give respect to our Muslim brothers and sisters. And now, we are also in vacation for Chinese New Year for us to join them in their most joyous occasion.
Yes, it doesn’t bother me any more being called Chinese or looking like a foreigner in general. I am like a product of the Philippine history by my mixed genes. I am a Filipina purely under these unique traits. And I’ll forever be proud as one.
When September 26, 2009 happened in my life, I really thought that my world was crushed big time. Residents of Metro Manila and the nearby provinces will never forget that day because that is the day when the typhoon, Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) submerged parts of the Luzon island in the Philippines.
Our house never experienced flood prior to Ondoy. However, that typhoon brought so many rains that it made La Mesa Dam overflow. It overflowed so much that it sank our two-storey house up to my neck in our second floor. It forced my mom, my brother and our house helper to climb the roof of our house. For seven hours they stayed there helplessly. We only rescued them that night. The next day, when we returned to our house, we cannot enter it. Debris of everything, mostly the ruins of the informal settlers, was somehow gathered in front of our house. With the help of our neighbors, we were able to make a tiny passage to our house and when we got in, everything was a mess covered with gunk. The stench was deadly. Almost everything is wet. In fact, it took me a week to wear clothes of my own. For days all I’m wearing was clothes coming from relatives and friends. Everything was ruined and the big questions then were “Can we ever go back to normalcy?” and “Where will we start?”
And now, flash forward to November 2013, I really felt guilty that I even questioned God why that Ondoy tragedy happened to us. Yes, a lot of our things were ruined but our house was intact. We also never went hungry. Our money could still buy goods and services of people who helped restoring our house. Electricity was restored in three days. We have relatives nearby who has a house big enough to provide us shelter at night. Some of our electronic gadgets were restored after just cleaning and drying it. In five weeks, our lives somehow returned to normal as we returned living in it. The best part is none of my family members or neighbors were seriously injured or worst, dead.
Thus, even if I am a typhoon victim too, there is just no way to tell those typhoon victims that I know what they are going through and they could make it like we did four years ago. Despite that very misfortunate day, I just fully understood recently how blessed we were then. People in Visayas region who were victimized by the wrath and power by the Super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) truly need our help now. Almost a week has passed but there are hardly any help or relief being given to them. People, especially the Waray-Warays, have lost everything. Some houses were completely swept away. Even sturdy houses and buildings made of concrete were also severely ruined by the typhoon. In footages by the local and international media, I hardly saw a house or a building with roof still in place. All the shops were looted so money at hand is basically worthless. Communication is hardly restored and realistically speaking, I don’t think that electricity would be restored in Tacloban and the rest of Leyte before Christmas. Everyone is just walking like zombies, mindlessly walking around with no destination in mind. Everyone is grieving for a family member or for a friend but they have no energy to put them aside properly. Bodies were left in the streets. Everyone wants to survive and leave their homeland as soon as possible. Basic necessity of shelter, food and water is a luxury in there. It’s almost as if they live in anarchy with hardly having a government to take care of them. That is why how can you tell a typhoon survivor that, “At least you survive” casually knowing that they lost everything they have?
Meanwhile, here in Metro Manila, where we are barely touched by the clout of Yolanda, we are also not in peace. For instance, in our home ever since that typhoon hit the country, we have no choice but to be glued on our TV and computers for updates. My dad have cousins in Leyte and Ormoc and our house helper hails from Palo, Leyte. While we are sure now that our relatives in Ormoc are safe, we are still not sure with our relatives in Leyte. We heard some news that they somehow survived the typhoon. However, there is absolutely no news yet on what happened with our house help’s family. Two days ago, her brother and niece came to our house to ask for money so that they could travel to Palo and check on what happened in their family there. There is still no news about them as I write this down. People here are still so agitated and cannot concentrate on our daily lives having no news yet on the state of our loved ones.
Please do help them. In the first place, life is hard in the Visayas region, most especially Leyte, even in ‘normal’ days. My house helper told me that there are days where they only eat rice with rock salt when they do not have money to buy food. Region VIII, where Leyte is included, is one of the poorest regions in the Philippines. That is why most of the families in Leyte have relatives working in capital cities in the Philippines or abroad to make their ends meet. And while people there are used with storms or with hunger, nobody can withstand almost a week without food, water and shelter.
I really don’t know where to begin in their restoration. I cannot even hypothesize on when will they return to their work and the children are attending school again. But we could at least reestablish communication to them and provide them with food, water and proper shelter and also security. We must let them know that reliefs are coming and rehabilitation is on its way. Let us help restore integrity and hope in their selves for them to start again. And please, let us focus on helping them and do not dwell on issues on what Anderson Cooper and Korina Sanchez had said or by adhering too much with I-told-you-so statements from some people or by spreading unconfirmed reports or rumors that would just worsen our situation now.
I know that our Visayan brothers and sisters could rise up again from this catastrophe like what they did twenty-two years ago when they were also stricken by tropical storm, Uring (international name: Thelma) and flashfloods killed thousands of people especially in Ormoc. For now, let us do our part. Our brothers and sisters in Visayas need us more than we know.
(The two images above is taken from Twitter. I was retweeted so numerous time. So if you own the image and you want me to remove the image or give you credit, kindly comment down below. Thank you.)
I don’t know where you are in the morning of August 7. But I can assure you one thing: that I cannot forget that day.
It was raining for weeks. I hardly saw the sun in two weeks. It made me hate myself for buying expensive makeup products with high SPFs when I could hardly see the sun. I also hate the feeling of hating something I really love. I love the rain. I am madly in love with it. But now, I was madly in love with it. My passion that burns for it in my heart was extinguished by it. I shall never forget how the heaven cried for weeks but most especially on the morning of August 7. It wailed like a girl who was left by a girl who was left by a boy she truly loves without any answer to the questions in her heart. No words could comfort that rain. It would pause for two minutes then resume dousing the earth.
But it wasn’t the rain that made August 7, 2012 unforgettable. It was when we wake up because by a very loud siren. The creek would overflow again. Our parents went to our room and instructed us to pack some clothes because we need to evacuate soon. My uncle and auntie who lives in West Fairview were outside our door and was about to fetch us. We immediately pack some clothes and some things we needed for school and work, place them to whatever bag we could find and put them to our vehicles. But it was one of the most frightening moments in my life ever because for the very first time ever, I felt that I was running for my life. In a matter of minutes, you could feel the water rise from beneath your feet to sinking it entirely. You know that the water is not coming only from the rain but also from another force. With the creek starting to overflow and the rain refusing to stop that morning, you know that you are being trapped. Worst, you can see other people run for their lives especially the squatters who live nearby the creek. They went in our subdivision bringing their little belongings and some of their pigs they raise for extra income. Soon after that, we left bringing nothing but two of our vehicles plus some clothes. Unfortunately for my mother, my father forgot her things. My brother did not pack anything at all because he believes that Ondoy will never happen again.
How I wish my brother was right that day.
All of us hardly slept but I was specifically more tired. In forty-eight hours, I hardly had any sleep. Maybe I had about four-hour worth of sleep collectively. I was studying for my exam that was due on Monday evening but when we were in school that afternoon, the class was suspended. We were driven to safety but we were restless. As soon as we arrived in our uncle’s place, I immediately switched it to news. A lot of bad news was in it like how the dams and rivers overflow with so much water and how so much people run for their lives bringing nothing with them but the clothes they are wearing. I went on-line to twitter and saw tweets and retweets by people asking for help to rescue them or their loved ones who are trapped in their houses. Later, the power went off. My parents advised me to sleep because there is pretty much nothing to do. But I hardly caught any wink. The rain was falling nonstop. There is hardly any wind as it is not a typhoon. It was merely a habagat or a southwest monsoon. However, the monsoon did not just bring any ordinary type of rain. It bought us rainfall which lashed and battered to sinking the whole Metro Manila and the nearby provinces. That day was specifically slow. You cannot do anything but wait. You have some reading materials for school but you can’t comprehend a word written in it. Later, we tried praying the rosary but the rain showed no signs of stopping.
Later, my brother received texts from his classmate who lives in our subdivision, too. She gives him updates how she sees the water rise in their house. The peak was, “five steps more until it reach our second floor.” We know one thing is certain: our house probably suffered more or less the same damage. We have no choice but to accept such sad and unfortunate fact but we prayed that hopefully, it won’t reach our second floor. When Ondoy hit us back in September 26, 2009, the flood water reached up to my neck in our second floor. Not only did we lose practically everything but for one week, we have nothing dry to wear and lived the entire week using clothes from relief goods or donations by friends and relatives.
The next day, the sun wasn’t shining but at least the rain stopped. When I woke up, I found out that my parents and our house helper were already at our home. I woke up my brother and sister and we went to our home. It did not really depress us. I mean, it would have depressed us but the damage it had caused was nowhere near Ondoy. Also, there is no more flood water and no debris accumulated in front of our house. About one foot more and it would have reached the ceiling of the first floor. Thank God, it didn’t. Also, almost all our prized possessions were on the second floor. Because of that, I didn’t complain on cleaning. I was actually I was cleaning.
My parents said that they will be staying in our house of the night even if everything was still a big mess downstairs and brought me and my siblings back to my uncle’s house. Everything went well but the rain emerged again in the afternoon. It was strong, similar to that of August 7. Later, that night, though, we were surprised that my parents turn up to our uncle’s house. The water rose again that night and Mom said she was like in the movie Titanic. It was a little late when they realized that water started entering the house again so when they tried to open the gate, the strong current of the flood water was fighting them back. It was very forceful and unstoppable. When they managed to get out, they tried on holding into whatever they can in order for the current not to take them. The next day, we found out that the water inside our house reached waist-deep. But we have to start cleaning again.
It’s not the repeat of the cleaning part which hurts us. It is the fact that makes us think that are we going to get used to this? Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho said in the Alchemist, “What happens once will never happen again. But what happens twice will surely happen a third time. “Can we live like this over and over again? We think not. Worse, is what if there would be another northwest monsoon or Ondoy that would bring more rain and sink the whole house? Worst thing, is what if we were trapped inside?
We are starting to look for a new home. This is not an easy decision. We moved here shortly after I turned four years old and now I am twenty-four. For twenty years, this house experienced our joys, our pains and witnessed the strength that we have as a family. Some of our neighbors did not return again to their homes after the monsoon and I understand. Once is enough. Two is way too much.
The times had truly changed. Before, our house was able to withstand killer typhoons like Milenyo or the triple threat of Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong. La Mesa Dam kept on overflowing through the years but we were safe and sound at home. But I cannot say that for the present time. In my humble opinion, the reason why it now floods occasionally in our place is that whenever the water was release from the dam and it takes the scraps of materials from the makeshift houses of the squatters, it piles up an become an obstruction somewhere and hinder the free flowing of the river. Also, our surroundings lacked trees that absorb the rain water.
There is a solution to this problem: Political Will. Months after the occurrence of Ondoy, people from the government started asking the squatters living near the creek to leave that place and they will be settled in their own house and lot in Rodriguez, Rizal. The squatters refused and after a while, there is no more action from the government. In Filipino, nagkalimutan na lang. Now, weeks after that mega-monsoon here are the government people again asking the squatters to leave and be relocated elsewhere. Had they possessed political will in the first place, I’m sure this monsoon flooding could have been prevented. I want to see real action now. Real relocation of the squatters and informal settlers. Real long-term flood control plan and infrastructures. Real political will. No more band-aid and provisional solution. No more instant noodles and canned goods solution. Now that the sun is rising again, it’s time to work on our long-term solution. Let us not wait for the tragedy to happen again for the third time.
And in the end, maybe we all don’t need to lose our precious homes anymore.
What would you feel if you slept at three in the morning only to be awaken at eight forty-five with the announcement, “Umabot na po sa critical level ang La Mesa Dam. Maghanda-handa kayo. Maraming salamat po.”
My sister and I woke up in a snap. We were really lost. Actually, we were one of the unfortunate victims of the infamous typhoon Ketsana or locally known as typhoon Ondoy. It submerged our apartment-type home with water reaching my neck…on our second floor. The six-hour rain brought by that typhoon equaled a month worth of rain which is enough to make all dams and rivers nearby spill over the Tullahan River which was just in front of our house. But with my then 17-year stay in our abode, we never experience such tragedy. Heck, we never experience flood until that painful 26th of September 2009. Less than two years after, here comes another typhoon named Meari or locally known as Falcon.
Honestly, we were all puzzled on what are we going to do in our house especially my sister and I. During the typhoon Ondoy, we were both absent in our home. I was with my father because I had classes in the morning and he has to go to a funeral service of his cousin who died abroad. We both didn’t reach our destination because of the humungous rainfall of that typhoon that even if our windshield wipers are moving like crazy, Daddy still has very little visibility on the streets and we reached SM North EDSA instead and stayed there until the nine in the evening. My sister has a little sideline in a review center for high school students who want to aim a good school for college and thus she stayed there until we fetched her that night. Hence, three people remained at our house—my mother, my brother and our house helper—that stayed on the roofs with our neighbors for seven to nine hours bringing almost nothing with them.
My mother did not take any chances and started putting her important documents and paraphernalia on the highest places of our house. I did the same too but I was so unsure with what is going to happen. She also called up our uncle in West Fairview to fetch our Suzuki APV (nicknamed ‘Doraemon’ because it was colored blue and it was two-toned with white) which was severely damage by the typhoon Ondoy’s flood and debris. Believe it our not, our beloved Doraemon were only returned May 10 of this year. It was a long story and it even involved an administrative case with Department of Trade and Industry against the company who was fixing it so we wouldn’t want it to suffer shortly after arriving home a month ago so it’s the priority. Anyway, my sister followed me in placing our things in higher places while amazingly, my brother and our house helper are not worried at all.
“Hindi na mauulit yan,” my brother quipped as he surf channels on our television.
Suddenly, strong gushes of wind blew together with the falling of those infuriated raindrops. My mind was spinning. Is this serious? I looked down our marbled floor and recalled how it was veiled with inches of reeking muck which was initially impossible to remove because of its thickness. I also remembered how our house looked at that time. It was as if an ogre picked it up, shook it uncontrollably, placed soil inside, dipped it in the sea and returned it to its original place but buried the front part of it with debris. Everything was a mess. Everything was stinking. Everything was broken including our hearts.
It’s not mainly because you lost a lot of things because of the typhoon but it’s more of you lost a sense of security. Your house where you feel you are most protected, secured and comfortable was suddenly ruined. You don’t know where to go anymore. Nothing felt safe in this world. That’s when I realized the importance of a home to a person. It doesn’t matter how you sucked on your daily recitation in school or how your boss cursed you for incompetency in work or how many hours you spent on traffic that day because of flash floods or on-going repair or vehicles clashing on the main roads as long as you reach your house, your little kingdom, safely.
We had no place to stay but our uncle’s place in West Fairview. They live practically on a mansion so we were welcomed there. But it’s still more at ease eating on your own dining table even if it’s smaller and sleeping on your own bed even if the bed is comfier. It took us five whole weeks before I slept on our house again. That was the longest time that I’ve been away from our abode but it couldn’t be helped. Our house needed major repairs.
“Tumaas na po muli ang tubig sa La Mesa Dam. 80 po ang limit at ngayon nasa 92 na. Wag po tayo magpakakampante.”
I snapped back to the present after hearing the next announcement which came after the first one. I hurriedly took a bath, packed our things, lifted the television downstairs up to our room and prayed. I called our uncle’s driver again to pick us up to their house.
Well, to make the long story short, the announcement was exaggerated. La Mesa Dam did overflow but it didn’t even reached 85 meters. But I’m not angry with them. Prevention is better than cure and Falcon is so unpredictable. The rainfall varied from time to time. Sometimes, we already felt relaxed for not having rain for an hour then we would realized that we spoke too soon as the rain plummet down tirelessly.
But I guess Falcon is not meant to be another Ondoy. Falcon is a mere warning from Mother Nature that we must continue our mutual vow after Ondoy on cleaning up our environment, improving our greenery and recycling which most of us have failed to do.
It’s a joint obligation that ALL of us must do. By this, we could see how people are connected in one way or another. We must also be ready at any time there is a typhoon brewing after all, our world is our shared home that we must always protect and appreciate. Thank God for sparing us this time but now let us do our part.
What have we done to the world? Look what we’ve done.
Did you ever stop to notice the crying Earth the weeping shores?
—Earth Song by Michael Jackson.
How appropriate. Your legend and song lives on.