Beyond ‘Happy’

The victims of typhoon Yolanda deserve so much more than half-hearted attempts at relief and rehabilitation of their communities. They deserve so much more than tent cities, haphazard relocation plans, and bureaucratic mouthfuls of excuses. They deserve more than the erasure of their suffering.

Marinel Mamac

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a video of typhoon Yolanda survivors dancing to Pharrell’s insanely catchy song, Happy. The video went viral, with over half a million views by the time I had chanced upon it. Meant to be both a reminder for people to count their blessings and a demonstration of Filipino resilience, the video ends with a simple message – never give up.

It wasn’t long before other, less happy news about Yolanda rehabilitation efforts surfaced.

Nearly seven months ago, around 6,300 Filipinos lost their lives to the typhoon, according to government estimates, with hundreds of deaths going unreported. Today, those who did survive Yolanda continue to be at risk in overcrowded and unsanitary evacuation centers.

With only a measly 8 percent of the evacuation centers in Eastern Samar in safe working order for the many victims still homeless and jobless after the typhoon, and only four billion out of the 100 billion-peso government fund for rehabilitation of Yolanda-stricken areas put to use, the warm, fuzzy feelings brought about by the video subsided significantly. Many of these survivors are forced to live in tent cities, with six children and their mother dying of a fire just last week. Their lives were lost to totally preventable causes.

A reporter had asked several Tacloban locals whether they had participated, or even known about the Happy video. None of them did.

However, the final bit of news that made the last of the fuzzy feelings dissipate is this: as of press time, the government still does not have a master plan for rehabilitation. The basis of this much-awaited master plan is the post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA), which, more than half a year after the actual disaster occurred, is still not finalized.

Several local government units have not submitted their assessment reports to the Office of Civic Defense, a major drawback in the four-year-old Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, or RA 10121. Without these reports, a final PDNA cannot be produced. Without a final PDNA passed to and approved by higher ups, no official rehabilitation could commence. The earliest these processes could finally produce results, realistically speaking, is projected to be in August.

The Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) has tried to circumvent this difficult bottleneck by launching a rough substitution to speed up processes. OPARR organized five cluster groups made up of several government units – namely, infrastructure, resettlement, livelihood, social services, and support – but this, just like the processes for PDNA, is hampered by uncooperative units. Only one out of the five clusters submitted its report.

And while many of the country’s most powerful men and women are scrambling to clear their names off controversial lists appearing left and right, the oppressed majority of the Filipino people will have to wait.

The unprecedented damage brought about by typhoon Yolanda is arguably one of the most covered disasters in our history. The intense international pressure that comes along with hours of media coverage and millions of local and foreign aid, both monetary and in kind, should have expedited government processes for rehabilitation of the thousands of communities stricken by Yolanda. But it hasn’t.

After all, experience has told us that the massive loss of life was not enough reason in the first place. Neither has the continuing risk of thousands of survivors been enough to stir action among those with all the power to organize proper rehabilitation.

In truth, the wait for genuine change has been going on for longer than these last seven months. All the Ondoys and Remings and Milenyos of our recent history are testimonies to how natural disasters wreak the most havoc among the poorest and most vulnerable of us, how natural calamities highlight the gaping holes in our country’s disaster preparedness, and how, one after the other, they reveal the undeniable fact that the people and systems supposedly in place to manage these disasters are failing. Instead of finding and funding ways to rehabilitate survivors and rebuild homes, the reality of our post-disaster management is largely composed of the praise of Filipino strength and resilience.

This is not to say, of course, that videos of Tacloban locals dancing among ruins should not be made, and that their resilience is not something we should applaud.

But the thing is, we simply cannot rely on the ever-praised resilience of the Filipino spirit forever. A million #PHThankYou campaigns and viral videos of victims dancing will not aid them in the long run. Only proper rehabilitation and rebuilding will.

The victims of typhoon Yolanda deserve so much more than half-hearted attempts at relief and rehabilitation of their communities. They deserve so much more than tent cities, haphazard relocation plans, and bureaucratic mouthfuls of excuses. They deserve more than the erasure of their suffering.

This is not the first disaster they have suffered through. And it certainly is not going to be the last.

Their pre-existing poverty was a disaster in itself, and the government response post-Yolanda, even more so. With strong drought set to hit the country starting this month, and more natural disasters bound to happen in the next few years, the example set by the government at present does not produce very good projections for the future.

While counting our blessings is a wonderful practice, it should not stop us from demanding rights and government programs that should have been ours from the beginning. Valuing resilience and pursuing justice do not have to be mutually exclusive. The idea that suffering makes people stronger only serves those who stand to earn the least from justice and charity, those who are comfortable in the face of such widespread suffering.

If we accept only the palatable, the heart-warming, and the Happy in these disasters, we give the ongoing suffering our approval.

Marinel Mamac

By Marinel Mamac

5 replies on “Beyond ‘Happy’”

Leave a Reply