Ondoy and empowerment

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on October 1, 2009

A little more than a year ago, the world watched in admiration as flood-drenched Indians-resigned to the ineptitude of their government-rallied to save themselves after record monsoonal rains. Last weekend, history repeated itself. This time in the Philippines. There were many stories of heroism and tragedy in the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy. Here is one family’s story, recounted by Monique Gabriel.

“11:00 am. Renato “Rey” Gabriel received a phone call from his brother Gerry that water was fast rising in their two-storey home on Saint Therese Street in Provident Village, Marikina City. (Also in the house: Gerry’s wife Syndie, 16-year-old Kurt, nine-year-old Joshua, older sister Angie, 82-year-old father Manuel, household helpers and a maid’s five-year-old son). Gerry had just parked the family’s cars on A. Bonifacio Street, thinking they would be safe on high ground.

“Rey immediately called local and national government emergency numbers to request assistance but no help was available.

“1:00 pm. Gerry called again to inform Rey they were already on the top floor of their house. Water was still rising and they were trying to get up to the roof. Using blankets and curtains, they made make-shift ropes, climbed out the windows and struggled up a ladder to the roof.

“3:30 pm. Still with no response from emergency services, Rey decided to look for a motorized rubber boat to buy and rescue his family. He eventually contacted Al’s Marine near Reposo Street in Makati City. Unfortunately, waters were about six-feet deep in the Reposo area, and it was impossible to reach the shop.

“5:30 pm. With time ticking away, Rey pleaded with the owners of the shop to navigate the boat to Greenbelt where Rey was waiting. Understanding the urgency of Rey’s pleas, they agreed. To complete the transaction, Rey and the owners returned to the store, and Rey bought life vests and other gear. The staff taught Rey some basic instructions on operating the boat. Rey returned to Greenbelt and tied the boat to his pick-up. He headed to Valle Verde to get his brother-in-law, Edward de Castro, and his driver.

“9:00 pm. Rey and Edward got as far as the Santa Clara Church on Katipunan in the pick-up. As they continued their way along A. Bonifacio in the boat, people began shouting for help. The small boat only seated six, and the two men had to turn a deaf ear to the desperate cries, and a blind eye to the devastation.

“10:30pm. Braving the strong currents, and making their way through a maze of floating cars, electric cables, and other debris, Rey and Edward arrived at Saint Therese Street. With no lights and all other landmarks gone, Rey called out Gerry’s name several times before he heard Gerry’s response. ‘Rey! Rey! Nandito kami!’ (We are here!)

“Gerry and the whole family, including the shivering eight-year-old Joshua were clinging to the top of the roof. Joshua and Lolo Manny were the first to be rescued. Outside Provident gate, several dedicated police officers helped escort the boat. They didn’t know who was heading relief operations or even what their orders were. Rey and Edward navigated the boat carrying Joshua and Lolo Manny to the Barangka area where the driver met them. Edward drove them to safety.

“3:00 am. In several batches, Rey continued the rescue. A police officer volunteered to ride with Rey and assist him. Media took video clips of Rey bringing out family members and neighbors. (Later, these clips would be televised and incorporated with NDCC “rescue” clips.) NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Council) boats finally arrived. By that time, Rey had made multiple round trips.

“5:00 am. As Rey worked, another private rescue effort was being carried out by another former resident of Provident Village. It was Rey’s childhood friend, Governor Jericho “Icot” Petilla of Leyte. Using his own jet ski, tugging a rubber boat behind, Icot quietly rescued family and neighbors. Together, Rey and Icot scoured Provident Village in the early morning hours for survivors.

“6:30am. Exhausted, Rey turned his boat over to neighbors to continue the rescue effort. Rey and Icot had taken matters into their own hands and rescued their families and neighbors. During that time, NDCC officials were holding press conferences to say that the currents were too strong for their teams to get into Provident Village to save its stranded residents.”

When Rey and Gerry returned to Provident Village less than three hours later, the cars Gerry had parked on high ground had been washed away, and others had floated into each other, frequently coming to rest atop one another. But the real tragedy was the bodies of those who did not make it out scattered amidst the destruction, including that of an infant.

In April and May this year, empowered Indians voted overwhelmingly for good governance in national elections. Will empowered Filipinos do the same next year?

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