No closure, challenges remain for some survivors 8 years since Yolanda: official

Ronron Calunsod and Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 09 2021 12:34 AM | Updated as of Nov 09 2021 03:16 AM

Climate advocates light candles as they mark the 8th anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda at the Our Lady of Remedies Parish in Malate, Manila on November 8, 2021. The group paid tribute to the more than 6,000 lives lost during the deadly Category 5 typhoon that hit the central regions of the country in 2013. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Climate advocates light candles as they mark the 8th anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda at the Our Lady of Remedies Parish in Malate, Manila on November 8, 2021. The group paid tribute to the more than 6,000 lives lost during the deadly Category 5 typhoon that hit the central regions of the country in 2013. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Some families of those who died during the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) eight years ago on Monday have yet to find closure, while many survivors continue to deal with challenges as they try to move on with their lives despite help from various sources, a local official said.

Tacloban City vice mayor Jerry Yaokasin told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo that some bereaved families remain hopeful that their departed or missing loved ones can either be identified or located.

"Until today, the DNA testing supposedly for those (bodies) in the mass grave, (through the) saliva of families, 'di pa rin natatapos (has yet to be concluded)," he said.

"That's the call of the bereaved families, kasi walang closure eh until and unless you are able to locate finally (or) get kahit bones na lang nila, to be able to find a resting place for the families they've lost during super typhoon Yolanda."

(They won't have closure until and unless you are able to locate finally or get even just the bones of the dead or missing.)

Majority of the more than 7,300 dead and missing from Yolanda’s wrath are from Tacloban City, mainly perishing from the storm surge that struck coastal communities there. Around 6,000 bodies were buried at the city's mass grave, another local official previously said.

Yolanda, which was packing maximum sustained winds of 235 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 275 kph when it first made landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, swept the rest of the country's central regions westward.

It destroyed more than a million houses, and damaged infrastructure and agriculture, among others, worth almost P90 billion, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

At a commemorative event earlier in the day at the Holy Cross Memorial Gardens in Tacloban City's Barangay Basper, Mayor Alfred Romualdez said among those who died in Tacloban were some 500 children.

"It was very difficult. Many parents, lumalapit sa akin: 'Anong klaseng Diyos 'yan? Bakit 500 na mga bata, pati yun namatay?' Alam n'yo, pinagdasal ko nang pinagdasal 'yun. At pumasok talaga sa isip ko sa pagdadasal ko, hindi miracle na tayo'y nabuhay kasi balang araw, lahat tayo mamamatay. It is a miracle that when you die, you go to heaven because that is the true grace of God," he said.

(Many parents approached me and asked, what kind of god is He? Why did He allow 500 children to die? I prayed over it. And what I realized as I prayed is that, being alive and surviving the typhoon is not a miracle because all of us will die anyway.)

Asked about the number of people who are unaccounted for, which authorities estimate to be a little over 1,000, Yaokasin said, "We will never know."

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While some of those who lost their loved ones have yet to find closure, some survivors are also beset with hardships in their living conditions post-Yolanda, the vice mayor said.

This despite the outpouring of support from government, the private sector, non-government organizations, and foreign governments and institutions, for which, he said, Tacloban is very thankful.

Yaokasin shared that a couple he met at the mass grave on Monday afternoon are asking for housing as they continue to live in an area declared as a danger zone.

Some resettlement site units, he said, remain unoccupied, while some have no water supply. Some families who were transferred there also complain about lack of livelihood.

Those that were built much earlier were later confronted with problems on drainage system and electricity supply, he said.

"You see all these sorts of problems cropping up, wherein you are a victim twice over. Na-Yolanda ka na nga eh, biktima ka pa rin. That is so sad, whether it's government incompetence or the slow pace because of bureaucratic red tape, or whatever," Yaokasin said.

(You've been hit by Yolanda, only to become a victim again after.)

"I think it's a continuing challenge for many dun sa (in our) resettlement sites... It's a continuing challenge for LGUs, how do we build back better."

Stressing that Yolanda survivors are "not just numbers" but "are people with names, with experiences" of losing "loved ones" and "friends", Yaokasin shared what another family told him earlier in the day: "It's as fresh as Nov. 8, 2013. Parang eight years na nga (It's been years). Pero (But) if you talk to them, it feels like it just happened today."

"Sabi nga nila sa akin, kahit na man lang mabigyan kami ng pabahay, it would ease a little bit of what we went through," he continued.

(They told me, 'It would ease a little bit of what we went through if we are also given a housing unit'.)

Yaokasin said commemorative events for Yolanda provide opportunities for them to air what concerned agencies need to do to address the problem of survivors.

The Philippine Red Cross and some other local government officials from areas affected by Yolanda reflected as well on the lessons from the disaster. 

“The Haiyan disaster was a major challenge the PRC faced and responded. This was the biggest response so far from the Philippine Red Cross where 18 million individuals were affected by the typhoon, and Haiyan was the one of the most powerful typhoons of all time, taking more than 6,000 lives,” said PRC Secretary General Elizabeth Zavalla.

PRC officials recalled how difficult it was to deliver their assistance, as most roads were impassable, while electricity, water and communication were cut off.

“During the operations, from the delivery of the relief goods, we were having a struggle because most of the boats and trucks was also damaged. So we are able to reach community people, we used the small boats... to deliver the PRC service,” former field operations head Pive Flor “Bing” Tabique shared, recalling one of their operations in Palawan.

Jesry Palmares, vice mayor of Passi City in Iloilo province, remembered their “very sad” their experience when Yolanda hit their area.

“I never wished to have this experience once more. It has hit our city tremendously,” said Palmares.

“We have 16,000 households which was devastated, 9,000 totally, totally wrecked. A lot of trees were uprooted.”

“A few hours after hitting my municipality, we experienced no electricity, no water, no communication. All roads are impassable. We dont know what to do then. It was a shock,” Ivisan Mayor Felipe Neri Yap said.

The PRC said that it has worked with LGUs closely to rebuild affected communities.

“They (PRC) can actually provide more lessons to different nations, societies... on how to work on one plan, and how to work in a coordinated manner, and how to make sure that we alleviate suffering and stabilize even the most difficult situations,” said International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Program Coordinator Gopal Mukherjee.

Guian Mayor Analiza Gonzales-Kwan credited the PRC for their recovery.

“The relief operations in Guian, the food items that you gave…first aid stations, provided first aid thru house to house visits, cash for work, shelter assistance.. water and sanitation, availablity of blood bank, livelihood assistance, and so many others… I can’t say thank you enough. Nakatayo po kami ngayon dahil sa tulong ninyo,” the official said.

(We have recovered because of your help.)

The PRC said it was able to provide 80,000 new homes to affected families.

“We are recognized as one of the best Red Cross societies in the world because of our Haiyan operations. PRC has demonstrated that we could gather aid from almost all the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worldwide and distribute them accordingly to the affected provinces," PRC Chairman Senator Richard Gordon said.

"Our Haiyan operations reinforce the Red Cross as the go-to organization and the preferred partner of choice since we were able to get the job done.”

Amid the remaining challenges, Yaokasin of Tacloban City could only lament: "Eight years is eight years. Hindi na maibabalik sa amin yung eight years (We can't bring back those eight years). That is something that we have to live with for the rest of our lives."

He said the COVID-19 pandemic that began early last year may have made "matter worse" as far as the recovery of some survivors is concerned.

Yet, "at the end of the day, we're stronger than the strongest typhoon. Mga Taclobanon kami. Mga waray-waray, mag-isog, matapang," he said.

(We are Taclobanon. We are Waray. We are courageous.)

Romualdez, the city's mayor, reiterated his message on the eve of the 8th anniversary of Yolanda, in which he declared that Tacloban has moved on: "We all move as one. A community that stands together will live forever."

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