Back home, we always thought that living in the mountains brought us closer to heaven. The spirits of the mountains will always protect us. The mountains will provide all that we need. When we prayed, our prayers will reach the gods faster. The jagged edges of the mountains will break up the storm into bits and pieces. We trusted the mountains so much, we thought we were invincible.
“Kakaasi da piman,” La Trinidad Mayor Artemio Galwan wailed, as 150 people were buried in a landslide last night. The wrath of Typhoon Pepeng has left the North devastated, decimated, destroyed. The crops have failed, roofs were torn off houses, and at this very moment, people are perhaps shivering in evacuation shelters for lack of dry clothing and medicine. You don’t say “kakaasi da piman” in vain; it is an expression made in great sorrow, helplessness, and grief. “Kakaasi da piman” is an expression reserved for only the most pathetic of tragedies, when human pride gives way to vulnerability.
Living 200 kilometers from home leaves me with a sense of helplessness. I could only read about them and hear stories from those who have read about them. Evacuees are drenched, and are braving the unforgiving chill of the storm. The stores are closed, and there’s no food to buy; whatever grain and produce that have been stored would have probably been spoiled by floods by now. The once-verdant fields of rice and corn have now turned to murky, muddy pools that bear an entire family’s future. And then there are the landslides, the ones you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.
When I talked to some friends, there was that sense of disappointment – perhaps even resentment – that the aid to the victims of Pepeng were not reaching them in time, and in droves, like when Ondoy hit Manila. Perhaps there is the kind of fatigue that comes with typhoon after typhoon. Maybe donors have nothing more to donate, nothing more to give, or that the stresses of volunteering and aid have finally reached the saturation point. Maybe it’s the geography of the North, where roads are too difficult to access that it takes a heroic effort to send goods and services over to them. Maybe, like Ondoy, Pepeng provides us with a good summary of everything wrong with development, planning, and highlights an entire history of inequality.
“Kakaasi da piman…” the dead probably bear names of people I know. People I know would probably be huddled in evacuation centers right now, shivering and starving. Homes would have probably been crushed – literally – not by the surge of muddy tides, but the terror that is a landslide, bringing down homes, the moving mountain carrying with it lives. Yet I’m here, with very little left in the pocket and in the spirit, drained… yet the tragedy, once again, hit so close to home that I can’t even bear to continue writing this entry the way I had planned it.
Send your help over to the North. I appeal to your sympathy, your empathy, your sense of humanity, to help those in need today.