by : Myrna Aquitania

Myrna Aquitania

Myrna Aquitania

In my column last week, I mentioned a letter written by Geraldine Uy Wong, a trained dentist who now manages a toy distribution company in Manila. She heroically travelled all the way to Tacloban right after Typhoon Yolanda hit, and  pulled out 16 of her relatives from the ravished  area. She posted her harrowing experience on Facebook which was then sent to me by a media colleague in Manila.

Apparently after her ordeal, she wrote another open letter on Facebook addressed to CNN’s Anderson Cooper also sent to me through a political blogger, Raissa Robles which read: “To Anderson Cooper, I saw what you saw.” Following is a reprint of the contents of her letter.

“Mr. Anderson Cooper, I want to thank you for reporting on the miserable conditions that you saw when you covered the Tacloban calamity scene, six days after the typhoon. Your report came on Tuesday, the day I was herding my relatives to the airport to finally get out of Tacloban. A day before that, I was able to board a relief cargo plane of Air 21 Express from Manila to Tacloban, when I was given the chance. Getting there on Monday noon, I immediately set out looking for my family members. On the way to the city, I saw what you saw: countless dead bodies strewn on the ground, in various stages of decomposition, extensive destruction everywhere. I saw injured people walking on the streets looking like zombies – hungry, confused,and desperate. The stench of death permeated all around us and sent chills down my spine.”

“Countless times as our vehicle moved down the road, we were stopped by people in the streets begging for food. The roads were only passable by one lane, and along the way, I saw officers of the BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection) manually remove the bodies, along with the unbelievably massive amount of debris scattered all around. Because of this, what would normally take 40 minutes or less to traverse became an agonizing two-hour ride. I saw what you saw, Anderson, and it angered me as much as it did you.I was also heartbroken, for this is the place where I spent some of the most wonderful summers of my childhood. I vowed to myself that I woulod speak up and bring out the government’s incompetence as soon as I got out, if I will ever get out.”

1. “I arrived at the City Hall tent as was part of my plan, because when I was still in Manila, I did hear that there was a command post of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) , where we can get cell phone signals and internet connection. From there, I was supposed to make some inquiries before I would set out on foot to look for my relatives’ houses.It was while I was there that I saw with my own eyes how this govenrment agency led by its head,Secretary Dinky Soliman, tirelessly and heroically worked almost 24/7 to immediately bring relief not only to the City of Tacloban but also to the outlying municipalities and towns that were affected by this calamity. I could not even begin to grasp the massive amount of work that needed to be done. I wanted to know why the government action seemed to be excruciatingly slow, but I couldn’t stay around long enough because my mission there was to find my relatives, and I did not want to be distracted. Thankfully, I found them in two separate locations. They were cooped up in their houses whispering in the dark, afraid to attract criminal elements that were be going around looting. They could not believe that I was there right before their eyes, and it was the first time in so long that they had a glimmer of hope, they would be rescued.”

 “We hastily fled from their houses in the middle of the night. I placed all of them in one locationj, and then I went back to the City Hall because it was a strategic point, where I could get the proper cell phone signals and stay connected to the outside world. I made some frenzied phone calls to my family in Manila and it was from them that I found out that Cebu Pacific Air was offering humanitarian flights beginning Tuesday morning! All systems were in place for an eventual escape, and all I could do was pray to God  that my plan would go smoothly. After I instructed my cousin to look for two vehicles that could transport all 16 of us the next day to the airport, I decided to stay at the City Hall overnight so that I couold still keep in touch with my family in Manila. It was critical that I get all the assistance from the outside world so I could stategize better. Oh, how I proved now more than ever that communication or the lack of it could be one of the determinants for life and death.”

“As much as I was staying around for the rest of the night, I started going around for the rest of the night. I started going around to ask the officers why things are what they are. These are what I found out: “

2. “After the typhoon struck on the first day (Friday) , the whole world lost track of the areas hit by the calamity. ZERO COMMUNICATION! It was even said that satellites couldn’t locate Tacloban, Leyte and Samar from the map, as if  they were totally erased from the face of the earth..Unlike the tsunami event that hit Japan where they were still connected to the outside world, Tacloban, Leyte and Samar were shut out.How can we even begin to help them? And so, even as the magnitude of this calamity is being identified to Japan’s tsumani event, circumstances were totally different. It was only the next day that we heard from Ted Failon of ABS CBN what happened as the world watched in shock.. It was then that we began to realize the massive destruction that hit this part of the country. The generalized cut of link to the outside world was to continue for the three days, until Globe Telecom was able to slowly bring back some of the signals on the 4th day!”

3. “Unlike the tsunami that happened in Japan where their airport was not affected, super Typhoon Yolanda destroyed the airport which was just beside the big body of water. I need not say anymore, for CNN did cover the airport scene. All equipment, radar, watch tower destroyed. Absolutely no electricity. With that, Tacloban was even more cut off from the outside world. Nobody could either come in or get out. No relief to be brought in, no means of transportation for the nationlal leaders to arrive with; no means of escape for the suffering people. It was only on Sunday, or the third day since the typhoon hit that the airport had a generator to make it operational, because AIr 21, a Philippine cargo company, took it upon themselves to bring some much needed generators to make the airport operational. And that is how the airplane of the Philippine president and the first few govenrment C 130’s was able to land in the airport. The third day served as the first day when things just started to move. And lest I be taken to task for mentioning the benevolence of Air 21, yes, I admit that this was the same cargo plane that I took to be able to get to Tacloban on Monday, but it is precisely because I heard that the company was one of the first to offer humanitarian help, gratis to the government that made me act to get quickly hooked up with the owners of the company and be able to hitch a ride.”

To Be Continued Next Issue

Aerial shot of the province of which was heavily damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (MNS photo)

Aerial shot of the province of which was heavily damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (MNS photo)