Typhoon Haiyan brings flood of emotion as Filipinos confront class issues and climate change

Filipinos rebuild their homes after Typhoon Haiyan. AP Photo by Bullit Marquez

A flood of emotions inundated Filipino Canadians as they watched relatives’ houses being ravaged by the super typhoon Haiyan last week, which has affected an estimated 11 million people.

Many Filipino Canadians know all too well that the elite in the Philippines are significantly more protected from disaster than the poor. Some admit that being a Canadian citizen has given them safeguards against typhoons. 

“I was kind of flipping between tears and anger and then guilt… and then kind of despair. And then I couldn’t … I couldn’t express it… when somebody encouraged me to write it down, it seemed to help,” said Nonita Yap, a professor in the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Design and Rural Development.

She wrote a heartfelt petition calling on the Canadian government to “commit to a bold plan to combat climate change.” It’s circulating on Leadnow.ca, an advocacy group that campaigns for democracy in Canada.

In it, she describes her “kakha tukȃ (scratch-and-eat)” lifestyle as a child – and how her grandmother fended for her and her sister during the typhoon seasons. 

 “The last typhoon I remember with her was taking shelter under a table singing out ‘Santa Maria, Inahan ka sa Dios...’ [Saint Mary, you’re the mother of God] at the top of our lungs.  A coconut tree had fallen, splitting the house into two and there was water everywhere,” she recalled in her letter.

Ted Alcuitas, 74, also reminisced about his childhood in his hometown province of Cebu, which was also battered by Haiyan.

But he’s more frustrated with the Philippine government’s slow response in helping victims.

The retired grandfather, who writes a political column for a local Filipino paper, said Spanish and American colonization caused a stark divide among the rich and poor in the Philippines – and when catastrophic events occur, people feel the effects at opposite spectrums.

 

Ted Alcuitas, senior editor of Philippine Asian News Today, poses with Ta'Kaiya Blaney at an Idle No More protest. Photo submitted by Alcuitas.

Alcuitas personally knows how the division feels like. “I have a Cebuano accent. I hated when the elite criticized my accent. We wore bakya, wooden shoes, when we went to school. They came from rich haciendos (neighborhoods), run by nuns,” he said.

He has little hope he’ll see change for situations like Haiyan in his lifetime, as the root of government corruption runs deep.

“The multinationals have the new colonial power. Instead of using the sword, the corporations are using the church,” Alcuitas lamented.

Last year, Alcuitas helped victims of Typhoon Bopha, which killed around a thousand Filipinos.

During his stay, he witnessed a swarm of people gather in Cebu City when Filipino-Chinese top billionaire Henry Sy donated a chapel worth $2 million to the local archdiocese. Sy owns a shopping mall chain worth $13 billion.

The church was built beside one of his malls.  In April, its nuns and priest were investigated for 100,000 pesos ($3,000) worth of donations gone missing.

A practicing Catholic, Alcuitas said he worries how religion has affected how Filipinos react to disaster, as many say they should just pray. “How long have we been praying? 400 years?” he said.

“The church is blocking any change in the country. And who is backing the church? The political dynasties,” Alcuitas said, huffing.

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