An Appeal from the Youth of Quezon

Community News & Features Dec 16, 2004 at 3:10 pm

2,000 lives lost, 10,000 families homeless

Sent by Bing Diestro
Chair, SKYF of Quezon

No place is supposed to be safer than home. This was the thought that the people of Real, Infanta and General Nakar comforted themselves with as they sheltered themselves from the fury of the typhoon. Huddled together, they were assured that the no bitter cold wind could vanquish the warmth of being in the company of their loved ones. Or so they thought.

Then there was that faint rumble. Almost inaudible in the rain, they must have dismissed it as thunder. But there was no pause. It just got louder and louder, and the ground began to tremble. As their hearts synchronized with the ghastly rhythm of the strange noise, one can only picture the look in their eyes during those final seconds.

Before the last moments of their lives had a chance to flash before them, it struck. The last thing they saw was a shapeless monster crashing through the walls of their homes like they were nothing. The last thing they felt was their bodies being mangled and torn apart as the earth deliberately swallowed them alive. It must have been too sudden to think about God, so their last thought must have been the realization that they are dying one of the most horrible deaths imaginable. How agonizing it must have been for them as they felt the earth forcing its way into their mouths and filling their lungs till they burst, and crushing what was left of their bodies – and knowing that the ones dearest to them are suffering the same fate. These were the anguished thoughts they carried to the graves that Nature mercilessly dealt them.

Those who were lucky enough to survive did not think themselves so lucky. They had to be the ones to endure the loss. They had to be the ones to bear witness to the magnitude of the tragedy that befell their towns, and took away their loved ones. How’s that for lucky?

In the wake of this catastrophe, over 700 have already been confirmed dead. Guesstimates bring the toll to about 2,000. Rescue workers “exhumed” the corpses from their “temporary” graves – grimaced faces, eyes and mouths still open, filled with earth, body parts missing – in front of their hysterical family members. All that bother of digging them up, only to have these corpses stockpiled one on top of the other like diseased chickens, and buried again in a freshly dug hole. With the funeral shops themselves getting an unexpected funeral, there was little choice. Other copses were treated in a little more dignified manner – they were burned to get rid of their sickening stench and prevent an outbreak.

An estimated 500 more are said to be missing, and the gut-wrenching chore of finding them and digging them up continues. All are presumed dead, even by the most hopeful of families and relatives. If not found, their supposedly makeshift graves will serve as their anonymous and final place of rest.
The damage on property is, as of yet, incalculable. Over 10,000 families are left homeless, many commercial and industrial establishments are now piles of rubble. There is no estimate yet on the extent of damage to agriculture and livestock, but the common sight of rotting animal corpses gives people a sense of not wanting to know. Supposedly impervious structures like concrete bridges did not withstand the onslaught, severing transportation and communication between barangays. Add to that the buried roads, and the task of delivering relief goods and services becomes really, really frustrating.

Now, 15 days after the incident, the aftermath is beginning to make its presence felt. Concerned individuals and organizations including the Sangguniang Kabataan Provincial Federation of Quezon are having a hell of a time staving off the food shortage in the affected municipalities. Several rooms full of relief goods seem impressive while still in those rooms, but they shrink in comparison to the number of victims in the stricken areas who need food, clothing and medical attention.

Worse, signs of epidemic are already starting to appear, confirming our worst fears. The landscape littered with cadavers both human and animal provides an ideal breeding ground for disease-causing organisms. Should an outbreak occur, the problems are sure to escalate, compromising the safety not only of the victims themselves but also of those who came there to lend a helping hand. Medical volunteers, like the rest of us, are already fighting an uphill battle.

The culprit

What caused such an extensive devastation on human life and property was no ordinary landslide. What raced down the slopes of the Quezon and Rizal mountains was not just mud, but also ton upon ton of freshly cut timber. Nowhere else and at no other time in our history had the adverse consequences of excessive logging been so apparent as right here and now. Logs weighing as much as 20 tons each racing down faster than a car on an expressway is something no structure can stand up to – much less human flesh.

The earth and timber simply wiped out everything in their path, finding its way to the sea. To give you an idea on just how much timber there was, just consider the fact that there was enough of them to cover the entire shorelines. And there was “enough” of them left that went out into the open sea to form an island of logs big enough to build several barangays on. That’s what you call a lethal irony.
Nature had no qualms over exacting retribution, and she is blameless. What is truly unjust and outrageous is that countless innocent citizens were the ones who had to pay with their lives and with their suffering, all for the greed of several unscrupulous pigs who profit by pilfering our natural resources and raping our environment.

Now, public officials are doing what they do best in the face of such a crisis: pointing fingers at one another (not after washing their hands, of course). By brainstorming on overzealous legislations like the total log ban, and adopting pseudo-austerity measures (canceling ) to express their sympathies toward the victims (but not giving a single centavo in aid), they hope to see themselves forgiven for their inaction over the issue for the past who-knows-how-many years.

They need your help

Who are responsible for this tragedy is indeed something we should pay attention to, but certainly at a later time. What really matters now is that we would be able to help their victims.

Since Day 1 of the incident, the Sangguniang Kabataan Provincial Federation of Quezon has assumed an active role of pooling its resources to aid our less-fortunate kababayans in Real, Infanta and General Nakar (which we affectionately gave the collective name Reina). We have been coordinating with socio-civic organizations, government offices, NGOs and concerned citizens to augment our outreach services in the form of relief goods (food, used clothing, medicine, etc.), volunteer work especially in the goods distribution and medical fields, and financial aid.

More importantly, we have been very successful in mobilizing the youth sector by encouraging participation to volunteer services not only among SK members but also among those in schools and other youth organizations.

And, as a breakthrough in our pro-environment efforts, the SK Provincial Federation is currently holding the Provincial Youth Parliament, the first-ever in the country, in occasion with the ongoing Linggo ng Kabataan. With participation from the youth from various sectors, the parliament aims to formulate resolutions that can later be ratified into law, concerning youth matters and with particular focus to the youth’s involvement in protecting and preserving the environment.

However, inasmuch as we take pride in our efforts, we also realize that we cannot do it alone. In this regard, we would like to propose a partnership between the Sangguniang Kabataan Provincial Federation of Quezon and your organization in helping the disaster victims of Reina. We would so much appreciate your aid to our cause.

We also hope that this will be the start of a productive and mutually beneficial partnership between our organizations. In advance, the SKPF expresses its hope and gratitude in behalf of the people of Reina.

Contact person in Toronto: Rovie Pagunsan or Jinny Marquina at 416-836-0177.