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My partner, Briony, and I were on the last leg of our 4 month 4 country trip. We planned to cap it with a diving trip to Malapascua to see the thresher sharks with UWC batchmate Yemi Aguda who was visiting us from Zurich. We flew in to Malapascua on the 4th of November not knowing about the coming super typhoon. We had just arrived from Israel so we were not up to date with the local news. We didn’t bother to check PAGASA alerts because typhoons don’t normally visit the Central Visayas.

We arrive in Malapascua and checked in at Evolution Diving. The first thing the resort dive instructor said upon greeting was that there was a super typhoon coming. They could have informed us before we left Manila! Anyways we just got off a 6 hour trip and were not in a hurry to get back right away without seeing the Thresher Sharks. We also had not the faintest idea how strong this thing will be. Sure the forecasts mentioned gusts over 300 kph but at that time that didn’t really mean anything but a number.

As Friday approached, the threat of the Super Typhoon became more and more menacing. Our window to escape was getting slimmer. By Thursday all boats were not allowed out of the island. People acted like it was going to be ok but you could feel the worry among the guests of the resort we were in. To get a better reference as to how strong this storm is, I googled the most powerful storms. To my horror, I realized that this was far more stronger than the ones listed. I remembered Hurricane Wilma which was among the top because I also experienced it in 2005. But it was only half as strong as Haiyan was predicted to be. I didn’t tell the rest of my group because I didn’t want to panic them. I instead focused on being prepared and protected. We were right on its path with the eye predicted to pass directly over Malapascua. It was terrifying but there was nothing else we could do but prepare.

We bought extra food, water and candles to prepare to be without them for hours or days. We taped our windows with duct tape to prevent shards of glass exploding all over the place in case a coconut or a branch would hit it. At these speeds anything lose outside is a potential projectile. We stored our clothes and gadgets into waterproof bags and locked them in our closets.

Haiyan’s eye was forecasted to pass directly over Malapascua at 2PM on Friday the 8th of November. Matt, the owner of the Evolution Diving, said that staff was available to cook us breakfast so guests were having breakfast before going back to the protection of our rooms. By 8am, the winds were getting menacing. I instructed Briony to go ahead to the room while I wait for the sandwiches that we ordered to last us during the storm. But within minutes the winds were getting too strong I urged everyone to forget about the sandwiches and go back to their rooms.

Back in the room we waited. It was around 9AM and already the winds were howling outside. We peaked through the window and saw raining flowing horizontally, trees flying in the air. You could feel the pressure pounding in your ear. We barricaded the door with a chair. Yemi, who is 6’4”, volunteered to sit on the chair to add more weight. He was being pushed. We decided to barricade the door with the beds. The noise was deafening. We then heard a loud bang and knew that the roof of the 2nd floor was gone. According to the forecast if the eye was to reach us by 2PM, this was just supposed to be the weakest part of the storm. But if this was the weakest then the eye wall would be more hellish than hell. We were terrified but just silently awaited our fate.

By around 11AM, the winds weakened a little bit. We thought we were in the eye itself. It is said that you will experience relative calm and even sunshine in the eye. But then you have to go through the eyewall twice! We calmed down a bit but horrified at having to experience the eyewall again. But that didn’t happen. The winds kept getting weaker and weaker. People started to come out. One of the dive instructors arrived from the village and announced that the storm has passed. The storm arrived early and the eye had missed us by 15km.

We started to compose ourselves relieved that the worst was over. When we inspected the rest of the island, we realized how lucky we were. All the structures in the islands even the ones made of concrete were destroyed. It was like a scene in movies after a nuclear devastation. Houses disappeared. All you see are the foundations and maybe a column or a broken wall here and there. Trees were cut in half. Our building by luck had its narrower part facing the wind otherwise the windows of all the rooms would have been destroyed and people could have been hurt. Our building was the only one left standing with just 1/5th of the roof damaged. Relative to others, it was unscathed.

The tourists and the villagers started coming out of their shelters. Everyone was just taking in what had just happened to them. To my surprise, I couldn’t hear cries of anguish over homes lost. People were calm I guess just feeling lucky to be alive.
Then by some human instinct of caring for others everyone started clearing debris to make paths. The guests in the resort decided to salvage food from what used to be the resort’s restaurant. Some volunteered to cook. We called on everyone we see to come have some food. That night there was a bit of merry making. We drank what alcohol we could salvage. The conversation was light and joyous. People were feeling lucky to be alive.

The next day a surprising sight greeted me. People were already starting to repair their houses and boats with smiles in their faces instead of tears. The kids were playing in the beach. People were helping each other.

The guests and owners decided that because there was no power in the island and there was no telling how long the food and water supply would last, the priority was to get the guest back to the relative safety of the mainland. Again we were lucky. Of the very few boats that survived the typhoon, one of them was the Evolution’s. So we packed up and journeyed back to Maya, Cebu, the nearest port in mainland Cebu. The sea was so calm it was like a mirror.

As we approached Maya we were also wondering how badly it was hit. From afar it didn’t seem like it was hit as bad as Malapascua. But as we drew closer we realized that it was worse. We saw concrete buildings caved in. What was left of the gas station was just the concrete floor and a few holes where the gasoline dispenser used to be.

We were told that we had no way out of Maya to Cebu city. There were no vehicles and even if we could acquire vehicles, there was no way to pass as the roads were littered with fallen trees and electric poles. We had to turn back to Malapascua. We fretted about how long we could survive in the island with diminishing supply of food and water.

But things turned out better than our gloomy thoughts. The neighboring resort’s kitchen survived intact and they started serving hot food and beer! Also news arrived that a vehicle from Cebu had just arrived in Maya, a clear sign that the roads are now passable!

We organized another attempt the next day. And so the first 30 of us got out of the island and were safely enroute to Cebu city. The towns we passed from Maya until Bogo in northern Cebu was a scene of utter destruction. We were lucky indeed to have survived.

View from our rooms
View from our rooms
There was once a resort here
There was once a resort here
Boats beached
Boats beached
Boats Beached
Boats Beached
The winds swept everything away
The winds swept everything away
Trees uprooted
Trees uprooted
Trees bowing to the force of nature
Trees bowing to the force of nature
Exotic's roof gone
Exotic’s roof gone
This used to be a gas station
This used to be a gas station
Concrete structures caving in
Concrete structures caving in

On the trip to Cebu I resolved to help these people. First was just to make it known that they need help because it seemed that no one knew but closest families what had transpired. Then remembering the forecasts and the extent of the area affected, I didn’t know where to start. I made a promise to Matt and his staff who took care of us while we were there that I will get some help.

Back in Manila, I called my friend Benjo, whom I work with when we volunteered for rescue and relief during Ondoy on 2009. I was glad to hear that Benjo had called in our fellow volunteers and they were congregating. I joined the group ready to deploy but soon found myself busy organizing and coordinating the flow of goods, trucks, planes, boats and people to affected areas. We were getting calls of people offering money, food, boats, trucks and even airplanes! We were one of the first to organize a plane filled with goods and volunteers to Guiuan Eastern Samar. We sent volunteers to assess the situation in Eastern Samar, gather local contacts and prepare to receive goods. As of this writing, 10 trucks are on its way to Samar. We got goods and boats and delivered goods to Isabela Leyte. These goods made their way to Tacloban and Leyte. We assisted the German Red Cross in Bantayan island. We sent construction materials and medicines to Malapascua. We are all volunteers operating independently of the government and complementing the huge international humanitarian effort. We channel the kindness and generosity of private individuals who want to offer what they have to help ones who were not as lucky.

The storm was unprecedented. The extent of the damage was also unprecedented. While the slow starts of the first few days have now passed and the huge machinery of the international humanitarian effort is chugging along, it is now time to focus on rebuilding. For those affected cannot rely on relief forever. We must now focus on rebuilding. People must start rebuilding their homes, their livelihoods and their life. And while there will be assistance from the humanitarian communities, the people should be allowed to rebuild their lives themselves. The humanitarian community must not keep on doling out and create dependence. What they could do is assist in a different way in the rebuilding phase. They could use their expertise and know how to teach those people who have lost their shelters and livelihood that there is a better way to build your house so that it could withstand the next storm, that there’s a better way to fish so you are both more productive and more sustainable. Let’s look at what was destroyed as an opportunity to improve and make better homes and better ways. That is what I’m working on now.

Team Patola. Nameless, Faceless Volunteers

Team Patola. Nameless, Faceless Volunteers

With the great people of Tacloban

With the great people of Tacloban

Santa arriving in style

Santa arriving in style

The kids smile makes it all worth it

The kids smile makes it all worth it

With Team Bohol who themselves were affected by a massive earthquake just weeks before Yolanda

With Team Bohol who themselves were affected by a massive earthquake just weeks before Yolanda

Hitching a ride with relief goods in a C130

Hitching a ride with relief goods in a C130

With the RTAT team. From military (US and Phils), Academe, Private Sector

With the RTAT team. From military (US and Phils), Academe, Private Sector

Hitching ride back

Hitching ride back

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Where are still the possible points of failure that we, the citizens, can watch and do something about?

I made several recommendations last night after my first day at the controversial DSWD/UNICEF warehouses regarding the need to optimize the packing lines so we can move goods faster. The critical need, however, are warm volunteers, a lot of able hands, because without them nothing will get packed. The optimized lines will be like online commentaries, nothing but air.

In the morning, there were only 4 volunteers who came to help Ensha at the UNICEF warehouse. My good ole friends from Microsoft days Marvin and MR Cruz were there from 8AM. They worked for 12 hours with Marvin supervising the operations after Ensha left. 12 hours! Marvs, MR, you guys are my heroes. With Ensha was Elay from Antipolo. And if this doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what would. An American film maker, Ian, flew from Cebu to just help. He’s flying back tomorrow. I will repeat that. Ian is not even Filipino and he is based in Cebu. He flew all the way from Cebu, pack and go back. Can you imagine that? And some can’t even be bothered to get off their comfortable seats but I’ll stop the bitching here.

DSWD had many volunteers. The UPS guys were still there. DSWD kindly sent 16 Singles for Christ members to help the 5 guys slaving away at the UNICEF warehouse.

At around 2PM, 41 Army reserve soldiers and 3 officers headed by Col. Javier and Master Sgt. Penafiel arrived and things started moving faster.

In the afternoon, Carla Sta. Cruz of ADB, Martha Sapalo of the Air Force, my friends and fellow Red Cross Rizal volunteers Chef Christine Zarandin and Benjo Ramos arrived. I was the last one to arrive.

My hats off to everyone who came and helped.

I’m deeply concerned though if we want to move these goods where they are needed. I’m no logistics expert but in order to move these goods, we need people and an efficient process. But we need people first. It’s a weekend and only 8 volunteered. If not for the military and the Singles for Christ, they couldn’t have packed over 800 starter kits to families displaced by the floods. I cannot count the Facebook posts, twitter RTs and online commentaries on the issue. It even made a trending topic in twitter which is not as easy feat. But only 8 came.

Many reacted to Ella’s blog whose photos are taken from the UNICEF warehouse. Many reacted passionately crying why the goods are not moving. You know why the goods are not moving? It’s not because DSWD personnel are corrupt or incompetent. It’s simply because YOU, yes YOU are doing nothing but cry, complain, criticize from your air-conditioned rooms, pointing your fingers, devising your conspiracy theories and blaming. If Ian can take the plane from Cebu so he can contribute, what can you contribute? Instead of saying what else is wrong with our government, ask yourself: “What can I contribute?”

Just a volunteer,

Gio

Video. Photos.

To volunteer, please let us know:

For UNICEF: Ensha: 0917 577 4108 or me 0917 577 7602.

For DSWD Ms Fabian: 8528081 or Gang: info@rockedphilippines.org.

We need the following:

  1. Your name
  2. Contact info
  3. Days and times you can commit. (This is very important because we are coordinating with DSWD and UNICEF and they need to know how many people are they expecting at which times so they can also inform their staff, eg security guards, warehouse managers, etc. It will just make it easier for everyone, most especially you when you get there.)


Wow! So much talk and so many extra issues.

I personally went there this afternoon to (1) help move the goods that were supposed to be not moving and (2) see for myself what’s happening and see what else I can do. (MLQ3, thanks for quoting my blog. I wanted to clarify things for myself and hopefully for others. I did not insinuate that original blogger talked about pilferage. I was just clarifying through issues that could be going in people’s minds.)

To everyone who has not gone there, stop the talk and go there before you pass any judgment.

As far as I could actually see for myself, the DSWD, UNICEF personnel, volunteers were working as hard as they can and sweating it out there, getting cuts in their arms trying to insert those blankets inside the water jugs.

I see a lot of people talking and commenting in this blog. While I will kill and die to defend your right to free speech and expression, I want to request that you please stop for a while and just go there, if not to see for yourselves what is happening but to lend a hand. I twitted, FBed, SMS, called everyone I know and only 15 came earlier. We need all the hands and less talk.

Can things be improved there? Yes!

I may disagree with how DSWD is managing the packing lines but I understand it. I wouldn’t have if I didn’t go. The DSWD warehouse management is limiting the number of volunteers, a choice they made because it may have been to them the most optimal way to manage the process better. I disagree with it and think the warehouses could handle more (if more volunteers come) but I feel that it was done with the good intentions of delivering the goods where they are needed. I feel no malice.

My suggestion: recruit line managers, delegate responsibility to them and have 24/7 shifts. (Assuming volunteers come.)

There’s also a very obvious communication problem. I do not personally know Dr. Cabral but it seems to me that what she thought at her level was implemented, was not implemented down the line, eg security guards blowing off would be volunteers. This happens in any organization.

My suggestion: As soon as the 24/7 production line is organized, get everyone in the organization on the same page, including and especially the guards and the front office for they are what volunteers encounter first. (If I didn’t ask for UNICEF none of the people would have suggested it and I would have spending that Saturday afternoon reading your blogs instead of stuffing pots and soaps in sacks.) Then recruit, recruit volunteers. Many are willing.

Are the goods going to where they are intended? I don’t know.

Suggestion: Call Dr. Cabral and find out how you can help with deployment. Then go with the deployment teams. Then you can see it first hand and give it from your hand to hand of the very person receiving the goods.

There are a lot of corruption in the government but not everyone is corrupt. There’s a lot of things that needs to be improved in the way the government is handling things. Question is: “Are you just gonna talk about it or get up and do something?”

From someone who’s been there and still trying to do that.

See MLQ3’s blog.

I just want to share my experience at the DSWD to shed some light into the DSWD controversy because I had enough of the online speculation and just wanted to go there and see it for myself and volunteer to help.

When I got there I looked for Miss Fabian who’s managing the warehouse for DSWD. She informed me that they no longer need volunteers for the weekend because they have too many. So I asked about UNICEF and they exclaimed that I could help there. UNICEF needs volunteers.

So I met with Ensha of UNICEF, some volunteers from Don Bosco and Jordan, a volunteer from Boston. We were about 15. After about an hour, my fellow volunteers from Red Cross, including Geraldine Repollo, who’s managing Rizal chapter, followed and relieved the students from Don Bosco. We were still about 15.

There are 5 (if my memory doesn’t fail me this time) huge warehouses. 1 warehouse housed the goods from UNICEF. The rest housed rice and other food stuff. The UNICEF goods are packed as starter packs for those families who have been relocated due to the floods. A starter pack consists of cooking pot stuffed with towels, bath soap, laundry detergent, water jug stuffed with 4 blankets, 2 plastic mats. These are then picked up by trucks and supposed to be delivered to the relocation centers. The rest of the warehouses pack food and snack packs, as far as I know because I did not actually pack one. Distribution is centralized through DSWD.

Those are the facts as I’ve seen them.

The blog that started it all, after checking the posted pics and what I actually saw, referred to the UNICEF warehouse. Is there corruption? I don’t think there is. At least not at the warehouse packing stages. Ensha and the volunteers seem intent only on the job at hand. (Bless you guys!)Security seems strict and I see no signs of pilferage. I’m not sure what happens after the goods leave the warehouse. I just hope they get to their supposed destinations. Someone needs to check on that.

Is there intentional hoarding? I don’t think there is either.

Goods are just moving slow. I posit 2 reasons:

1. There are not enough volunteers. Ms. Fabian says that on weekdays they only get around 40 volunteers. When I came there, there were not more than 15 working on a Saturday even when I posted on my FB page with my 1800 “FB friends”, several FB groups totaling around 400 members, twittered it, and SMSed to 20 buddies. 15/2000 is not a good ratio. Gang, I hope you are more successful. No volunteers.

2. Limits set by the management. When I was told that DSWD is no longer accepting volunteers for the weekend because there were already a lot of volunteers from UPS. I don’t have the exact count but I saw several hundreds. However, after 2 hours of work, I noticed that the other warehouses were empty. I strongly think the 5 huge warehouses could accomodate and harness at least 1000 per warehouse. When we were repacking at Red Cross Rizal in a 40sqm room, we had 600 volunteers at some points and managed to release 1000-2000 packs per mission and we ran several missions per day. The DSWD warehouses should be able to improve their output. They could run 24/7 on continous shifts when volunteers and managers (from DSWD, UNICEF, or volunteers) running the packing lines. In business, we call this a good problem. It is a scale problem.

My recommendations:

  1. Train more packing line managers from staff and volunteers.
  2. Run the lines as a 24/7 operation with your trained line managers.
  3. Make the schedules public. Use social media, the internet, radio, whatever. (I know of some who volunteered but returned home when they were told they need no more volunteers. If I, myself, [emphasis mine] did not ask for UNICEF, the peeps at the DSWD office wouldn’t have volunteered the info. Clearly, we have communication problem here.)
  4. Get more volunteers.

Those are my recommendations to the people in charge of the warehouses.

To the rest of you readers, stop reading, stop speculating about corruption and criticizing from your comfortable chairs and fast broadband, stop making those stupid farmville whatever, stop waging virtual mafia wars, get out, volunteer and get ready to sweat it out.

I’ll post pics and videos when I get home. Now massage.

Photos here. Video here.