We started out November 11 with promises of new clothes, gadgets, skincare, and home appliances to meet the biggest one-day sale in the local E-Commerce world. It wasn’t “just another day,” it was the one day Filipinos embraced their spending habits with the excuse of discounts and low prices.
In the morning, classes were called off in consideration of faulty internet connections across Luzon due to the reported Signal No. 3 storm, Ulysses. But the day went by relatively smoothly, with classes replaced by virtual shopping carts, while employees kept one tab open to check on deals they couldn’t bear to miss.
It was an excitable day, amped up by friends supporting each other’s rare splurging moments, and families chipping in to finally get that TV they’ve been saving up for, or that refrigerator that needed replacing months ago.
It wasn’t until the sun went down when other things started going downhill.
Ulysses made landfall in one big surge of rain, relentlessly pouring months-worth of rainwater into Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon. Non-stop, the rain fell and strong gusts of wind bended galvanized iron roofs, uprooted years-old trees, and loudly pelted windows throughout the evening.
Multiple cities cut off electricity, some for preventive measures and some due to poles going down. Many Filipinos stayed up in anxiety that evening with no sleep, no electricity, and hardly any idea that this storm was going to hit this hard—a world away from the excitement of 11.11 morn.
Then, the morning after. The first thing that people living in Luzon noticed as soon as they woke (if they got any sleep at all) was the fact that it was still raining heavily outside. The storm didn’t look as if it weakened compared to the previous night. In fact, it sounded a lot angrier and more aggressive.
Going on social media that morning meant waking to the hundreds of photos online of families in Marikina, Rizal, Pasig, and others, who were literally on the roofs of their houses surrounded by large bodies of water. Bodies of water that were just, the previous morning, streets, stores, and first stories of neighboring houses in the backgrounds of their own domestic lives.
Several posts were going viral in desperate search of a rescue team for children, senior citizens, and families stranded with nowhere else to go as the rain continued to pour and the flood level continued to rise.
The Marikina river alarm blared across the city in an attempt to urge residents to evacuate as water levels rose its highest yet. Heartbeats escalated as the morning went by and message after message came in from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), warning us of the strength of the storm and the possibility of landslides, flooding, and more.
It was a different sort of energy and buzz compared to the morning before—one that was fueled more by desperation, panic, and an overwhelming sense of grief and sadness.
Seeing floods across the country is not a new horror for Filipinos, and neither is seeing hundreds of photos online of our countrymen desperately hanging on by a thread to their homes, livelihoods, and each other.
But the overwhelming mix of sadness and anger comes from the knowledge that none of this is new, and yet things have not changed at all for the better. Things haven’t changed at all: period.
The biggest concern that came out of this whole ordeal is the lack of warning presented to us before the storm hit. Yes, typhoon signals went up, classes were suspended, and we knew there was a strong storm coming—but no one knew it was going to be this bad. No one anticipated that it would match Ondoy’s devastation back in 2009 with a week’s worth of destruction carried out in just one night, 11 years later. Preparation and warning lacked tremendously.
But then when the storm did arrive and floods started happening across the region, there was also a glaring lack of coordination in terms of rescuing and evacuating stranded residents. Hundreds of families were stuck from the wee hours of dawn until darkness consumed them once again and ushered in the evening. Rescue efforts were made by both local government units and private citizen-led initiatives, while donations poured in for food, clothes, cash, and other necessities.
Despite all this, however, nothing can shake off the feeling that we were all just chipping in scraps of our extra resources to help out, while state-backed and tax-funded efforts were sparse.
This also brings to light the importance of dissemination of information, and how crucial it is to have leaders that are visibly present to give guidelines, notices, and messages of hope to a country that is in so dire need of it.
If residents were given ample warnings that a storm this huge was coming, perhaps things wouldn’t have gone as bad as it did. If residents saw that officials were making a big deal out of this storm, then perhaps a lot of families wouldn’t have been so caught off guard. Afterwards, when disaster has already struck, if leaders came in to provide solutions and relief, maybe the country’s morale wouldn’t be this low.
A lot of maybes and what ifs that call to mind our collective desperation for change, and the general wish that things were different.
From one morning of abundance and excitement, to another of glaring insufficiency and depression. UlyssesPH was a harsh reminder of the striking gap between moments of cashing out some extra funds for goodies off of the Internet, and losing everything in one night—separated by mere hours and varying strokes of luck.
For those of us who are lucky enough to have survived unscathed by the storm, here are some small ways we can help to solve this huge problem of climate and human life: