Typhoon Conson Not So Bad, But Meralco Dropped the Ball

I just finished (sort of) my first experience with typhoons, and my first typhoon in the Philippines.  It has been, and is continuing to be, an interesting few days.  I don’t have any interesting photos to share, because there wasn’t really anything interesting to take photos of.  Honestly, this typhoon was no worse than the average hurricane I experienced in Georgia.  There were branches laying around, lots of leaves that needed sweeping up and on the ridges some of the smaller trees (3 – 5 inch diameter trunks) had snapped off from the high winds.  There wasn’t a lot of rain.  No more than an average storm anyway.  I was underwhelmed.  That was my experience in the Antipolo area, which is east of Metro Manila.  Being up in the mountains, it seems to be shielded from the brunt of bad weather.  It didn’t flood here during Ondoy either, from what my in-laws tell me.  Unfortunately, after finally having a chance today to look at the news online, it seems like other people weren’t so lucky.  It’s a bit hard for me to find sympathy for the fishermen who didn’t come ashore when they knew a typhoon was coming, or for the guy that drowned while trying to save a herd of pigs in a lake, though I think I can understand his reasoning.  I do feel bad for the other people that died though.  I have a feeling most of them live in houses that aren’t built very well, and then there were the accidents like the carpenters that had a concrete wall collapse on top of them.  So, don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m not downplaying their deaths.  I’m just relating my own experience during this event.

With the storm being so relatively mundane (compared to Ondoy), I can’t help but wonder why the power went out for so long!?  Really, what’s going on with you guys Meralco?  The night the typhoon hit the greater Manila area, the power began to flicker.  I wasn’t too surprised about that, since the power lines are on poles here.  I also wasn’t too surprised when the power went out entirely at around 1 AM.  In fact, we were watching a zombie movie called Dead Snow on my laptop at the time.  It’s supposedly one of the greatest zombie movies ever, and what better time to watch it than on a dark, stormy night?

We went to bed around 3 AM, with the sounds of the wind howling and the rain sheeting down to rock us to sleep.  When morning came two and a half hours later, the sky was a little overcast, but it was clear.  There was still no electricity but I was cool with that.  I’d figured the work crews wouldn’t head out until morning.  There was no running water.  That was disappointing.  So, we went back to sleep.

Later that day we got up and went to my brother-in-law’s shop to have a light lunch.  Still no electricity.

We sat around all afternoon, chatting, reading, getting in some of that quality bonding time, but there was still no electricity when the sun started to go down.

When it got too dark to see, we brought out candles. By then my laptop battery was almost completely drained and I wanted to conserve the battery on my iPhone, just in case.  So, there was nothing to do but sleep.  We used the last of the water we’d stocked up on to wash up and then at 7:30 PM we went to bed.

Around 1 AM we got up and checked, but there was still no electricity.

At 5 AM this morning we were up again, because we had to be in Eastwood by 9 AM.  Still no electricity.

By then, the fact that there was no electricity was really working my nerves.  We’d found out from family and friends that the power had been off all yesterday in Pasig and in Mandaluyong as well.  Why was there such a widespread outage for such a low key storm?  A friend told us that even after Ondoy, the power was up and running after just 3 or 4 hours.  It seems absurd that the power outage would last that long with such a relatively light storm.

The power being up 3 to 4 hours after Ondoy could be misinformation, but on our way to Eastwood we passed a news stand and one of the papers had a front page article showing a housewife trying to prepare a meal by candle light.  The title said something like, “Welcome back to the Dark Ages”.  Given how sarcastic the title was, I think our sentiments about the power situation were shared by quite a few people.

While in Eastwood I ran my iPhone battery all the way down while reading a book on the iBooks application.  My other cell phone was almost dead too by the time we headed home.  So was my wife’s phone.  We’re job hunting, so that’s not a good thing.  It sucked to think about heading home to a house with no electricity, no water, and nothing to do once it got dark.

So, on the way back from Eastwood we kept an eye on storefronts and house windows, to see if we could see light.  Things were looking good but we were still holding our breath for what we might see in our own neighborhood, which is a little ways outside Antipolo.  And… there was light!  When we crested the last ridge before our neighborhood (which sits in a valley), we could see house lights everywhere and we breathed a sigh of relief.  At least we could recharge our gear and have some entertainment.

Fortunately, we hadn’t restocked our fridge yet.  There wasn’t much of anything in it to go bad, except for some milk.  Maybe the eggs are bad now too.  I don’t know.  Unfortunately, I think we may have just lost a month’s profit on business related foodstuffs we had in our freezer.  Things that are supposed to remain frozen don’t do too well in the Philippines heat when the power is out for 30 to 40 hours.  I don’t know what time the electricity came back on today, but it wasn’t soon enough.

Meralco… you disappoint.

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath, More Disaster

(Image via bardagols on Flickr)

The aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy is turning into a huge disaster.  I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of news and I figured I’d try to put it all together here.  It’s very disheartening to say the least.  Of course, you can’t expect a lot of good news in the middle or immediate aftermath of a disaster, but some of the things that are going on are just ridiculous.

One of the biggest problems right now is that there are vacant homes everywhere.  Granted, they have water damage, but there are still valuable items in some of them.  Unscrupulous people are taking advantage of this and there is rampant looting in affected areas.  These families have already sustained massive damages to their homes, and they’re going to be financially crippled for quite some time.  Having their possessions stolen will only make matters worse.  Plus, vandals aren’t going to be using the spare key, so there’ll be additional property damage on top of what was caused by the typhoon.

One thing that’s really bothering me is reports of politicians “branding” the relief packages with their faces and names.  This practice is common in the Philippines.  Every time there is road construction, or some new public facility is being built, politicians waste plenty of citizens’ tax money to put up huge billboards describing the work in progress, the responsible politician’s name, and more often than not that politicians face, or even a family portrait.  Is that really necessary?  Everyone knows who was elected to serve in that region, so it should be plain who backed the roadwork or the new construction.  Putting up all of those billboards is a waste of funds that could be put to better use in a country that is, on a normal day, already struggling to keep afloat economically.  Now, after this huge disaster, when so many people are suffering, the politicians aren’t worried about providing relief.  They’re worried about advertising and branding.  It’s fucking disgusting.  They have no sense of propriety.  This is not the place or time for that sort of thing.  What’s even worse is these packages aren’t being provided by those politicians.  It’s being provided by multiple donations from all around the world.  The politicians are repacking it and putting their name on it, as if they paid for it all themselves.

Many Filipinos are also claiming that relief goods are only being handed out when media is present, and not before, nor after.  It’s as if this whole tragedy has become a platform for politicians to advertise themselves.  How heartless is that?  Rather than focussing on what’s important, they’d rather use it as an opportunity to try to ensure they get reelected.

Here’s a news flash.  It was partially through failure on the part of elected officials that this disaster happened in the first place.  Lack of awareness campaigns to reduce pollution, lack of announcing the impending disaster, lack of rescue personnel and equipment, lack of funds.  Lack of leadership.

This raises the issue of government misuse of public funds, most notably the Philippine president, Gloria Arroyo, and her huge expenditure of approximately 1 million Philippine Pesos in New York City for a dinner.  Personally, I hope that this causes a shift in the right direction in Philippine politics where there is more accountability of where and how money is being spent.

The icing on the cake is that another tyhpoon, named Pepeng in the Philippines and internationally known as Parma , is expected to make landfall tonight Friday night, and only 1/4 of the rainfall produced by Ondoy will be required to recreate flash flood conditions.  Oh, and Pepeng is a stronger typhoon than Ondoy was.

I’ll be keeping the Philippines in my thoughts and prayers tonight.  Good luck guys.

Heroes of the Typhoon Ondoy Tragedy

This is a photo of the Laguna area, roughly 60 km south of Manila. It’s not the exact location where the following events took place, but it’ll give you an idea of what the area looks like. Also, I found the sign in the image to be rather ironic, given the circumstances. Maybe putting up huge billboards describing what you’re doing isn’t such a great idea, politicians.

Typhoon Ondoy brought a lot of tragedy to the Philippines but it has also brought out the best in people in terms of risking themselves to save others.

One inspiring story is that of PFC Venacio Ancheta, who was able to save 20 civilian lives before losing his own to the floodwaters. PFC Ancheta belonged to the 2nd Infantry Division disaster response team, led by Lt. Arnel Marcos. His team was responding to affected residents of Barangay Tunhac, Famy, Laguna when he bravely lost his life.

PFC Venancio Ancheta was just one of seven Philippines Army casualties suffered during rescue operations, but his actions inspired many others to put their lives on the line to save their fellow Filipinos. A quote from the statement issued by the Philippine Army says: “His heroism [serves] as an inspiration for the whole Philippine Army and, in particular, his teammates who continued the mission and rescued another 600 civilians in Famy, Laguna”

Another inspiring story is that of CPL Adriano Regua, who lost his life while trying to save one of the militiamen on his team. The militiaman was drowning and CPL Regua risked himself to save him. Unfortunately, neither made it. This selfless act spoke highly of his dedication to his duty and his team, as well as his quality as a leader. Additionally, under his supervision his rescue team was able to save 200 residents in the area. Perhaps the most telling sign of the quality of his character was that he was putting forth his best effort to perform his duties, despite the fact that his own family was in danger in Tanay, Rizal, which was also hard hit by the storm.

On the other end of the spectrum you have something that initially looks heroic, but doesn’t stand up to reason when you really think about it.

Christina Reyes, a famous young actress in the Philippines, was stranded on top of her house with her family. That’s a situation that was faced by thousands of Filipinos, and yet her case was somehow made special because she is a celebrity. I think this is one of those times when social class and celebrity status shouldn’t make a difference. Everyone’s life is just as valuable.

Richard Gutierrez, fellow actor and co-star of an upcoming movie, somehow appropriated an Army speed boat and made his way through the wreckage of Manila to Reyes’ house to rescue her. Some sites are describing it as a real life scene from a movie that should be hailed and praised. I see it as misuse of government property, shameless self promotion (on Gutierrez’ part) and a gross mockery of the suffering Filipino flood victims are experiencing. Also, I can’t help but wonder how many victims he passed on his way to and from rescuing her.

I found a rather poorly made fan video of the incident, which is embedded below, but what really caught my eye was the sentiment of one of the commenters, included below the video embed.

A YouTube user had this comment to make about the situation:

Don525 (6 hours ago) [[As of 11:04 PM, Tuesday September 29th]]

Whats so special about this BITCH?The whole country is in chaos..hundreds already died,thousands are homeless some are hungry and missing and they are worried about a famous 2 face celeb..?VERY SAD,,very sad indeed,,who gives a shit!!there is more at stakenow help our kabayan..and dont be an asshole like our gov..blame it global warming and bad devlopment and bad dicipline…

I can’t really say that it’s Reyes’ fault, because it’s only natural for someone to appeal for help. I blame Gutierrez, for being selfish in taking an Army speedboat that could have otherwise been used for rescue operations to save just one person.

The Reyes incident aside, PFC Venacio Ancheta and CPL Adriano Regua are heroes. They’re certainly not the only ones, but they’ve become figureheads for the relief efforts in the Manila area.

I sincerely hope that a portion of tax money is used for something noble, the erection of a monument in Manila to honor the heroes and the dead in this tragedy.

Hurricane Ondoy. What the hell happened?

(Image Source: Times Online)

Typhoon Ondoy is one of the worst disasters to hit the Philippines in years.  I believe I also read that this was the worst typhoon in 42 years.  It also raises a lot of questions about why there was so little warning, why there was such a poor response, and what’s going to happen to all of the victims.  It also illustrates the usefulness of social media in spreading information and requesting help during national emergencies.

Click through to Read More.

Why Was There No Warning?

Typhoon Ondoy didn’t just sneak up on the Philippines.  There was plenty of warning.  PAGASA had even issued warnings that there could be flash flooding and landslides and people in low lying areas may be affected.  So, where did communication break down?  Why weren’t people alerted?  How much of this could’ve been avoided had people been properly evacuated in advance?

Some of the news I’ve read on the internet has compared Typhoon Ondoy to Hurricane Katrina in the US.  There was massive destruction and the local population was caught totally unprepared.  I even saw a few Tweets claiming that Ondoy dropped more rain than Katrina, and that the hurricane category was higher.  I don’t know about that for sure, but Ondoy was definitely a monster of a storm!

Why Was There Such A Poor Response?

Filipinos didn’t receive proper warning before the storm, but on top of that they received an inadequate emergency response as well.  The Philippines is in an area that sees multiple typhoons every year, and flooding isn’t a pink elephant, it’s something that should be expected.  So, where were the amphibious vehicles?  Surely the military has some.  The Philippines is an island chain after all.  Where were the boats?  I remember seeing lots of complaints about the lack of boats.

Some blogs and news sites I’ve read concerning the poor government response to Ondoy are calling for a Senate review, similar to what happened in the US after Katrina, to analyze and improve obviously defective emergency response systems and institutions.  That would be a good move in my opinion.  In this day and age, with the technology we have available to us, there should be no reason for people to have to spend days sitting on their roofs waiting for help to arrive.

Social Media, The Unexpected Hero of the Ondoy Catastrophe

My wife and I actually didn’t know anything about Ondoy until the flooding was well underway.  I believe it was late Saturday afternoon when my wife saw an update on her Facebook claiming there was flooding in the Philippines.  So, that’s when we started searching and, like many people, we used social media like Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and YouTube to keep updated on the situation.  In fact, if it weren’t for social media, I don’t think we’d have ever known what was going on.

Many people complained that there wasn’t enough international coverage of such a massive event.  I’d have to agree.  If Ondoy was worse than Katrina, then it should have received more coverage than Katrina, which was in the news everywhere for quite a while.  Is it because of where the storm happened?  The value of a human life is the same, regardless of where that person is from, so I’m a bit disappointed with the traditional media response.

Through social media we saw everything from video of the flooding to calls for help.  That’s right!  People were using Facebook and Twitter to request help, passing along addresses and locations of stranded people.  I don’t know if traditional methods were unavailable, but even if they were they would’ve been overwhelmed.  So, people were using social media to call out to their fellow Filipinos for aid.  It really was inspiring to see, and made me wish I were there to lend a hand as well.

Additionally, people used social media, especially Twitter, to request information about current conditions, and to ask people to check on friends and family.  It was an incredible boon and aid to Filipinos and others with relatives and/or friends in the Philippines.

Social Media is also being used to pass information about where and how to donate to victims of the flood.

I personally spent a lot of time requesting information about where my relatives in the Philippines live, but it’s a rather out of the way spot, so we never did get much in the way of positive information.  In the end, we got through to my wife’s brother when he made it into the town area to get supplies from the grocery store Sunday afternoon around 4 PM.  Luckily, the part of the Antipolo they live in wasn’t too badly affected, which is a relief, considering the news about the majority of Antipolo.

Scandal And Heroism

Like any major event, this tragedy has brought out both the best and the worst in people.  There were scandals like Jaque Bermejo telling the world through Facebook that the victims must have deserved it, as a punishment from God and nature.  Then there was the President’s son leisurely purchasing liquor in Rustans.  Good job, hero.

But, there were stories of bravery and heroism too, where people gave their lives to save their fellow Filipinos.  I really hope that some of the nation’s tax money is used appropriately and a memorial is erected to honor the dead, and especially to honor those that gave their lives saving others.

What Now?

I suppose the biggest question people are asking themselves is, “What do we do now?”  Some people simply have flood damage and need to wait until the waters recede before returning home.  Even that’s no small thing, considering how much of a person’s personal belongings may be totally ruined.  Having to replace furniture is a heavy expense.  Having to replace electronics is even more costly.  Having to replace everything is worse still.  But, at least there’s a structure to call home to return to.

Some people don’t even have that anymore.  Imagine sitting in your only pair of shorts in a refugee camp somewhere, realizing that you no longer have anything to your name at all.  Some people don’t exactly have much in the bank and what was in their home may have been all they had of value.  What will these people do?  Where will they go?  How are they going to rebuild when they have nothing left to build with?

I don’t have a solution for that, but I hope there’s a government committee that does, or it will certainly cause problems later.  When a person has nothing, and has nothing to lose, they’ll almost certainly turn to less than legal means to make sure ends meet.  It’s quite likely that there will be a spike in the crime rate following this storm.

Hopefully, everything is handled well and a solution is found.  It would be an even bigger disaster for the destruction Ondoy left in its wake to be followed by even more tragedy.

Philippine President Arroyo’s Son Boozing It Up While Filipinos Are Dying? #Ondoy

While several of our countrymen were waiting to be rescued, Mikey Arroyo, the son of that Malacanang bitch was photographed buying liquor in Rustans in Katipunan. MAGSAMA KAYO NG NANAY MO, KUPAL KA!!!

via Grachelle Bravo

From everything I’ve heard I don’t have much faith in politicians in the Philippines. They’re nothing but a bunch of crooks that steal money from the people to line their own pockets.

First their president spends 1 million Philippine Pesos on a dinner in New York City, and now her son is boozing it up during the middle of a national crisis. Good job, Arroyo and little Arroyo.

Good luck illegally forcing your bill through the congress to have your term extended past its max length.