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Calamities bring out Pinoy’s Bayanihan, Malasakit traits

Joe Zaldarriaga

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The recent Taal Volcano eruption tested anew the Filipinos’ resiliency when we are “pushed against the wall,” demonstrating how fast people come together to aid fellow countrymen in times of natural disasters. In the first few hours when the smallest volcano in the country started spewing ashes out in the air two weeks ago, people residing within the 14-kilometer radius scampered for safety and sought shelter in neighboring towns.

What we witnessed in the next two days mesmerized and touched my heart — the spirit of bayanihan and the Filipino trait of malasakit are alive. Evacuation centers, mostly public schools and government establishments, opened their doors to welcome evacuees. Even residents of nearby municipalities not directly affected by the eruption also opened their homes to embrace other evacuees who failed to get space in designated evacuation centers.

A natural calamity as disastrous as a volcano eruption normally takes days or weeks before affected families can return to their homes for safety reasons. They have to remain in designated evacuation centers indefinitely until volcanologists and local government units tell them it is safe to go back home. In such a situation, help is needed to ensure evacuees have sufficient provisions, including food, clothing and other essentials, to survive.

It is a delight to see how various independent welfare-oriented organizations, including small and large corporations, joined hands to achieve a common goal — help the evacuees in the next coming days until they are safe to return to their homes.

The ashes that were spewed out by the volcano literally covered several towns around Taal Lake, including electrical posts and wirings, putting most towns without power. To quickly restore power in affected areas, Meralco linemen and crews bravely climbed electric posts to clear the dust off the circuits and wirings, working 24/7 to bring back power in Cavite, Laguna and Batangas.

It took these brave linemen to bring back the power within seven days, a proof that the private sector, including a utility company like Meralco, is ready in times of natural calamities to provide efficient and reliable service to Filipinos.

It is during natural disasters that the private sector plays a key role to reach out and help the community. This was evident by the unyielding support afforded by the MVP Group of Companies, which readily dispatched and mobilized various contingents and trained disaster response groups to bring aid to areas affected by the Taal eruption.

Among the groups mobilized and deployed in affected communities were Tulong Kapatid, a consortium of companies and foundations of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, providing aid in the form of power, water, communication, food and relief packs.

To ensure families in the affected areas can communicate and find their relatives, solar mobile charging stations were set up by One Meralco Foundation, the social development arm and corporate foundation of Meralco, initially available in evacuation centers in Alfonso, Cavite, while similar stations were set up and expanded later to other areas. Also, Libreng Charging services were also made available at PLDT’s office in Gen. Aguinaldo Highway, Tagaytay City.

It was also crucial that areas without power were provided with gensets, which Meralco, in coordination with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), installed in various organizations and evacuation centers, including assigning trained personnel to manage the operation of the gensets.

When water resources become scarce in the next few days after the eruption, Maynilad worked with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to deploy water tankers in affected communities. Maynilad also collaborated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to provide 2,000 six-liter bottles, while the Makati Medical Center Foundation supplied 2,400 bottles of mineral water.

Driving along the highways leading to the affected areas was a challenge due to ashfall. A clearing operation was spearheaded by Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation (MPTC) and provided water to clean windshields of affected CALAX motorists. MPTC also cleared ashfall at carriageways to ensure safe passage of all vehicles.

To assist Metropolitan Manila Development Authority volunteers in facilitating the evacuation, rescue and relief of affected Batangas residents, PLDT and its subsidiary Smart Communications provided them with communication support and load credits.

A first-responder food truck serving hot meals at evacuation centers was likewise mobilized by Alagang Kapatid Foundation, PLDT-Smart Foundation and Cignal TV employees. The truck likewise provided free nebulization services administered by volunteer doctors and nurses from the Makati Medical Center Foundation.

Some 8,000 pieces of face masks and 1,500 psycho-social first aid kits were distributed by the Foundation to affected families in Batangas. Similarly, the Metro Pacific Investments Foundation provided care packs containing 1,000 blankets, 1,000 mats and 1,500 shirts for both children and adults.

With no definite time and day for the evacuees to safely return to their homes, we expect LGU and the private sector’s relief efforts to continue to ensure the safety and welfare of the people and their families.

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