A Philippine Coast Guard photo of 'Princess of the Stars' that sank last Sunday during Typhoon Fengshen (Frank) wiht the almost certain loss of more than 700 lives.
The Resilience of the Filipino
Last Friday morning I went by fast craft from Bacolod City to Iloilo City. Bacolod is on the northwest coast of Negros while Iloilo is on the east coast of Panay, an island with four provinces, whereas Negros has two. The sea was calm and the one-hour journey pleasant. I knew that there was a storm forecast to hit Samar, the easternmost island in the Visayas, the group of large islands in the centre of the Philippines. Samar gets hit by many of the 20 or so weather systems that hit the country during the rainy season, usually between June and November or December. Some develop into typhoons.
Fengshen, known in the Philippines as ‘Frank’, turned into a typhoon and instead of heading north turned west and brought winds and rain to Negros and Panay, causing widespread flooding in part of Iloilo City and Province as well as in other places. We had no electricity from Saturday morning in Iloilo City and as of this morning power hadn’t been restored there, according to one of my friends who tested me. He also told me that the water system will be out of order for about a month, something I heard on the radio this afternoon, where ‘about three weeks’ was the projection.
‘Frank’ headed north and hit Manila and northern Luzon. Along the way it caused ‘Princess of the Stars’, a passenger ship with more than 800 on board, to sink very quickly. Why the ship was allowed to sail from Manila on a 22-hour journey south to Cebu is something nobody is prepared to take the blame for. It is the fourth disaster for Sulpicio Lines since 1987, when more than 4,000 sank on 20 December in a vessel that wasn’t supposed to have more than around 1,900 on board. Nobody in the company or in the Philippine Coast Guard has ever been punished for that – the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history.
I went to Iloilo to be part of a Worldwide Marriage Encounter team, which consists of three couples and a priest. Four couples started the weekend, though there should be at least five. But we went ahead.
Next morning two of our team couples and one of the participating couples learned that their houses were flooded. One team husband, Toto Perez, went home while his wife Inday stayed behind, though she wnet home the following morning. In the afternoon one of the participating couples went home to bring their daughter to St Clement’s Retreat House, where we were staying and which was very safe. But it just got too difficult for them to come back, though they had left their things at the retreat house.
Ed and Febs Brasileño, the other team couple whose house was flooded, stayed and their family was able to get to the retreat house on Sunday afternoon.
Despite all the obstacles, the Weekend went ahead and those taking part in it were truly graced by God. I was truly inspired by the dedication of the team couples.
The Ecclesial Team Couple in the Archdiocese of Jaro, located in Iloilo City, Nonoy and Del Tarrosa, were taking care of Del’s father in hospital. It too flooded rather rapidly and everyone on the ground floor (first floor), including Del’s father, had to be moved to the first floor (second floor in American and Philippine English). Yet they both managed to visit the retreat house a number of times to make sure that everything was going well.
The capacity of Filipinos to cope with adversity never ceases to amaze me. The Philippines is more prone to natural calamities than any other country. Yet people pick up the pieces, often after a good cry, and start all over. One of the reasons why they can do so is that they believe that God is with them.
Please pray for all who have suffered, those who lost loved ones, farmers who lost their crops, especially rice at a time when it is scarce, and for the souls of those who died. Pray too for a change of heart in those ultimately responsible for the shipping disaster, which should never have happened.