August 16, 2015 by Stephen Bentley
Typhoon Yolanda: Aftermath and One Old Man
This article below is a stark reminder that not everyone has so far benefited from the responses in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda as to the rebuilding of homes and the lives of the people affected.
It brought to mind a chance encounter I had with one old man at Sugar Beach, Santa Fe, Bantayan Island, Philippines.
The article is here:
Malacanang on Sunday vowed to take further action to aid those displaced by deadly Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, following UN criticism that the government’s response so far had been “inadequate.”
Source: Govt vows action on Yolanda rebuilding after UN criticism | ABS-CBN News
Like many thousands if not millions of others, I had watched on from afar at the news footage of the destruction caused by Yolanda or Haiyan to give it the international name.
I was in the UK at the time and had no idea that in a couple of years I would be retired and living in the Philippines.
Luck was on my side when I arrived at Manila airport after the tiring long haul flight from Heathrow. It was Good Friday, or Black Friday as Filipinos call it. The usually frantic international terminal was quiet. So quiet that there was no line for immigration.
After a few days in Manila I was flying again but this time to Cebu. From there I got the aircon bus to the port of Hignayan to catch the ferry across to Santa Fe on Bantayan Island.
The second day on the beautiful island I hired a motorbike and enjoyed a wonderful tour of the whole island. Later that day, having swallowed plenty of dust on the motorbike jaunt, I took a walk on Sugar Beach.
As I walked on to the beautiful white sands I was thinking that I could really ‘murder’ a beer, as we say in the UK.
I strolled about 30 meters barefoot along the beach and came across a white marquee like tent.
There was also a small table and a few chairs. It was then I spotted the old man.
He had one of those faces that you could instantly like and trust. We made eye contact and he flashed a quick smile. I returned it in kind and I said “Hello”.
One of the wonderful things about the Philippines for a foreigner like me is that almost all Filipinos speak at least a little English.
I was tired and needed a chair. Peter, for I later found out his name, offered me the exact thing I was thinking of.
I sat down and told him my name and that I was from England. He told me his name and then asked me if I would like a beer. I thought “Wow! this guy is a mind reader.”
He reached down into a large cool box and showed me a choice of beers. There was a small San Miguel and a large bottle of Gold Eagle.
I had not tried the Gold Eagle before. It was also bigger than the SM so I thought “Why not?”
We then got to chatting for about an hour.
He introduced me to his wife and his granddaughter. I then noticed behind us the concrete and tiled flooring of a smallish house. Or at least it had once been a house. There was no building structure remaining above ground level
I asked Peter what it was. He told me it had been his home before Yolanda smashed into it reducing it to rubble.
Also visible was the makeshift living area covered by a tarpaulin supported by bamboo poles. That contained an area to sleep and to cook.
Peter was so matter of fact in telling his story of his home and Yolanda. Stoicism is the word that comes to mind. I felt very humble and indeed privileged to have lived in a country that is not beset by such natural disasters.
I inquired about his prospects of having his home rebuilt. Peter’s face was the equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders except his body did not move.
Now refreshed I gave Peter his asking price of 65 pesos for the beer and bade him farewell.
I do think of him every time I see the news informing us that another typhoon has entered the Philippines Area of Responsibility.
I often wonder if a start has been made on rebuilding his home.
A long time has elapsed between Yolanda in November 2013 and the April of 2015 when I met an old man called Peter.