How overseas Filipinos in the GCC respond when disaster hits the Philippines

Rescuers pull a rubber boat carrying residents through a flooded street after Typhoon Vamco hit in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Rescuers pull a rubber boat carrying residents through a flooded street after Typhoon Vamco hit in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 15 December 2020

How overseas Filipinos in the GCC respond when disaster hits the Philippines

Rescuers pull a rubber boat carrying residents through a flooded street after Typhoon Vamco hit in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Community members have rallied to the assistance of their fellow citizens in the wake of Typhoon Vamco’s destruction
  • Remittances said to play vital role in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, especially for lower-income families

DUBAI: Weeks have passed since Typhoon Vamco tore through the Philippines, yet the human and material devastation left in its wake continues to be felt strongly by people who were in the storm’s path — and by far-flung overseas Filipino communities as well.

Vamco, known locally as Ulysses, killed at least 67 people after hitting the Philippines on Nov. 11. Dozens more were injured when heavy downpours caused flash flooding and mudslides. Storm surges left some areas submerged in Luzon, one of the country’s three main island groups.

“My family is still trying to get mud out of our house,” a Filipino migrant worker in Dubai told Arab News, recalling the horror that was visited on her relatives when heavy rains and winds of up to 213 km/h lashed the Pacific islands.

“It will take us months to fully recover from the typhoon’s impact. It’s difficult being away while they’re experiencing this.”

Local authorities estimate that about 3.8 million of the nation’s 100 million people were severely affected by the disaster and around 350,000 were evacuated from their homes.

At least 110 people have been killed in recent weeks as Typhoons Molave, Goni and Vamco cut through Manila, Bicol, the Cagayan Valley and other parts of Luzon.




Residents carrying food supplies return to their homes in Marikina City, suburban Manila, on November 13, 2020, a day after Typhoon Vamco hit the capital area bringing heavy rains and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

While the Philippines takes stock of the human and material damage caused by Vamco, the roughly 2.3 million Filipino migrants living and working abroad — a large proportion of them in Saudi Arabia and the UAE — wait anxiously for news from home.

For, in addition to Vamco’s havoc, the country is grappling with the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected around 448,300 people and killed at least 8,730 as of mid-December, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

“The night of the typhoon, my family was messaging me constantly about how the rain wasn’t stopping, and that they were monitoring the water level,” Dara de Guzman, a Filipino who moved to Dubai in 2016, told Arab News.

De Guzman’s family lives in Marikina, about 13 kilometers northeast of the capital Manila. The city experiences periodic flooding owing to its low-lying topography, a problem that has been compounded in recent years by illegal logging and quarrying in the region.

“I was in constant communication with them throughout the night, and they were already sending messages asking to pray for them,” de Guzman said, recalling her mental state while being thousands of miles away from her dear ones.




Piles of debris and trash are seen along a muddy street in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 13, 2020, a day after Typhoon Vamco hit the capital area bringing heavy rains and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

“I really wanted to go home. I felt so helpless, and the best thing I could do was to make sure I knew what was happening.”

Gripped by similar emotions, many Filipinos in the UAE felt they must do something to help their distant countrymen — such as holding vigils and encouraging individual acts of charity.

One former Filipino community leader in Dubai, who did not wish to be identified, said he noticed several social media posts aimed at raising funds and seeking donations to support those affected by the typhoon.

It was only natural for overseas Filipinos to come together in a time of crises, he said, just as they did in January this year when the Taal volcano in Batangas province erupted, spewing ash across swathes of the country, grounding flights and forcing schools to close.

A FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT

“Nakakatakot dito kuya (It’s scary here),” my sister wrote via Facebook Messenger when I pressed her for news about our family on the night Typhoon Vamco hit the Philippines. Heavy rains accompanied by high winds caused the roof of our house in Manila to make creaking noises as though it was about to be blown away any moment, she said. In the end, mercifully the house suffered no damage and there was no heavy flooding in my family’s neighborhood.

I could only imagine the terror felt by my family from the comfort of my home in Dubai — four hours behind and thousands of miles away from the Philippines. I moved to the UAE three years ago, but this was the first time I felt very far away from my family. “We are okay, don’t worry about us too much. We will make it through the night,” my mother assured me, as she always does.

Yet I struggled with anxiety all through the night, especially when my family members informed me that there was a power outage and that they were being evacuated. When communications went dead, I had no way of knowing what was going on at the other end. It is in moments like these that the distance between the two countries hits home, reminding me that my relatively comfortable life in the Gulf insulates me from the physical discomfort that natural disasters cause to my loved ones from time to time. — One Carlo Diaz 

The country is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its location along the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, where about 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur.

At the same time, the country is buffeted by an average of 20 typhoons every year — a trend expected by climate scientists to accelerate with the effects of climate change.

President Rodrigo Duterte has responded to the disasters by renewing calls on wealthy nations to take action on the climate crisis affecting the developing world.




Coast guard personnel using a basin to evacuate a child from a flooded home in Cagayan province, north of Manila, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

“The problem, whether we accept it or not, is climate change,” he said while surveying the flood damage recently.

“Developed countries must lead in deep and drastic cuts in carbon emissions. They must act now, or it would be too late. Or if I may say, it is too late.”

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda as it was known locally) killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone and remains among the most powerful tropical cyclone on record.

However, every time a major natural disaster causes death and suffering, Filipinos can count on waves of generosity, especially from members of a diaspora that is always eager to express solidarity with people back home.

This instinct is not unique to overseas Filipino, to be sure. Many expatriate communities maintain close familial, emotional and financial ties with their home countries, some of which are prone to political and social unrest, conflicts and natural disasters.




Submerged houses in Cagayan province, north of Manila, on November 14, 2020, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

Many Lebanese, for instance, have rallied behind their compatriots since the massive Beirut port blast of Aug. 4. There has been an outpouring of donations, gifts and remittances from the Lebanese diaspora in response to the overlapping crises back home.

“Filipinos have shown to be very sensitive to the demand for help when their country has been struck by similar disasters in the past,” said Roberto d’Ambrosio, a financial expert and CEO of brokerage firm Axiory Global.

“Remittances can play a vital role in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, especially for lower-income families whose income sources vanish abruptly under the circumstances, without any buffer to face an emergency or navigate short-term difficulties.”

This is especially true for the Philippines, which relies heavily on money sent by Filipinos working abroad to keep its foreign-currency reserves replenished.

“In general terms, remittances during crises constitute a very important form of help for the affected country, allowing the economy to keep ticking thanks to the inflow of funds from abroad,” d’Ambrosio said.




A motorist passes along a street amidst strong winds in Legazpi City, Albay province on November 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

According to a report published in August by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), remittances across the world could decline by $108.6 billion this year owing to job losses and trimmed payrolls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Money sent to Asia, where about a third of migrant workers worldwide come from, could plunge by $54.3 billion, the Manila-based lender said in its report.

According to the ADB, remittances to Asia and the Pacific, which amounted to $315 billion in 2019, help fuel the consumption-led growth for some of the region’s developing economies, including the Philippines.

“I would do anything to have my presence felt back home, one way or another,” said de Guzman, from Marikina, “through the money I transfer or by constantly checking up on my family.”

------------------

Twitter: @onecarlo_


New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream
Updated 25 min 12 sec ago

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream
  • The 3,000 or so migrants plan to walk thousands of kilometers through Central America
  • Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the US to stop north-bound migratory flows

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras: Some 3,000 people left Honduras on foot Friday in the latest migrant caravan hoping to find a welcome, and a better life, in the US under President-elect Joe Biden.
Seeking to escape poverty, unemployment, gang and drug violence and the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes, the migrants plan to walk thousands of kilometers through Central America.
But they will have to overcome a rash of travel restrictions in Guatemala and Mexico long before they even make it to the American border.
The quest is likely to end in heartbreak for many, with American authorities already having warned off the group that includes people of all ages and some entire families.
“I want to work for my house and a car, to work and live a dignified life with my family,” said Melvin Fernandez, a taxi driver from the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba in Honduras, who set off on the long journey with his wife and three children, aged 10, 15 and 22.
Most of the group set off shortly after 4 a.m. (1000 GMT) from the transport terminal of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city, headed for Agua Caliente on the Guatemalan border some 260 km (162 miles) away.
The migrants walked along side roads wearing backpacks, some holding the Honduras flag, many with small children in their arms, and most with facemasks to protect against the coronavirus.
The migrants say they hope to catch lifts from passing motorists or truckers or, failing that, walk the entire way.
To enter Guatemala, the first country on their route, however, the migrants will have to show travel documents and a negative coronavirus test — requirements that not all of them meet.
“We are leaving with a broken heart, because in my case, I leave my family, my husband and my three children behind,” 36-year-old Jessenia Ramirez told AFP.
“We are going in search of a better future, a job so we can send a few cents back home. We are trusting in God to open our path, Biden is supposed to give work opportunities to those who are there (on American soil).”
The travelers are hopeful that Biden, who takes over the US presidency on Wednesday, will be more flexible than his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden has promised “a fair and humane immigration system” and pledged aid to tackle the root causes of poverty and violence that drive Central Americans to the United States.
But Mark Morgan, acting Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection, warned the group last week not to “waste your time and money.”
The US commitment to the “rule of law and public health” is not affected by the change in administration, he said in a statement.
More than a dozen caravans, some with thousands of migrants, have set off from Honduras since October 2018.
But all have run up against thousands of US border guards and soldiers under Trump, who has characterized immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” and other criminal activity to the United States.
Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the United States to stop north-bound migratory flows from the south of the continent.
Honduras has mobilized 7,000 police officers to supervise the latest caravan on its journey to the Guatemalan border.
Guatemala declared seven departments in a state of “alert,” giving security forces the authority to “forcibly dissolve” any type of public groupings.
On Friday, officials said they had already returned about 100 Hondurans who began the trip from San Pedro Sula on Thursday and entered Guatemala illegally, without Covid tests. Another 600-odd migrants who arrived at the border were prevented from entering, Guatemalan police reported.
Hundreds of police and soldiers manned three border crossings to stop the caravan. Many wore gas masks and carried shields and truncheons.
On the Honduran side, in the town of El Florido, there were signs of desperation.
“We will not move until they let us cross. We will stage a hunger strike,” said Dania Hinestrosa, 23, waiting with her young daughter.
“We have no work or food. That is why I am traveling to the United States,” she said.
Mexican authorities said late Thursday that 500 immigration officers were being deployed to the Guatemalan border in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.
But the migrants are keeping the end goal in sight.
Among them, 28-year-old Eduardo Lanza said he dreamed of living in a country where people of different sexual orientations can live with dignity, “respect... and a job opportunity.”
Norma Pineda, 51, said last year’s hurricanes left her “on the street.”
“We are leaving because here is no work, no state support, we need food, clothes...” she told AFP.