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)
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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.”

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Twitter: @onecarlo_


Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 20 April 2021

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.


US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
Updated 20 April 2021

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
  • Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions

MOSCOW: Washington’s envoy to Moscow will return to the United States for consultations, the US embassy said on Tuesday, after Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions.
“Ambassador Sullivan is returning to the United States for consultations this week,” the US diplomatic mission in Moscow said in a statement sent to AFP, quoting the envoy as saying he needed to “speak directly” with senior officials on the state of US-Russia relations.