On the weekend of September 26th, Typhoon Ondoy hit the Philippines, dumping more rainfall in a single day than typically falls in a month. The typhoon caused massive flooding, swollen rivers and backed-up the sewer and waste water system which filled the crowded streets of Metro Manila. Homes at the edge of the Pasig and Marikina Rivers were swept to sea and over 600,000 families were displaced. Shortly after Typhoon Ondoy came Typhoon Pepeng which additionally caused massive landslides in Northern Luzon. The death toll between these two disasters is now over 600 people.
As images and news poured in about this disaster, the Filipino American community looked for signs of relief and aid from government officials. As families in the Northwest frantically called loved-ones in the Philippines, the Philippine government and US government both made token efforts to care for affected communities. Thirteen rubber boats were deployed to help over three million affected people while the United States offered $50,000 in aid. Compared to the $35 million that the US spends annually for military activities in the Philippines, it seemed a thin offer of help.
In Seattle, the Filipino American community rallied together, witnessing that neither the Philippine nor US governments had truly stepped up to the disaster. In a few days, “Prayers and Pesos,” a community vigil and donation drive was organized at the Filipino Community Center in Seattle by BAYAN-USA, the Filipino Community of Seattle and Ugnayan. Mike Rivera, who had been in the Philippines at the time of the typhoon, shared heart-wrenching photos of families climbing to their rooftops and struggling to float on top of the filthy sewage rising in the streets. He told the audience, “Please, if you’re thinking of giving your money to the government to help these people, just pray. They were nowhere to be seen. There weren’t even water stations set up for people.”
The damages are ongoing, with evacuation centers that are full of people, but short on basic supplies. Currently, 154 schools are still closed and over 180,000 metric tons of rice has been destroyed. Donna Denina, member of Pinay sa Seattle-GABRIELA USA, stated “President Arroyo drained more than 800 million pesos from the Philippine government’s emergency fund on her expensive foreign trips. Now that the people need relief more than ever, she is raising taxes on remittances and pocketing working people’s money.” On Monday, October 5th, Pinay sa Seattle wired $1000.00 to its partners in the Philippines, only to find that 10 percent was removed for new government taxes, revealing the corruption of the Arroyo administration.
Community members and organizers are resolved that grassroots efforts and direct contributions to communities in need are necessary to get relief and aid to the right hands. BAYAN-USA and GABRIELA-USA are supporting BALSA or Bayanihan Para Sa Sambayanan (translated to People’s Cooperation for the People), a program that has identified three of the most affected communities to support in the wake of this disaster. To donate online, please visit www.bayan.usa. The Filipino Community of Seattle is also accepting donations for typhoon victims. Please note BALSA on your donations.