Beyond grief

It was a bittersweet parting for the year.  In the aftermath of typhoon Vinta, an estimated 57,000 evacuees in Mindanao, including 18,500 families in the 25 barangays of Davao City were displaced. It left 123 dead and 160 missing in Visayas and Mindanao.    

Less than 24 hours and while the local government of Davao, including volunteers from the community was responding to the needs of those who were displaced, the city was again struck by another crisis—this time, the mall fire which left 38 workers, mostly call center agents who were trapped in the shoebox structure.

The call center agents were working for the Texas-based Research Now SSI, which leased the 4th floor of the NCCC mall as their office space.

It was devastating for the families and relatives, who have nothing but hope that their loved ones will survive.  It was also heartbreaking for every Dabawenyo who commensurate with the pain of the loss and who can feel the struggle of an ordinary worker and family to survive the hard times. 

Most have shed a tear while a few, smirked and laughed at the twin disaster that hit the city.  There were those who had nothing but hate in their hearts who found it well to say, “gaba, aber tan-awon nato.”  But those words did not matter for those who responded—firefighters and volunteers who bravely tried to lend a hand in those hours of need.  

After all, Davao is a community where the strong affinity and concern translates to strong volunteerism, with anyone willing to provide whatever little that they may have. 

Among those who were trapped was one Melvin Gaa, an NCCC mall employee who was a member of the Emergency Action Team which helped bring down 83 SSI employees and an estimated 700 mall personnel and customers out to safety.  He already brought down several SSI employees and was seen to have safely exited at the ground floor, but he went upstairs again to save more people.   Another was Alexandra Moreno-Castillo, an SSI Quality Assurance Supervisor who was described as asthmatic but was able to save the lives of her colleagues.  She remains unaccounted for. 

There may be a few more who assisted and survived.  These are the kind of people who act with their pure heart to help even when they themselves were also needing assistance.  What greater love than those who do not call attention to themselves while helping others.  They are the rare breed who do not think that they could be heroic, messianic or prophetic in these tying times.  Love after all is action.

With a few more days before the New Year, one could only hold on to faith and hope that the coming year would be gentler.  That each one could be more respectful with each other, despite some differences.  Disasters and emergency situations provides a profound insight on being in the moment with our family and loved ones and the value of giving more of ourselves to the community which has nurtured us—this I learnt while doing the extreme challenge during Typhoon Urduja on my recent fieldwork in Eastern Samar.   

While embracing the value of resiliency, I hold on to the images of survivors trying to rebuild their homes and lives after the typhoon and the devastating mall fire.  By now, assistance have been provided to the survivors and families–funeral and burial expenses, including scholarships for the surviving children and rightly so.  Mall owners and tenants will have their time to recoup any loss while the grieving families have nothing but the memory of their loved ones.     

Nothing could ever justify the death of the 38 workers.  No one should escape responsibility for any failure in occupational safety measures that render workers incapable of saving their own lives.  Who will own up to their death?

Disasters challenges us to look for better ways not only to respond or mitigate but more so to avoid similar catastrophe.  One death too many.   How does the other establishments fare?

Resiliency does not mean forgetting the bitter lessons that cost the lives of workers, mostly women and of the displacement of thousands who were rendered homeless by the Typhoon.

This is the gift of beginnings and endings–the cycle which renews the spirit and humaneness in everyone.  Beyond the comfort of our own bubbles and corners, there lies a bigger world that urges us to put our faith into action, work towards not having more but only enough so everyone could simply survive and for the community to rightly demand for more accountability and transparency.   No excuses.