by Heidi M. Pascual
Reflections: A Personal Spiritual Journey
Any natural calamity is always a very horrific, sad, and most times, tragic occurrence. It destroys people’s lives and property, displaces those who
survive and creates an uncertain future for them, and leaves behind a mountain of problems in economic and societal terms. Regardless of whether
a nation is wealthy or poor, the disastrous effects on human lives are the same. Of course, the wealthy ones are easily able to provide needed
resources to the affected communities unlike poor countries with meager disaster funds that have to gather donations locally and from external
sources such as neighboring countries before help can be extended to the calamity victims.

The most recent eruption of Taal Volcano in the Philippines affected more than 200,000 people living within the 14 kilometers radius from the
volcano itself. Most of them have been moved to more than 490 evacuation centers within the CALABARZON region (provinces of Cavite, Laguna,
Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), with the rest staying with relatives and/or friends in neighboring cities/towns, including Metro Manila. The evacuees
left their homes hurriedly, of course, carrying only few belongings because many have children and old parents in tow. Human lives are the most
important to save, obviously. The animals such as those used for farming and carrying tourists in the mountains were left behind in the midst of
chaos as ash fall began burying homes, made the roads impassable with zero visibility, and posed grave danger to every breathing being due to
toxic, fine dust that combined with the air.

For more than a week now, the evacuees have been living in various centers, dependent completely on outside help. And this is what I want to focus
on, because I am seeing the bayanihan (cooperative) spirit of the Filipino so alive, and an outpouring of love from everywhere! Almost all local
governments, churches, civic organizations, and many businesses are coming to the rescue. Even very small barangays and groups of friends are
collecting donations and delivering them to relief operations centers and/or directly to relocation centers.

Today, I am witnessing the best virtue of the Filipino, which is pagtutulungan (helping one another) in times of great need. Relief operations centers’
volunteers repack boxes of donations, usually made up of canned goods, rice, noodles, and toiletries. There are also tons of used clothes being
sorted out for distribution. Safe drinking water is directly delivered to evacuation centers. Truckloads of rice from some provinces arrive, with
messages as, “We love our kababayans from Batangas and Cavite!”
Batangas and Cavite provinces are the most affected, being within the vicinity of
Taal Volcano. A Metro Manila city truck arrives with portable bathrooms, while a
big mattress company rushes in with hundreds of portable mattresses for
victims’ use. It is also important to note that the military and police have been
keeping peace and order throughout this ordeal, while prohibiting evacuees to go
back to their homes while there is still a threat of a big explosion from Taal. (The
early evacuation of people actually saved lives. As of this writing, no fatality has
been recorded from the actual volcano eruption.)

After almost two weeks, evacuees are eager to go back to their homes because
they worry about their livelihood, the repairs their houses definitely need, and of
course, they wouldn’t want to be completely dependent on others for support for a
long time. At the moment, however, with the threat of a “big explosion” with
recorded magma rising up within the volcano according to the Philippine Institute
of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) evacuees are not allowed to enter
locked down areas within the 14 - kilometer radius of Taal. Meanwhile, the
government promises to assist the victims in rebuilding their lives after all these
come to pass.

At present, the thousands of evacuees in various centers still can’t do much, but
to stay where they are until the government gives them a go signal to go home or
be relocated somewhere safe. Relief operations are ongoing, and Filipinos have
not stopped helping as much as they can.

This has shown me one very important thing: Filipinos love their countrymen, and
someone up there sees that and will help this country rebuild and succeed.