As the whole nation braces for the impending arrival of another super typhoon, “Ompong” (international name Mangkhut), I would like to reflect on how the Baclaran shrine witnessed and responded to calamities through the years.
Many typhoons and other calamities, both natural and man-made have ravaged our disaster-prone country. According to the World Risk Index, Philippines is the 3rd most disaster-prone country in the world. The Philippines by virtue of its geographic circumstances is highly prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical cyclones and floods, making it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. If we add the man-made calamities like fire, landslide due to mining and deforestation, flooding due to the heedless throwing of plastics and clogging of drainage, one can say, indeed, that calamities is a normal order of the day for millions of Filipinos.
In the midst of all these calamities, the shrine has been a source of concrete help and a beacon of hope especially for those mostly affected by calamities. The shrine has brought hope to thousands of calamity victims by bringing immediate aid in the form of food, clothing, emergency shelter and others. The shrine has also facilitated some rehabilitation projects as victims of calamities try to rebuild their lives. The shrine also became temporary sanctuary for those who were stranded at the height of storms and typhoons and thus, cannot further travel to their destinations. Many of them spend the night at the shrine sleeping on the pews.
The shrine has a Solidarity Assistance Committee composed of volunteers from the different ministries of the shrine. The Committee responds to people in need especially during calamities. In the past years, the committee was quick to respond to the different needs of the people through relief and rehabilitation projects in areas hit by man-made and natural calamities like typhoon, floods and fire.
These relief and rehabilitation efforts, however, could not have been possible without the generous support of the thousands of devotees of the shrine. After every calamity, the shrine asked devotees for help to victims of disasters. Many devotees, though they are poor, have generously given help. Thus, this is a case of the poor helping the poor. More importantly, this shows that help becomes perpetual in the shrine. Many of devotees who asked for help from God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help have received the help they needed. In return, they give financial and spiritual help to many especially those most in need.
The shrine has responded to calamities, however, not just after the disaster has struck. The shrine has also responded before the calamity strikes by helping people to prepare for a disaster through prayer and action. There is the perennial issue of the lack of preparation to a disaster in the country. After a calamity, many times different agencies of our government and even the people, chorused: “We didn’t saw it coming!” The shrine has linked up with government and non-government agencies in disaster preparation programs. Through these programs, the shrine has proactively encouraged and educated the people in preparing for an impending disaster.
Paradoxically, the shrine has utilized calamities and typhoons as opportunities for evangelization. In every calamity, we hear people say that these calamities are sent by God out of his wrath and punishment for our sins. The shrine has always proclaimed that this viewpoint offers a convenient way out of our own culpability for our destruction of nature and exploitation of our fellow humans. This also distorts the very nature of God as loving and compassionate. Our Lord Jesus did not come to punish us through the disasters, but came to be one with us, to live amongst us in the midst of the despair and destitution we experience in our daily lives.
The above belief is just one of the many contradictions that the shrine has witnessed during and after calamities. Another contradiction is the great divide between the haves and the have nots. During typhoons, while the Manila elite drove to posh hotels and malls, the poor had nowhere else to go but to protect their scanty houses making sure the roofs and walls are not blown off by the strong winds and rains.
In the aftermath of the typhoon, there is no power, no water, no TV, no cell phones, no refrigerators, etc. These temporary deprivations forced many to go back to the simple, the basic and the natural things in life. These are only temporary deprivations for some but are permanent deprivations for many of our people.
Through the many calamities, the shrine has also witnessed the validity behind the observation that any typhoon brings either the best and the worst in people. One of the best thing that typhoon brought out of people is at the height of the typhoon, some individuals can risk their own lives to save others like the story of security guards who save 100 from floodwater in the midst of ‘Reming’ on December 9, 2006. Philippine Daily Inquirer reported this event:
“With only a piece of cable wire to cling to and his strength stretched to the limit, security guard Rey Jan Borillo, 18, of Barangay Libod, Camalig, Albay, was able to save about 100 residents at the height of Supertyphoon “Reming.” “Hearing the cries of the residents for help, Borrillo, who was six feet and an inch tall, waded through the narrow passageway, carried old and young people on his back and brought them to a three-story building where the pawnshop (he was guarding) was renting space … Helping Borillo was his co-security guard Ricky Legisniana, 21, of Palanog Camalig.”
On the other hand, one of the worst things that a typhoon brings out of people is when some individuals used the typhoon to put forward their agenda and prop up their image. Like many politicians who love to pose for pictures while giving out to evacuees sardines and noodles donated by private individuals and organizations.
As typhoon Ompong continue to move closer to our land, let us make all the necessary preparations. Let us act together and be ready to help each other so that this typhoon bring not the worst but the best in us. We ask the prayers of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, so that God may protect us from any danger and destruction.