Tag Archive: Typhoons

Storms & Solidarity


Two years ago – as part of my  ‘tertianship’ (last year of Jesuit formation) in the Philippines, I lived for a few weeks in Navotas, one of the shanty towns in Manila.  Some of the families lived in very simple houses on stilts in Manila Bay.  We arrived during the aftermath of a strong typhoon.  Two things struck me, firstly the incredible resilience the people had in the face of these frequent storms.  Secondly, because they had so little – how quickly they were able to rebuild their lives.   We made a small video to appeal for help.

I spent a wonderful 6 month in the Philippines, fell in love with country and the people. It was also fascinating to hear how it was the Jesuits who were the first to track typhoons in Asia from the Manila Observatory (click here to read more about that).  It is very sad to hear the effects of the recent Typhoon. In a county which seems sadly used to frequent disasters, this one is at a higher level. When I was there –  I was very impressed by how the network of Jesuit education institutions coordinated disaster relief  (click here).  So when the Jesuits received a letter from the Provincial  requesting help today – I thought I would it worth posting his letter here. You have to click on the link to open the PDF.

Philippines Appeal

Link to donate online  Indicate ‘for the Philippines Appeal’ in text box


You may remember the terrible tragedy before Christmas in the South of the Phillipines – due to the Tropical Storm Washi  (or Sendong as it is known in the Phillipines).   The Death Toll has reached nearly 1500 now.  However the news has moved on – even here  in the Phillipines there has been a landslide which has killed 30 and that is dominating the news now.

Why did so many people have to die?

The excellent  ESSC  (Environmental Science for Social Change) a  Jesuit research institute has already produced a report – as well as the Manila Observatory and the Ateneo Physics Departments.  But as always it seems to be falling on deaf ears – political short termism and corruption seem to prevent progress.

Anyway the main points that even I can understand so far –

  1. Sendong was accurately downgraded to a tropical storm (not a typhoon) – due to windspeed measurements, this might have induced a false sense of security
  2. However the rainfall was categorised as extreme – 180mm in 24hrs (monthly average is 120mms according to report from Manila Observatory)
  3. So the flooding came not from the sea – but from the water running off the mountains – the other direction
  4. Much of the flooding was exacerbated by illegal logging operations that has degraded the environment (greed)
  5. Information and warnings about Sendong were available three days before but there was no strategic response – which indicated a failure at both local and national political level (corruption)            
This is a combination of ‘natural evil’ and ‘moral evil’.  But before we loose touch with what this actually equates to – here is an incredible video of children being rescued – if you have the time please watch it. This shows the results of a combination of these ‘evils’ – as always it is the poor that suffer the most :

So what is the answer?   I have been very impressed by the response of the Phillipino Jesuits. In the affected areas of Cagayan de Oro –  the local Bishop, High School and Universities are all in the care of the Jesuits.  The Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro has been at the forefront of the relief effort. They have even offered 5 hectares of land to help relocate victims (click here) .  One of Fr Pedro Walpole‘s strategies with the ESSC is to help build up disaster resilience, and move beyond relief – to building up a strategic capacity to respond. With the President of the University Fr Bobby Yap they have suggested four ways forward – this is taken from their commentary.

“Emergency preparedness. A warning system on every typhoon in every area of potential risk must be put in place, and not just announced. A day or night evacuation strategy must carefully lay out the locations, paths and methods to reach safe areas for evacuation and temporary settlement.

Relocation and land allocation. A critical review and implementation of land allocation and securing access are vitally needed to assist city and local governments in identifying safe lands for settlements and the procedures for acquisition. A prioritized relocation plan for every city and barangay that sets accomplishments is imperative. This plan should not be simply mitigation activities, like developing and rebuilding infrastructure that will not withstand the next disaster. A sustainable relocation must consider people’s livelihood accessibility so that livelihood is sustained and risks are minimized.

Landscape and waterscape planning and development. An open, transparent planning process for infrastructure development is crucial with broad participation of key people, especially in critical areas of river banks, slopes and floodplains.

Floodplain management. To re-establish natural flood areas, we need to develop a floodplain management program and regulations that strictly enforce restrictions and controls in: the alteration of natural floodplains, stream channels, and natural protective barriers that channel floodwaters; developments that increase flood damage; and construction of flood barriers that unnaturally divert floodwaters and increase flood hazards in other areas.

We need a society that can value life and change its systems of relations and responsibilities to meet new basic needs. Transformative learning has to become a new adult literacy that moves to action beyondbayanihan, expanding this Filipino value and infusing an informed pro-activeness that changes our landscape for the good of all. This includes serious planning for a sustainable future that integrates the knowledge of the disaster potential and local realities. “

But are the politicians listening?  A column written by another Jesuit, Fr Tony La Vina in a popular Manila paper click here ceratinly puts pressure on the highest political levels. Click here to read it and a powerful personal account of survivors.

So now the relief effort is winding down – rehabilitation and resettlement efforts kick in – as well as trauma counselling.  The excellent relief operation co-0rdinated by the Jesuit University – Click Here – are now training counselors and realising suicide risk- indicators.  For those so short-sighted to want to close Religious Institutions working in Education- they should see all this as a lesson in building up the common good.  For the rest of us – lets keep praying for those affected

Living on stilts!


I have just arrived back from a very special 10 days of  ‘Phillipino Life Experience‘  living with two families in Navotas – which is effectively a shanty town in the North of Manila. As in many shanty areas – space is a real premium, so many houses and even ‘streets’ are built out into Manila Bay – with families and whole neighbourhoods precariously surviving on bamboo stilts. It has been an unforgettable experience of community, hospitality and new friendship. A very special place.  Many people surviving on very little – but with a great joy and simplicity, sharing and singing.  As I let the experience sink in, I will share some of my stories on this blog over the next few days.  It is truly one of the great graces of the priesthood to be received into the heart of a community like this, and it was an honour to be able to celebrate mass with them, and join in their vigils and processions. Something I intend to continue to do whilst I am in Manila.

In Navotas - Space is at a premium!

The four pillars of this community seem to be  – A) their faith, particularly their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, B) the family (often very extended!), C) Karaoke – every other family has a karaoke set, and yet more proof of the universal popularity of the Beatles (and perhaps more suprisingly also the Bee Gees and the Carpenters!) and D)  TV! Soap operas and game shows are staple here.

Our stay was facilitated by a charity called PPF – run by lay people, who have been alongside the community for 20 years. Run by lay people – with a close connection with the Jesuits, they help to organise, running nurseries, housing schemes, scholarship schemes, bible sharing groups ( the dynamos of the community).  I will be designing a website for them over the next few days. An impressive outfit with UN observer status – even though relatively very small.

The community here face many threats – forced eviction, poor sanitation, fires that are rumoured to be started by hostile political and commercial entities, and an incredible vulnerability to the challenging tropical climate and typhoon season. 2000 families are still in emergency evacuation facilities after the recent typhoon Nesat/Pedring. In the face of all this they are incredibly resilient and never give up hope. As one of them said to me – when you do not have much it is easy to rebuild and start again.  Below is a video showing some of that spirit in the face of these problems.

Half way through the clip the children ask me to dance ‘Kendeng Kendeng’ from a popular game show – hence the smiles and laughter! This seems incongruous in the face of such difficulties but that is the infectious spirit of the place!

You can donate directly through the bank details on the previous post.


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