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People watched from a bridge, frantically and desperately trying to throw a lifeline to the drifters being swept away by the swollen and dirty Marikina River. The flood victims, clinging to the roofs of damaged houses, crashed against the pillars of the bridge and were thrown into the open waters. It is not known what happened to them.

There has not been a typhoon more devastating than [Ketsana, also known as Ondoy](, to hit the Philippines in 40 years. The death toll has risen to 386 and the number of evacuees has reached over 700,000. With 16.4 inches of continuous rainfall in 24 hours (twice the amount of rainfall than Hurricane Katrina dealt to parts of the South), almost 80 percent of Metropolitan Manila was virtually submerged in water. Already, 1.9 million homes have been affected by the deluge – with another typhoon Peping on its way.

These are the hard facts, but so much more has been lost. To date, hundreds of people are still missing, not to mention those who have lost their homes, cars and properties. There are stories – of a father’s despair as his daughter is ripped away from his arms by a crashing wave, or a house collapsing from the torrential rain while an infant remains inside. The villagers ignore the danger of combing through the wreckage in order to recover the body, only to find the child dead.

The house is gone, but a mother’s grief is far more irreparable.

Unsurprisingly, efforts by the Filipino government have been severely lacking. With a leader that has come under fire for nearly every scandal that could hit a presidency – from election fraud to an extravagant $20,000 dinner at Le Cirque in New York City – the Filipinos’ anger toward [President Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration]( is justified.

Granted, no one could have expected a month’s worth of rain to inundate the capital in just 12 hours. But last Saturday, the [National Disaster Coordinating Council](, led by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, reported that two rubber boats were being used for rescue operations for an entire city. The angry question that remained on everyone’s lips was why the government could not provide relief to its citizens at a time of greatest need.

Local governments have also been blamed. The Marikina City that was once touted as the cleanest city in metropolitan Manila – not to mention a model for the rest of the Philippines – may have only been a facade.

The floods have been surreal. For the first time, floods made their way to areas of previously unreachable, well-to-do houses and swept into the homes of the rich and poor alike. In its most cynical sense, the flood was a great equalizer and a disquieting image of the effects of global warming.

But there are also two major points that can be drawn from this great calamity.

The first is the wonder of new social media like Facebook and Twitter, which have been used to stream information and coordinate rescue and relief efforts. It is interesting to note that, while both electricity and water were cut off from Metropolitan Manila, there was still relatively wide access to the Internet. Constant messaging and networking resulted in detailed donor funding channels and pinpointing of stranded people. Individuals were able to organize an organic campaign that was both well-informed and quick to respond.

The term Bayanihan recalls the words bayan, which means “nation” or “community,” and bayani, or “hero.” It draws the individual into the community and conveys the sense of heroism through the shared strength of many.

The second point, Bayanihan, was found in individuals’ acts for their countrymen – such as the judge on a jet ski who saved a hundred lives by pulling people out of the river, or Muelmar Magallenes, an 18-year-old who sacrificed his life in a last act of bravery to save a baby girl and her mother from the flood waters. The teenager was swept away by the tide – but he had saved 30 lives.

Aside from the aid from non-governmental organizations and civilian funding, volunteer relief from the ground has been pouring in continuously. Businesses – from giant corporations to local sari-sari stores – have started up donation support. Numerous schools and churches have set up evacuation centers. Ateneo de Manila University, a Jesuit university, has called off classes for Monday and Tuesday so that it may funnel all of its resources and (student) manpower to the relief effort.

y friend tells me regretfully, “So now that we’re on our fourth day of relief operations, there aren’t as much donations coming in.” The number of volunteers exceeds the relief supplies. “But everyone is trying to help out the best they could,” she said.

If you would like more information on how you can donate to the Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy flood victims, please e-mail with the subject line: Help Typhoon Victims.

Aileen Cruz is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and the external liaison for Club Filipino.

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