A few days ago I wrote about how uplifted I was at the outpouring generosity of people who extended helping hands to the victims of typhoon Ondoy. I wrote about the heroism of those who gave even their own lives for others. My eyes moisten when I tell and re-tell the stories of generosity, bravery and sacrifice rising above the misery brought about by the floodwaters of Ondoy.
But it seems that even optimism sometimes gets defeated and discouragement prevails. My eyes still get moist but it’s not because of stories of victory over adversity but because of situations and incidents that drain away all positive energy in me.
Earlier, I wrote about how the best in people are brought out in times like these. I did not mention it before but I’m saying it now, situations like this also bring out the worst in people.
Like our enterprising countrymen who saw the opportunity to earn during this crisis by ferrying people aboard bancas and other improvised floating devices and charging a fee. My constituents tell me that they are charged Fifty Pesos (P 50 ) per head for that ferry service traveling a distance that they used to pay Fifteen Pesos (P 15) for. It’s sad that in this time of need, there are those who take advantage of the situation.
Another instance where the dark side of people come out is seen during the distribution of relief goods. There are those who get more than their share, often resorting to lying, stealing or bullying. People who line up more than once, or in instances where pre-distributed stubs are given out, insist that they just lost their stub and demand to be given relief or swipe the goods straight from the delivery trucks.
An incident happened in one of the evacuation centers here involving a well-known NGO. As the group of the NGO arrived to hand out relief goods, they were met by an eager throng of people all wanting to get the packs of relief goods. The staff of the NGO tried to impose order and told the people to line up to receive the goods. But the people refused to fall in line, and started pushing towards the NGO staff and the relief packs.
The crowd grew more impatient and rowdy and the situation became tense. The NGO staff decided to leave without distributing the goods.
In another incident, two evacuees got into an argument about the relief goods. Tempers grew hot and eventually they had a fight. After a couple of minutes, one walked away and the other had to be carried away straight to the hospital. He was stabbed. Over relief goods.
One would think that such behavior is due to the depressing situation the people are in in the evacuation centers. But even on the other side of the fence—those who give the relief—there are people who show their dark streaks. Workers who, instead of distributing stubs fairly, either choose only those close to them or worse, hoard it for themselves; or pilferages of donated goods by those entrusted with them…these are things that just leave you wondering how people can be so numb to the plight of others while unjustly helping themselves to the goods which were not meant for them.
But as one who has the official and moral responsibility to look after welfare of my constituents, my heartache is most deep when I go home at the end of day, eat a hot meal, take a shower and drop myself on my comfortable bed and then think of the hardship that thousands of my constituents are suffering that moment.
I try to console myself thinking that I was able to make their lives a little bearable, but any consolation immediately crumbles as I remember many more who have yet to receive any assistance.
My constituents are more than just statistics of evacuees to me. Neither are they just votes to go after come election time. Having spent almost nine years as their representative in Congress, I know many of them by name or recognize their faces. I have developed a relationship with my constituents through constant and regular interaction with them through my projects and dialogues. Many of them had me as their wedding sponsor, godfather to their child’s baptism, invited me to their birthday parties and family reunions.
Nowadays my cellphone beeps every few minutes as I receive messages pleading for the delivery of relief goods to my hungry, thirsty and tired constituents. My email and Facebook accounts are no different, with messages calling, crying for help.
It really is a depressing situation. I have tried to put up a brave front and try to focus on the positive. But one can only do so much to avoid giving in. The feeling is not far removed from a situation that we sometimes experience as parents. Imagine this—you have four children all of whom are hungry. But you can only afford to buy food for three. The agony of such a dilemma is the same as the agony now.
What makes it worse and more painful is that not all people know and understand the situation I and others like me are in. What most people only know is that we have the responsibility to respond and any shortcoming is unconscionable. Suspicions about politicians doing relief operations only for votes, accusations of government officials holding back on resources or being choosy on who to give relief to add to the heartache. But it’s part of the job, so all one can do is swallow and continue the work.
Focus on the good. That’s what I keep telling myself. Just focus on the good and do your job well. But once in a while, I think I’m entitled loosen the pressure valve. This job has its fulfilling moments. But it also has heartaches. It is an emotional rollercoaster ride, but thank God, it always ends with hope. Because I end the day with a prayer.