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Haiyan's Filipino survivors pick up the pieces 10 years on

The most powerful typhoon in history has taught the Philippines a few lessons. One of them is climate justice
People visit the grave of relatives on the 10th anniversary of the Haiyan Typhoon disaster at a cemetery in Tacloban on Nov. 8

People visit the grave of relatives on the 10th anniversary of the Haiyan Typhoon disaster at a cemetery in Tacloban on Nov. 8 (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 09, 2023 06:54 AM GMT
Updated: November 09, 2023 07:22 AM GMT

Joanna Sustento-Bacsa has made peace with Haiyan, the most powerful typhoon in history that left more than 8,000 people dead in the Philippines in 2013.

Ten years after losing most of her family members, 32-year-old Susteno-Bacsa said there is “so much growth” happening to her today as a Haiyan survivor and now a full-time mother of a son.

“[My son] is a very symbolic person in our family. His coming into our lives 10 years later says a lot about how much love grows in me, and how much love grows in our family,” she noted.

“So much has changed, but we are still here doing the work for climate justice,” added Sustento-Bacsa who maintains an active association with an advocacy group called Climate Warriors.

Haiyan hit over 14 million people in 44 provinces in the Philippines a decade ago on Nov. 8 and many places saw five-meter-high storm surges, damaging property worth 95.48 billion pesos (about US$1.73 billion).

Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, bore the brunt of the storm’s fury and is called Haiyan’s ground zero. The Visayas region accounted for most deaths, where some 5,000 people perished.

Survivors' resilience

In 2017, Sustento-Bacsa became the face of Haiyan survivors in Tacloban, by joining environment outfit Greenpeace’s expedition in the Arctic region to protest against oil drilling, blaming it for climate change.

Pascal Canning, a relief worker, is still living with sad memories. The Irish national said: "Haiyan after 10 years brought back memories, mostly sad.”

Canning, who led a housing project for Haiyan survivors in Leyte, said his cousin Declan and brother, Gary, came from Ireland to help after the natural disaster hit.

"Sadly, Declan has since passed away. That versus the smell [of dead bodies]. The smell I can never forget." 

Alren Beronio, a young photographer from Eastern Samar in the Eastern Visayas, volunteered his skills to a Catholic diocesan media office.

“It was a time when we witnessed the depth of human suffering and the height of human compassion,” recalled Beronio, who now works with a media house.

Beronio said he found “countless acts of kindness.”

Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan in Eastern Samar said in a statement that “pain and grief still linger in the hearts of those who survived as they continue to rebuild their lives."  

In Palo, a town in Leyte, one of the hard-hit areas, Archbishop John Du of Palo led celebrations of the feast of Our Lady of Hope of Palo on Nov. 8 whose statue was placed on the open-air altar during Pope Francis' visit to Tacloban on Jan. 17, 2015.

“The 10th anniversary of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Eastern Visayas is a time to celebrate survivors’ resilience,” said Nacional Mercado, mayor of Maasin City in southern Leyte.

During his commemorative speech, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that the calamity brought unimaginable destruction to the Visayas and the Philippines.

“It serves as a poignant reminder of the power of nature and our vulnerability to that power,” he said.

The president urged Filipinos “to learn from this experience.”

'Pay climate debt' 

On Nov. 7, an eco-friendly group called Climate Walkers arrived in Tacloban after a 30-day journey from Manila to Haiyan’s ground zero to seek climate justice which is connected to social, racial and environmental issues.

“Our journey does not end here. Because our real destination is in people’s hearts and minds,” according to Climate Walkers.

Captain Hettie Geenen of the advocacy group Rainbow Warriors said their second tour to Tacloban “left an impressive amount of memories, especially the stories we heard [by] just listening to people.”

While planetary problems "require global solutions, action must start in the community." In a world that forces us "to forget and ignore, sharing stories becomes a heroic act,” added climate activist Jerx Aliposa.

According to Greenpeace, people in the Philippines who are least responsible for climate change are hit hard by environmental degradation.

Citing a 2023 report, the advocacy group found that the world’s top fossil fuel companies owe a total of 70 billion pesos as compensation to the affected communities.

In a separate statement, Greenpeace asked the oil majors to “pay their climate debt.”

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