Philippine typhoon survivors celebrate resilience

Month-long festival reminds people of Haiyan hit city of Tacloban to persevere and that life does go on
Philippine typhoon survivors celebrate resilience

Dancers perform in the streets of Tacloban in the central Philippines to mark the city's feast in honor of the Child Jesus on June 29. (Photo by Elmer Eclipse)

Every year since 2013, when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines killing thousands of people, Rhoel Ladera, 42, has looked forward to celebrations during this time of year.

The businessman from Tacloban said annual celebrations honoring the Child Jesus helps people overcome the pain that was brought by the devastation.

"We continue to recover from a dark past," said Ladera. Six years after the typhoon, he said the residents of Leyte Island have become "a bunch of fun-loving and resilient people."

A month-long socio-cultural and religious celebration pays homage to the Infant Jesus, popularly known in the Philippines as the Santo Nino.

Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla of Leyte said the "fiesta" is a time for "giving thanks, of prayers, of helping each other, of friendship, and of unity."

In the provincial capital of Tacloban, the "Sangyaw," literally meaning "to herald or proclaim," attracted more than 30,000 people during nightly festivities throughout the month.

"The people of Tacloban are fun loving. In spite of the hardship and tragedy, life goes on for many of us," said Jerry Yaokasin, the city's deputy mayor.

A typhoon survivor himself, Yaokasin said the "fiesta" is also a time for school reunions. "[The people] come home this time of the year," he said.

It has always been a grand celebration, said the city official.

On June 29, the excitement ran high as residents readied colorful floats on which performers danced during the called parade of lights in the evening.

Each float had designs interpreting the festival's theme.

Last year, the city launched a campaign that labeled Tacloban as the "Home of the Happiest People in the World."

While the city basked in daily merry-making, Yaokasin said, "there was still so much to be done" to uplift the lives of people affected by the disaster.

He said much has to be done especially on the outskirts of the city.

"If we look at the downtown area, everything seems to be okay, but farther out, you will see the other face of Tacloban," said the deputy mayor.

"People are struggling to make a living," he said

Meanwhile, churches were filled with people praying ahead of Tacloban’s "Pintados" festival.

Legend has it that when the Spanish arrived in the province in 1668, they found heavily tattooed men and women, whom the colonizers called "Pintados" or "painted."

It was in 1888 that missionaries from Spain brought the image of the Child Jesus known as "El Capitan" to the island.

Supposedly, a cholera epidemic ended with the arrival of the image, and residents started celebrating the fiesta in honor of the Child Jesus.

Governor Petilla said the annual celebration is a "thanksgiving ... especially because we saw a lot of blessings coming to our province."

To the people of the central Philippines, the Santo Nino is a patron, a protector in times of drought, disease, hunger and fire.

For the survivors of Haiyan, the image of the Child Jesus has become the object of veneration and devotion, and an inspiration for them to recover from hardship.

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