All throughout this week in Davao, the weather was mild and pleasant. Sunny, but not overly so; a touch cool, in fact, in the afternoons and in the evenings, the perfect temperature for napping and sleeping. Gone for the first time were the heavy rains that would swoop so suddenly into the city and cause minor floods. The weather since Saturday has been perfect, leading us to think that all was right with the world.
Of course, it wasn't. Owing to the vagaries of weather, at the very moment we saw a break in our own bad spell, Typhoon Frank raged across the Western Visayas.
As I write these words, I still find it hard to come to grips with the extent of the destruction and loss of life that Typhoon Frank left in its wake. The death toll now stands at over 622 (not counting the as-yet-unrecovered bodies from the Princess of the Stars); in Iloilo alone, over half a million residents have been badly affected by the storm.
But these are just numbers, figures for the head to process but unable to move the heart. The way to the heart is the imagination, and for that it needs stories and pictures. Not knowing anyone particularly close in the area, the storm remains a distant fact.
This is where the media ought to have come into play: to tell the stories. Alas, the cameras and the headlines were all pointed towards the Princess of the Stars. Likewise an incident of tragedy wrought by Typhoon Frank, it had the added benefit of morbid spectacle, hence the inordinate fascination and its hold on the imagination. The focus on the watery tomb, unfortunately, has left little room for the plight of the desperately living.
Where traditional media has failed, the Internet is filling the void. It has been through the blogs, through Flickr, and through Youtube that I finally see the extent of the devastation. On the blogs are stories: of families breaking through the roofs of their houses to escape the rising waters, of a man lashing himself to an electric post to keep from being swept by the wind, of office workers stranded in the mall and wondering in anxiety about their loved ones, of friends whose possessions were left covered in mud. On Flickr and Youtube are the pictures and videos that otherwise escaped the broadsheets and the broadcasts. It is the people who have been affected who are telling these stories.
Our sense of country has always been a tenuous one, dispersed as we are across many islands. Like it or not, media has been our daily link to the lives of our distant brethren. It is the words and the pictures that bind us and move us. If the proxy voices fail us, then it is time to tell the stories on our own.