The people on the plane—mostly men—were straining their necks to look out the windows as we descended toward the Tacloban airport. The site was grim: nothing but endless brown land, with nary a structure, and few trees.
Landing is no different. While the tarmac is clear, to one side is a sea wall now in shambles, in front of which stands an airport facility standing only on its posts. There is no welcome to be had here, and the people in charge are tired. Stepping outside the airport grounds means only dust and heat, and an endless view of leafless trees.
The roads of San Jose where the airport stands toward Tacloban is littered with debris. These have been swept to the side of the road, and frame the devastated and unlivable homes, the fallen structures, the vehicles in skewed positions and unexpected places. Six dead bodies are newly found. They are but skeletal remains. That is also what the next day’s dead will look like.
The men of Brgy. Burayan speak of how the dead continue to be washed towards the mangroves from the sea. They point to different areas filled with mangroves: there are two there in Coca-Cola t-shirts, three there with one woman, another two over here. They had just unearthed the body of a child when we walked into their ground zero.
These mangroves surround the community that used to sit on sandy land facing the sea; the mangroves do not save them from what they describe to have been a huge wave—that one that was called a storm surge by the warnings they received. Kuya Joseph says they should have been warned that it would be a delubyo. All of them would’ve evacuated. He is certain that 6,000 died in his barangay alone. That’s more than the current number of dead that the national government has deemed acceptable. These are not the numbers that will be acceptable.
Many of the able-bodied survivors are earning P500 a day through cash-for-work, as set up by a foreign non-government organization in Tacloban. It is the people who have lost everything, the ones who are still mourning their dead, they are the ones who are also cleaning up the city, moving debris to the sides of the streets, recovering what they might in the process. Certainly the story can be about hope: money is being earned, work is being paid for, that has to mean something.
Yet: goods are at double their original prices, and I’m not even talking about the makeshift market on the streets of downtown Tacloban. I mean the whole chicken being sold near Palo, at P210 each. I mean eggs at P12 each. I see a line of people at one large hardware store. These are not the cash-for-work takers. DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman says: cash-for-work allows people to pay for the things they would like to buy. The answer is no.