Philippine Teachers Amid Disaster

While an epic failure of leaders especially at the national level in the Philippines to protect their citizens and respond to a crisis is largely evident, it is important to note that the population directly affected by the calamity continue to find extraordinary strength to work together and find ways to reach out to those in great need. Calamities do make heroes out of ordinary citizens. Disasters usually strike those who are especially vulnerable, the marginalized, children and elderly, but in these dire situations, the poor can demonstrate an extraordinary amount of selflessness, perseverance and resourcefulness. These acts are indeed important lessons in life and one example is the heroism of, Rogelio Lardera, a public school teacher in Iloilo, another province in Central Philippines that also suffered the wrath of super typhoon Yolanda:
The above news article also took note of the fact that when Lardera was a child, he had to walk a kilometer to attend school. Lardera knew what poverty was about and he was ready to give everything including his life especially to those who are in need.

Another story worth telling is the first hand account shared by the executive director of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) system, Dr. Josette Biyo, on how a small staff of teachers (five individuals) were able to visit and aid one of the PSHS campuses in Palo, Leyte. The PSHS system is home to the best performing high school students in the Philippines. The story relates how extremely difficult it was to reach the campus in Leyte.
Dr. Josette Biyo
Photo copied from DOST newsletter
But the small group of teachers succeeded. It took the staff about 24 hours, from the time collections began in the Quezon City campus (near Manila) to witnessing with their own eyes the devastation brought by the super typhoon on the PSHS campus and in the neighboring communities. The following are Biyo's notes:
From Baybay, Mahaplag, Abuyog, Mac Arthur, Mayorga, Dulag, Tolosa, Tanawan, and Palo, we saw:
  • All forms of livelihood disappeared; trees fallen or uprooted, all houses without roofs or have crumbled
  • Entire villages swallowed by the Pacific Ocean as evidenced by some remnants, e.g. posts standing, or half of the houses already in water, damaged concrete fences
  • Dead bodies along the road
  • Wrecked cars
  • Piles and piles of garbage, etc...
  • People like zombies, children without clothes
A lot more devastation, I can't describe all of them, but there was wreckage everywhere... 
From what I saw, I personally believe that over 50,000 people died from the tragedy. Storm surges have wiped out villages. Villages swallowed by Pacific Ocean. Where will they hide, which place is safe?
It is not easy to quench emotions in circumstances when one sees such widespread devastation. The descriptions, however, coming from a scientist, are certainly not exaggerations. Biyo also enumerated her observations from the campus at Palo, Leyte:
We reached Palo, Leyte. Site devastating. Crumbled buildings, people waiting for relief goods, etc. But it seems relief goods are only focused in Tacloban City. We have not seen distribution of relief goods in the 120 km that we have travelled – from Baybay to Palo. 
We met with PSHS EVC teachers and staff, and some students. Crying, they said, "your arrival gave us some sense of hope..." 
The site of PSHS- Eastern Visayas also crumbled our hearts: 
  • All buildings without roofs
  • Gym, massive destruction
  • All equipment and facilities destroyed
  • About 2,000 people occupying the 1st and 3rd floors of our buildings
  • PSHS EVC and DOST families are housed in the 2nd and 1st floor of the PSHS Girls and Boys Dormitory
  • Personnel count are as follows: as of date, the following are confirmed dead – one student, one teacher, school driver. Many still unaccounted for including 5 security guards
  • Campus director Dr Rey Garnace has been walking everyday, trying to locate our students and their families
  • We were not able to get news of our PSHS Central Visayas Campus staff who lives in Tacloban. It is too dangerous to go to Tacloban, by foot, more so by car.
  • Mass burning of dead bodies near our campus
Above map copied from
Typhoon Haiyan: Worse than Hell
Biyo's team reached Palo, Leyte at 11:00 am, Tuesday, November 12.

These are important stories that need to be heard. These contain facts. These contain lessons that allow us to see what has happened and what is really happening....