After a major storm in the northern Philippines caused flooding that has left at least 246 people dead, the local archbishop praised the heroism of a young man who died saving more than a dozen neighbors. He also called for compassion in what he said may be the worst flood in more than half a century.
Nearly 1.9 million people saw their homes inundated in the weekend flooding caused by Typhoon Ketsana, known locally as “Ondoy.” About 380,000 have sought shelter in schools, churches and other evacuation centers, according to news reports. Extra police have been deployed to prevent looting in abandoned homes, while victims search for food, clean water, dry clothes and shelter.
Archbishop of Jaro Angel N. Lagdameo, who is also the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president, praised the “heroism of the Filipino” in response to the disaster.
“Compassion is drawing many Filipinos to unite with their unfortunate brothers and sisters,” he said.
Archbishop Lagdameo saluted 18-year-old Muelmar Magallanes, who died after saving more than a dozen neighbors, the last of whom was a six-month-old baby.
During the flooding in his Manialla village, Magallanes first helped his older brother take his three younger siblings to higher ground. He returned to save his parents and again returned to save neighbors trapped on rooftops, New Straits Times reports.
A strong swimmer, he was tired when he heard Menchie Penalosa screaming as the styrofoam box on which she and her young daughter were floating became caught in a strong current.
“I didn’t know that the current was so strong. In an instant, I was under water. We were going to die,” Penalosa told New Straits Times. “Then this man came from nowhere and grabbed us. He took us to where the other neighbors were, and then he was gone.”
The exhausted Magallanes was swept away by the water. His body was found on Sunday.
Archbishop Lagdameo’s message continued with a call for compassion in the face of agonizing victims and angry complaints at the slowness or absence of disaster relief response.
“If there were no graft and corruption in our government, our government would be more prepared to respond to such crisis,” the prelate commented.
The archbishop said the Filipino bishops' National Secretariat for Social Action (NSSA) has been mobilized to help victims of the flood. Relief goods are now being gathered and distributed to the flood-affected provinces around Metro Manila.
Caritas Manila has started to respond to the flood victims in Metro Manila, while social action centers of other dioceses may send to CBCP NASSA whatever they collect.
Archbishop Lagdameo expressed “profound gratitude” to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services.
“They were among the first to respond,” he explained.
“Through the ravages of nature in the past, the Filipino sense of compassion, which we also call ‘bayanihan,’ has been called forth. The pictures we have seen in the past few days are pictures of Filipinos responding to the call for compassion, of people willing to ‘suffer with,’ people with the spirit of ‘bayanihan,’” he said in his letter.
“We bend our knees in prayer for salvation against natural calamities, but when they do come, we are not so helpless as not to respond with heroism,” the archbishop continued, citing the saying “In the Church, no one is so poor as to have nothing to give, and no one is so rich as to have nothing to receive.”
“We are humbled by the crises that come to us. We pray to God and appeal for our neighbor,” he added.
According to the Associated Press, Philippines officials have appealed for international aid, saying they may not have enough resources to withstand two new storms forecasted to hit the northern Philippines later this week and again next week.
The administration of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has acknowledged that it was overwhelmed by the disaster but said it was doing all it could.