Filipino Americans Ramp Up Typhoon Relief Efforts

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UPDATED Story - Nov. 20, 2013 & VIDEO LINK

SAN FRANCISCO — A week after Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, one of the strongest tropical cyclones in recorded history barreled through central Philippines, Filipino-American community members gathered at the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco for a mass dedicated to the victims of the monster storm, and the recent earthquake that struck the same region. Consular officials also briefed everyone on the disaster response to date.

Philippine Consul General to San Francisco Marciano Paynor Jr. said that relief efforts are picking up speed compared to the first four days after the calamity.

“The path of this typhoon was very wide and the effects actually bulldozed the whole swath (of roads in provinces),” Paynor said. “In addition, because of the so-called storm surges, many of the heavy equipment that were used to clear the roads were (either) submerged in seawater for many hours…therefore they are now shipping into these areas, these heavy equipment…so that we could at least have a pathway for the various trucks carrying soldiers (and) aid.”

According to latest data from the Philippine government, the disaster has claimed more than 4,000 lives and injured more than 18,000 people. Over 1,600 people are still missing.

Citing government figures, Deputy Consul General Jaime Ramon Ascalon in San Francisco said the typhoon has (now) affected (as of Nov. 20 - Philippine time), more than 10 million people in 44 provinces, displacing more than 4 million people.

“The priority right now of the (Phil.) government is …for those who are wounded, for them to be treated; and those who are not wounded, for them to be given temporary housing, because right now, there’s nowhere for them to go,” Paynor said.

A key concern after the disaster, Ascalon says, was Filipino Americans locating and contacting their relatives in the typhoon-affected provinces, especially since communication systems were wiped out by the storm.

He shared the key resources for Filipinos still trying to find their loved ones.

“The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council [NDRRMC], they have their own process whereby we email them the names. Of course there’s also the Google finder service, as well as the Red Cross —even your local American Red Cross will be able to assist. We also posted on our website, the link to the Philippine Red Cross finder service…there’s a form there that people can fill up their names,” says Ascalon.He also provided the 24/7 hotline to the Philippine Consulate-San Francisco: 415.269.2090 as well as their email address: — for anyone with queries or seeking help from their office.

Ascalon says that mobile communication systems are slowly being restored. Internet connectivity services are being set up at Tacloban City airport, located in the capital city considered by many as ground zero for this disaster — using the emergency communication platforms — the lu VSAT kit and Ericsson Response WIDER. Paynor acknowledged the outpouring of generosity both from Filipino Americans, and the international community for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

The Philippine Consulate in S.F. confirmed from latest tallies that about 43 countries have pledged a total of almost $130 million. That includes the United States which is providing more than $37 million in immediate humanitarian assistance, according to USAID, as well as extensive U.S. military assistance, ships and resources since last Thursday.

During Friday’s mass, California officials expressed their sympathies for the typhoon victims and support for the Filipino-American community, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, California Assemblymember Phil Ting, and California State Senator Leland Yee.

The ties between San Francisco and the Philippines are especially strong, given that it is Manila’s sister city, and Lee says people from the city coming together around this tragedy is “just the beginning.”

“I wanted to express our city’s support in their recovery,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to help, that’s why we created a website to collect resources to work with very reputable on-the ground entities like Feed the Hungry, ABS-CBN International Fund (Foundation), Doctors Without Borders…and present those as ways by which people can express their humanity and help with the suffering that’s going on in the Philippines.”

Large numbers of Americans have reached out to the Filipino people through financial donations and support. USA Today reports that “American households could contribute (up to) $1 billion to relief efforts, making Typhoon Haiyan donations the third highest in the country for an overseas disaster.” Both consular officials and community leaders involved with relief operations stressed at this event that monetary donations are the most needed and effective means to help the victims.

The Philippine Consulate-SF’s website also has information on guidelines for in-kind donations as well as recommended organizations. Yolanda Ortega Stern, president of the One World Institute based in San Francisco and the Philippines, has been spearheading on-the-ground relief operations in the affected provinces, and confirms they have fed about 10,000 victims in the last four days. She says cash is what they need most because: “..we order the packing as fast as we get the pledges and the cash…and 100% of the donations goes straight to the victim(s). We do not charge anything for delivery, logistics, fuel or volunteers.” We all work for free….In this first phase of operations to help people survive, it has to be monetary assistance because we can get the products there cheaply, we don’t have to ship (them)…”

Meantime, local groups are sending critical emergency supplies and necessary relief goods, including the WestBay Pilipino Multi-Services, a social services organization serving the Filipino community in San Francisco’s South of Market district.

WestBay plans to send 100 large boxes of relief donations to be shipped to the Philippines by Tuesday, Nov. 19th. These relief items (canned goods and non-cash donations) will be turned over to the Philippine Red Cross.

West Bay selected “Simbahang Lingkod Bayan or SBL [Church in the Service of the Country],” the relief group of the Ateneo de Manila University, sister organization of the University of San Francisco, as the beneficiary of cash donations given to West Bay.

The group assured donors that 100% of the money collected will go to the victims especially since SBL has access to remote disaster-hit areas. Some of these have not been reached by the Phil. government nor aid organizations yet, because SBL has a local, church-based network.

West Bay Executive Director Rudy Asercion also confirms that “our director of health and wellness, Esther is already in Manila… and she is going to be one coordinating the distribution of the goods. But more importantly, they’re the ones that are going to be delegated to make sure that the funds that we donated will be used to buy goods that are already available in the local area so that they can be put in the hands of the victims immediately.”

West Bay mobilized its community and youth volunteers in an ongoing fundraising and relief donation drive since Nov. 10. Filipino American elementary and middle school children helped transfer the goods to another non-profit partner’s space, after doing their homework.

Juan Taraya III is a 6th grader in Bessie Carmichael School in San Francisco and says, “I want to help the Philippines (about it )…because I know there’s a lot of people that died and got hurt.”

The tragedy hits very close to home for this non-profit. Asercion confirms that two students who go to WestBay have family members who perished in the storm, while two other families cannot locate their relatives yet as of press time. All these relatives reside in Tacloban City, Leyte province. Across the country, several Filipino-American groups are organizing fundraisers, telethons and relief drives to help the victims. In the Bay Area, just a few of many initiatives include: the recent  “Sagip Kapamilya [Rescuing Families]" ABS-CBN Foundation International's Live Telethon for Typhoon Yolanda Relief, which ran this past week for more than two days, raised close to $312,000.

On Nov. 17, Sunday, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations [NaFFAA] will hold a fundraising event, “Operation Save Lives” at the Northside Community Center in San Jose at 3:30 PM.

And, a “Philippine Super Typhoon Relief Drive” is being spearheaded by Power ng Pinoy TV show, on the following dates and Island Pacific Grocery Store branches from 10am – 2pm – in Union City on Nov 17; and in Vallejo on Nov 23.

Photo credits in video report: One World Institute - OWI

Odette Keeley is the anchor and executive producer of “New America Now”, NAM’s TV show, airing on COMCAST Hometown Network - CHN 104 & COMCAST ON DEMAND.