March 1521, October 1944, November 2013

If only these waters could speak and if these shores could shout; if only people listened to the word of their experience, the cataclysmic devastation wrought by the Third Landing might yet lead to real transformation. 

Kan Daya and the First Landing

The name “Kan Daya” was the pre-colonial appellation of what is now Leyte Gulf in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippine archipelago – islands facing the western Pacific Ocean.

Leyte Gulf stretches from the islands of Samar through Leyte and Southern Leyte to the Surigao islands.

For almost a millennium during the pre-colonial time, this area had been viewed by many travellers as practically the end of the world. Travellers then all originated from west of the Gulf – Chinese, Indian, Kampuchean, Arab, Siamese, Singhalese, and Malay – and when they reached the Gulf, they knew they could go no farther. Beyond these shores was a vast ocean that seemingly had no end. Adventurers who dared sail that vast sea were believed destined, sooner or later, to fall off the earth. They never came back.

When asked what their place was called, the inhabitants of the islands of this eastern littoral replied that the name of the place was “Kan Daya” (meaning, the possession or kingdom of Daya) – referring to a past hegemony of a great chief named Daya.

In any case, all travellers stopped their journeys here. There simply was nothing more beyond Kan Daya. Nothing – “Waray,” the inhabitants would say when asked what lay beyond.

To the inhabitants of Kan Daya, in fact, arrivals – by junk or sampan of roving merchants – always came from the setting sun. But one day, on 16th March 1521, news of the arrival of complete strangers, white men who came in giant boats, caused a shock wave of disquiet among the communities scattered along Kan Daya’s coast. “This could not be,” they thought – arrivals from the endless sea where the sun rose? Arrivals always came from where the sun set.

But it was true. Captain General Ferdinand Magellan, that Portuguese hidalgo and adventurer in the service of the Spanish Crown – the First Conquistador of the Pacific and First Circumnavigator of the globe (titles he did not know he had just earned) had arrived and made the First Landing on Leyte.

Through his Malayan interpreter, Enrique, a loyal “slave” whom he had picked up from Malacca years before, and who was as surprised as any that he could understand and speak the language of the new area they had just “discovered,” Magellan told the mystified inhabitants that it had taken him and his party twenty moons over vast seas to reach these shores, which he was sure were the gateway to the East.

Now here he was – an inner knowing told him – standing on the crossroads of history and cultures, on Kan Daya, where West finally merged with East.

The people of the place, for their part, were not quite sure what impact this most surprising arrival of complete aliens would have on them and their life ways. For one thing the aliens exhibited fire power that deafened their ears! Did they intend harm or good? For, clearly, they could do much harm.

In the next four decades after Magellan made that fatal mistake in a neighbouring island, various attempts by the Spanish Crown were made to find his route back to Kan Daya, and with the same difficulty, one imagines, as finding today worthy successors to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in their successful conquest of the moon. For reaching Kan Daya, then, was precisely the equivalent of reaching the moon today, but sans back-up of real-time complete staff assistance.

When much later the Spanish colonization and subjugation of the archipelago finally got under way, the ancient Kan Daya or modern Leyte-Samar area, which served as gateway for the invaders, was left in the backwash of time and development. The 1521 landing led to the loss of 900 years of freedom and prosperity, and the loss of life on a grand scale in one revolt after another of a people used to freedom and self-possession.

It also led to the introduction of Christianity in some sort of way. After Magellan fired his cannons for demonstration purposes, 800 of Kan Daya’s residents wanted to be baptized.

Douglas and the Second Landing

In the mid-twentieth century, the Second Great Conquistador of the Pacific loomed on the horizon. Japanese invaders had years earlier trampled on Kan Daya’s sacred shores. Could the West return to the Far East? If it could, it would have to do so again on the same Kan Daya shores, on Leyte Gulf. General Douglas MacArthur knew this, and that’s precisely what he did – unleashing the greatest naval battle in recorded human history.

MacArthur had won the argument in December 1943 when he convinced the Joint Chiefs of Staff that in their strategic plan to recover the “Far East,” or what is now termed the biggest bulk of “Asia Pacific,” in order to defeat Japan, they first had to take back the Philippines:The Philippines occupies the pivotal point of control relative to [the whole Far East] Japan, Korea, China, Burma, French Indochina [present-day Laos, Vietnam and Kampuchea], Thailand, British Malaya [present-day Malaysia and Singapore], and the Netherlands Antilles [present-day Indonesia].”

But the key to the Philippines had to be identified and MacArthur saw this in Leyte Gulf: “the natural gateway to the rest of the Philippines; its possession would greatly facilitate and support further operations to the north as well as expedite control over the remaining islands in the Visayas group.”

MacArthur further argued that “Leyte occupies a commanding position in the Philippines and its repossession by the United States would not only divide Japanese forces in the Philippines but would also provide excellent anchorage together with sites for bases and airfields from which land-based aircrafts could bomb all parts of the Philippines, the coast of China and Formosa.”

“Leyte Gulf,” he emphasized, “is large and open, offering an excellent anchorage for a considerable number of vessels, including those of largest size.” He hoped “to develop Leyte Valley into a large air and logistical base to support further massive operations.”

And so came a saying subsequent to this decision that, “As Leyte goes, so will the Philippines.”

The Japanese imperial forces had the same belief and likewise prepared to do battle in Leyte Gulf.      Thus, “after the loss of Leyte, I realized that victory was impossible,” said the Japanese strategist and commander, General Yamashita.

Needless to say, the Battle for Leyte Gulf resulted as well in thousands of the inhabitants dying the collateral death. The giants were clashing. The bombings were no respecter of status: civilian Leyteno or military Japanese or the US Armed Forces – they were driven en masse to the Other Side or the Great Beyond. Leyte Gulf became one of the biggest cemeteries on Earth.

And this was clearly shown up:  whether by nature’s will as in the case of Magellan or because of scientific study and comprehensive staff work as in the case of MacArthur – those who intended or would hope to have a say on the Philippines and the Far East (Asia Pacific) would have to go through Leyte Gulf or Kan Daya as the area’s natural gateway.

Approximately 16,900 military people died in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. 15,000 of those causalities were Japanese, the other 1,900 were American. The battle was fought over three days in October 1944. In all, the related invasion and “liberation” of the Philippines cost the U.S. 10,400 and the Japanese over 250,000 casualties. Who knows how many Leytenos died as “necessary collateral damage” in this Second Landing? Nobody was counting.


Yolanda and the Third Landing

The Third Landing inflicted a controversial number of casualties to date – or so it seems – and a razing to the ground of thousands upon thousands of homes and farms, factories, schools, hospitals and churches, of everything standing up without discrimination so that one must describe the one-sided battle that lasted no more than a few hours as cataclysmic to the max. The devastation is much worse in this Third than in the Second Landing.

Less than two weeks before the coming of Haiyan/Yolanda, Joe America was talking of the Philippines as “the most dangerous land on the planet.”

It ranks number one in the world for deaths caused by natural disasters – 2,360 in 2012 while China, the second placer, was way behind with 771. It was the same story the year before. We become blasé, however, and grow numb to the body counts; they are so relentless.

If there is a Typhoon Alley on Earth, then the Philippines is situated dead center. It also rests on the unstable “Ring of Fire” where volcanoes blast periodically and tectonic plates slip one beneath the other, with catastrophic effects on population centers.

Not all but most of the big typhoons make their first landfall in one or the other island of the provinces of Kan Daya or Leyte Gulf. It is probably correct to surmise that many inhabitants of the area got scared with the talk of a Super Typhoon coming their way but not overly. They survived so many before; they’d more than survive this one too. There was one thing they did not know. Nor did the government understand exactly what it knew. We have to assert this if we charitably grant that a government is merely stupid but not evil.

Yes, the government, meaning the national government of Roxas, Gazmin, PNoy and Soliman – not necessarily but probably in that order – had quite succeeded, they thought, in carving an image of competence following Typhoon Sendong of Northern  Mindanao, Typhoon Pablo of the Davao Region and the Bohol earthquake. They escaped most criticisms unscathed. Any imperfection or failure of management was quite successfully blamed on local government units. The national government had money, wherever it came from (DAP), and therefore it was always the saviour.

In the run-up to the storm, PNoy despatched the big three to Tacloban, calling on them to ensure a “zero-casualty” encounter with this naval armada that the weather bureau was calling “Yolanda” (“Haiyan!” Similar sounding “Yoling” was one of the worst in 1971 but who remembers?). Wasn’t his “popularity” due to his government’s record of “effective management?” Let this new Battle for Leyte Gulf highlight his MacArthurian stature and show the world that the raging battles over pork barrels PDAF and DAP were not worth the continued attention they were commanding.

Highlight the management skills of “Crown Prince” Roxas in contrast with the politicking of outsider would-be-the-next-king Jejomar Binay. Turn the crisis around by managing the news first of all: everything else would follow, right? Wrong! In events the magnitude of a real war, the news can’t always be managed even if you almost own the most popular channels. True, the first casualty of war is truth, as Churchill never tired of pointing out, but truth will always out especially with the presence of foreign correspondents, as Mohandas K. Gandhi always asserted.

In fact, it was a foreign monitoring source that gave the deadly warning. The United States military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said they were seeing sustained winds of more than three hundred kilometres per hour (194 miles) and gusts of 380 kilometres (236 miles) per hour. That meant, said the U.S. National Weather Service, that “catastrophic damage will occur,” with large areas left uninhabitable for weeks or months.

In Manila, newly-installed Doppler radar stations gave the national government a clearer picture too of the storm’s size and the winds’ force and the turbulence of the water within.  And they, too, saw that the storm could have winds as strong as 260 kilometres (162 miles) per hour – less than the more accurate US prediction. But both forecasters from either side of the Pacific spied something really unusual: the risk of “a storm surge” as high as seven meters, or about 23 feet. This was a rarity because although typhoons always bring high winds they rarely bring mountainous waves. This was the one thing most people did not know. Nor did the government understand exactly what it knew.

The bottom-line here was that the Yolanda armada was going to have an impact quite like a massive tsunami. And this, to repeat, this the national government utterly and criminally failed to communicate effectively, as denounced in anger and tears by media man Ted Failon, a native of Kan Daya. A tsunami, technically speaking, is earthquake-originated and our careful technical people did not want to be inaccurate. They could have in the least used a phrase like “tsunami-like” – but “storm surge” was clear enough, they presumed. And what a presumption!

A day before Yolanda’s arrival, Roxas toured Tacloban City and seemed satisfied with what he saw. He wrote on Twitter that it seemed like the situation was in hand. “Crossing fingers,” he wrote. “God bless everyone.”

In fairness, PNoy appeared on television warning that storm surges of as high as six meters were possible. He did not order but advised people to evacuate low-lying areas. “Let me repeat myself: this is a very real danger,” he said.

The Mayor of smaller Guiuan town succeeded in getting most of his people to move to higher ground but much bigger Tacloban was a different story.

Hundreds of officials knocked on doors around the city or appeared on radio and television to urge residents to seek shelter in an evacuation center, short of physically forcing people to leave – which would have resulted in violence.

Many residents said they wanted to guard their property. And the officials said, ‘which is it—your life or your property? If you don’t evacuate, don’t blame us.’  But many remembered a tsunami alert and mass evacuation in August 2012, which turned out to be a false alarm. In all, only 15,300 people out of more than 220,000 residents left their houses for city shelters.

This was the state of Kan Daya immediately before the Third Landing. And the rains came, and the winds blew, and the floods rose in quick and quiet fashion. The Yolanda armada was unopposed, victorious, and cruel.

Its operation was simple. It submerged the inhabitants of Kan Daya by the hundreds and the thousands. When it left after a few near-interminable hours of black water torture Kan Daya could not even count how many hundreds or thousands of her inhabitants died in the deluge. The bodies of relatives and friends started showing up at the downtown area of Tacloban, at Brgy. San Fernando, Sagkahan, Marasbaras, V&G, Brgy. 88, at San Jose near the airport where a police training camp was located. The armada Yolanda immediately took out and submerged 200 national police trainees.

At the Red Beach barangays in Palo town, at Brgy. Salvacion and especially Brgy. San Joaquin, how many inhabitants were immediately drowned as so many of their forebears were almost 70 years earlier? And, of course, so were Tanauan town’s Santa Cruz, Calogcog, Maguey, Likod, Buntay, San Roque, and Sto. Nino, Cabuynan and Bislig near the well-cared for Olot and other barangays of Tolosa town.

Anyone who was familiar with these highly populated places of the coasts not just in Leyte but in all Kan Daya may be forgiven for estimating that the Yolanda armada must have immersed unto death some ten thousand people of the whole region.

The PNoy, of course, was irked, to say the least, if not profoundly angered that his “zero casualty” confidence could be so grossly contradicted. The police general who honestly and competently did so in the interest of truth was summarily removed from his post.

PNoy’s top three of Gazmin, Roxas and Soliman just did not know what to do. Ninety-six hours had passed, and national government had not yet made any effective move to help a decimated local government help a totally defeated community. Old habits die hard. By habit, therefore, they took the route of blaming others for their inability to cope. In the past, they often got away with such tactics scot-free. This time the people of Tacloban responded not merely with clear dislike and understandable contempt but with passionate hatred.

Had not Anderson Cooper and the whole universe of foreign media come to the rescue by shaming PNoy for the anarchy that had set in, Kan Daya would have been much worse off. The Yolanda armada wiped out not only thousands of lives and property in the communities of Leyte and Samar; it wiped out before the whole world all of PNoy’s pretensions to efficient management and effective governance.

The CNN criticized the Aquino government’s lethargic response to the crisis saying “there isn’t enough aid” and the little that gets in “isn’t getting out to those who need it the most.” And, the New York Times wrote, “Filipinos are losing patience with the slow relief effort, increasingly angry with their president.” It then interpretatively added that Aquino is now “facing the biggest challenge of his presidency, and even allies say he appears to have been caught off guard by the scope of the crisis.” The real test finally came and he blew it.

The Times also noted, for contrasts, “India’s successful evacuation last month of more than 800,000 people in the path of Cyclone Phailin. In the end, only a few dozen deaths were reported.”

Worst of all was the opportunism at its most indecent. People could not understand – could not believe – that hatred for one Mayor could be pursued at the cost of the lives of the community.

In the 2013 election, Romualdez was the Nacionalista mayoral candidate. The Nacionalista and Liberal Parties had coalesced as the administration line-up. Quite arbitrarily, however, PNoy and his sister Kris opposed and campaigned against their own administration mayoral candidate because of their predilection for a former party-list congressman whom the people decisively rejected. The people of Tacloban found PNoy’s abandonment of his own administration’s official candidate simply repulsive.

But surely now was not the time for petty partisan recriminations and resentments. This was a time of war and the enemy Yolanda armada was no push-over. More than anything else, unity was the paramount need on the basis of patriotic forgiveness and charity. But blame games? The very suffering people in the waste lands of Kan Daya thought the whole thing so psychologically immature and morally evil.

Thus, nine days after the Yolanda armada assault on Kan Daya, PNoy sought a meeting with the Mayor,

ostensibly playing referee between Romualdez and Roxas. Is all’s well that ends well? Romualdez said: “We have no problem. But you have to look at it this way—that everything changes every day, so there is nothing permanent in a situation like this.”  He probably does not think they are through with him yet.

As for the people of Kan Daya, the First Landing centuries ago ended up in the captivity of the whole archipelago under foreign subjugation. The Second Landing ended up in a restoration of neo-colonial rule on the basis of and cooperation with a newly strengthened oligarchy. This Third Landing must now be viewed first by the people of Kan Daya and eventually by the whole nation as a new start – a new beginning. All is lost. Here is Ground Zero. This is Tabula Raza. Let us get out of the nightmares to have new dreams for a new Kan Daya, stronger, greener, more prosperous, more intelligent, freer, more participative, and more ready to meet and withstand any number of Yolanda armadas yet to come.

“As Leyte goes, so will the Philippines.” The first two landings showed it. This third landing must not forget. FINIS

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.