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Marivir R. Montebon Headshot

That Psyche of Resilience

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After indulging in champorado (rice porridge with chocolate) for breakfast and arroz caldo (rice porridge with chicken and ginger) for lunch, two of the most loved comfort foods of Filipinos, I finally decided to face my laptop.

Onward to writing, I said, after my carbo overload I believe I could already try and make sense the huge tragedies besetting my native country -- a super typhoon on November 8, 2013 and a few weeks earlier, a 7.2 earthquake that hit the central part of the Philippines, with a record of 4000 aftershocks that scared the wits out of everybody.

Tears were streaming down my eyes as I watched journalist Love Anover report to GMA's Jessica Soho about the fury of supertyphoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) in her home town in Palo, province of Leyte. Unlike her usual bubbly and vibrant self, Love was obviously still in a state of shock and disbelief as she witnessed the fury of a super typhoon literally tearing into pieces the roof and ceiling of the cathedral where she sought refuge.

"I thought the cathedral was a safe place to stay. But the wind was just so strong. I thought I might die that day. And I said Lord, if I die here, okay," she said in her report, the day after the super typhoon left the Philippines.

Love's personal account of Yolanda's wrath represents everybody else's fear and resignation when in the midst of turbulence. It was a powerful reportage, because it was raw in emotion, something which is rare among the species called journalists.

As of this writing, more than 4000 people have been reported dead and the count continues. Death toll is rising to a horrific 10,000.

A niece of mine, Joida, and her daughter had to be buried at the back of her house in Tacloban City by her husband, a Philippine soldier. Their bodies had been decomposing and could no longer wait a decent burial in her home town in the neighboring province of Bohol. Joida's youngest daughter Joy, until now, is missing.

My family members who were elsewhere but the Philippines were in a frenzied search for family and friends, trying to locate their whereabouts and safety through Facebook and Google. So sadly, it was Joida and her children who were horribly taken away from us.

The little donation of money I sent through Joida's brother, Jared, was unusually coupled with tears of sadness and disbelief.

Super typhoon Yolanda was the strongest tropical cyclone in the world this year to make a landfall at 235 kph, and one of the world's strongest ever in history.

Located in the typhoon and earthquake belt (or the ring of fire) of the earth, the Philippines experiences storms and typhoons almost in an ordinary fashion all throughout the year. It averages 24 tropical disturbances annually, or twice a month, which is like a 15-day pay day cycle. Over the years, however, these natural disturbances have become more frequent and intense.

I think that the regularity of the storms visiting my country may be a factor in honing the resilient character of Filipinos. We perfectly understand that storms are part of our lives. We are undisturbed at storms that are less than 100 kph. However, we do suspend everything that we do while the winds furiously batter the land and stir the sea (as children, we would rejoice when classes were called off because of an impending storm). Then soon after, we creep out, rejoice, and watch the sun rise again after the storm has passed, mostly with an attitude of gratitude.

That is quite Filipino. Tragedy-tested. Plus, we rise with a smile. This psyche is so deep and molded by the physical reality of being located in the ring of fire, and strengthened by layers of ancient subconscious animistic beliefs and Christian religiosity.

This character is our ticket to survival. We always carry on after every storm, literally and figuratively. And subconsciously, we bring it with us wherever we go. But this wonderful trait of resilience needs to be coupled with a strong sense of political to make sense in dealing with death and tragedy, and stopping altogether the abominable greed of corrupt officials. By then, we shall, perhaps, have come full circle as a people.