by Rex Menard Cervales

Breathing deeply or counting backward from 200 by 3s or 2s to calm yourself through the storms are at best futile. I remember when Yolanda hit Capiz in 2013, roaring winds were ripping our roofs apart as if they were paper. Fear would rush through my body every after I hear a discernible shriek of shattering glass. To be safe, I resorted to crouching down in a ball-like position beside a wooden bed frame, which cradled three of my frightened younger cousins that we had rescued earlier that day from their houses near the province’s coastline. It felt like the longest day of my life. I think no known relaxation exercise could have ever reduced my anxiety then. 

It took my family one whole afternoon to prepare for what meteorologists in news outlets have been forecasting as “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history.” The day before the storm, my mother hurried to our local grocery store to take what was left on mostly empty supermarket shelves. Meanwhile, my father and I secured all the bamboo poles through complicated knotwork and friction-tight lashing I had learned through being a boy scout. 

We have been warned. 

Despite warnings, no defensive pessimist could have visualized such disaster. What unfolded before our eyes after the storm was beyond imagination. That calm before the storm? I can only recall the period of quiet through the deafening silence of ungentle mourning at dusk.Truly, when grief dominates a person’s life, rich memories of the past are lost through the healing process which, unfortunately, includes wallowing in sorrow and ruminating on what-ifs. My vague memory, however, reminds me that my prayer was merely supplication with thanksgiving so my family is spared from anything similar to Yolanda in the future. I just don’t know what terrible things I’ve done in my life up to this point, but clearly my karma’s out of balance to get to experience something worse. 

When this time I did all I could when I learned of the brewing storm, when it finally hits and wreaks havoc on our lives, whom should I pin the blame on?

As I realized the imminent return of the Marcoses to the Malacanang amid the ongoing canvassing of votes on May 9th, I was feeling spells of denial and disbelief. I sought comfort in the lyrics of Rosas, the popular anthem of Leni Robredo’s presidential campaign, while on my way to our headquarters supposedly to sympathize with co-volunteers-turned-friends who were still tallying votes from local precincts in our headquarters at 10 PM in hopes of a miracle. 

For days now, my self-pity continues to lull me into laziness and numbness. In between moments of excessively dwelling on sorrows and intensive self-retrospection, I acknowledge the anger that the most consequential elections have given rise to. I grieve because I am now plunged into uncertainty. It was reminiscent of the prominent feelings after Yolanda: overwhelming anxiety, constant worrying, intense anger at forces beyond agency. Fighting against the deeply-rooted, systemic disinformation was like preventing the roof from blowing off amid sustained winds of 195 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 230 kph. 

The martial law years of the other Marcos president was indeed the most turbulent time of our history. No grand yet dubious claim of progress will ever pay for the atrocities under his administration. The lack of remorse and the total disregard for their family’s unforgivable crimes are worrisome, but I take solace in the knowledge that our history has once proven that our collective grief only strengthens us, it adds depth and wisdom to human suffering, and it is what fuels us to push for social change. 

After all, we have what we need to get through this.

Capiz after Yolanda (2013). Photo taken by author.