Returning to Leyte
15th November 2013 by Reuben Levermore, Manila | 1 Comment
This blog has been posted on behalf of the Ambassador. It first appeared online in the Philippine Star newspaper on 14 November.
Last weekend, I stared in stunned silence at the first accounts of humanitarian workers as they reported from Tacloban City following the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda.
Three weeks to the day, I had been warmly hosted in Palo, Leyte as I took part in the anniversary of the Leyte Landing, alongside colleagues from Australia, Japan and the United States. This anniversary marked, of course, the moment in 1944 when General Douglas MacArthur fulfilled a promise to return to the Philippines, striding ashore alongside Philippine President Sergio Osmena.
On the afternoon of our departure back to Manila, our hosts generously took us on a tour of Tacloban City. There, we visited the municipal hall where President Osmena re-established the seat of the Philippine Government 69 years earlier. It was a beautiful blue sky day. Earlier that morning I had gazed out over the calm, still, waters of the Leyte Gulf, thinking that I should myself return. For a leisurely long weekend, maybe some diving.
Later, we waited at Tacloban Airport for our delayed flight. We posed for photos and shared stories with our student escorts who had taken so much pride in their tasks. Like so many young Filipinos that I have met, they were unfailingly courteous, respectful, and full of energy and laughter.
Filipinos will know that the Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in modern history, fought in the seas surrounding Leyte island from October 23 to 26, 1944. Some 55,000 men lost their lives in what was a critical battle for the liberation of the Philippines. Palo Beach became known as Red Beach for the blood that was shed.
Like all of us, I have been hoping and praying for the wellbeing of Leytenos, in this case my wonderful hosts in particular.
I have been humbled by the opportunity to represent my country in assisting Filipinos during times of natural disaster. But this experience has seemed more personal as a result of my weekend in Leyte province. It is indeed very difficult to reconcile the beautiful images in my mind with the harrowing images that have circulated in the media in recent days.
But I also know that as members of the international community, we have an opportunity to assist our Governments in responding to the call of the Filipino people in their time of need. That is a privilege, and the least that we can do.
As New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told the New Zealand Parliament on Tuesday when he led a motion of support for the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon, “the images we are seeing out of the affected areas are deeply harrowing, and all New Zealanders will be moved by them. The anguish within our large Filipino community reminds us of how closely this disaster is felt here at home. What we learned from the Christchurch earthquake is that no country has to face this alone. The international community always stands ready to help.”
I do hope to return to Leyte, but for the meantime, our focus is on supporting the hardworking and unfailingly committed members of the Philippine Government, Armed Forces, Police, and aid community to get aid where it is most needed as quickly as possible.