In Memoriam: The Heroes of 9/11

Cable channels yesterday ran a marathon of documentaries about 9/11 while news networks covered the memorial services held at Ground Zero, New York; Pentagon at Washington DC and Shanskville, Pennsylvania.

Photo from scientificamerican.com

I realized last night that this day deserves to be written about. In my history as a human being, this is one of the most important stories in my lifetime. While my grandparents had the holocaust, my parents had the outrageous 60s and Martial Law — our generation had 9/11.

Photo from topusapost.com

But how to begin? How does one write about a day that brought unimaginable terror to thousands of people who did nothing to deserve their fate, save show up for work like they always do every morning? How does one begin to even put into words the emotions brought about by an event of this magnitude and the thousands of stories on why and how this even came together?

If we think about it, what is an act of terrorism, if not an act meant to dispel all the hope and valor in the human heart?

But on that day, hope and valor were not dispelled.

Discovery channel’s “The Heroes of the 88th Floor“ tell the story of 2 such people: construction manager Pablo Ortiz and construction inspector Frank DeMartini. Everyday folk just making a living and doing their jobs the best way they could.

Frank De Martini with his children Sabrina and Dominic. Photo from courierpostonline.com.

In the midst of one of New York City’s most terrifying hours, they found a way against all odds to find an open stairwell for the occupants of the 88th floor so they could make their way out of a building on the verge of collapse.

After evacuating their colleagues, they searched what remained of the floor with an area of over 40,000 square meters amidst smoke, fumes and debris to ensure no one had been left behind.

Photo immediately after the crash in the North Tower. From hitfix.com.

And when they were done with the 88th, they decided to keep looking. When everyone else was scrambling to get down, they made their way up to the 89th when they heard banging on the stairwell doors. Using a crowbar to pry apart the plastered walls, they eventually freed the stairwell door and got more than a dozen other people out of the building.

Still it wasn’t enough. Up they went to the 90th and rescued even more people who were just waiting with bated breath to be given instructions to evacuate.

They probably would’ve kept going up, taking them closer and closer to the crash site… Except the way was already far too blocked. From the 91st floor onwards, no one would survive.

So they started on their journey going down. An ordinary person would’ve kept going. They didn’t. They stopped at almost every floor to see if anyone had been left inside. Eventually they made it to the 76th floor, the sky lobby where they were able to free a man trapped inside the express elevator. Where many had failed to pry open the door, Frank and Pablo succeeded.

That was the last anyone had seen or heard from Frank and Pablo for within minutes of rescuing the man inside the elevator, the World Trade Center North tower had finally collapsed.

Pablo Ortiz with his family. Photo from blog.chron.com.

More than 75 people have a second chance at life today because of these two selfless acts of heroism.

In the same documentary, a few minutes before the North Tower collapses, a middle-aged man sits by the 12th floor stairwell holding the hand of his colleague — a distraught woman struggling with asthma from the trip down 72 floors, the smoke, fumes and her own body weight.

Some ways down their trip, she had taken long pauses to try to catch her breath. At the last few minutes just as they were getting closer to freedom, she tires and despairs.

The rest of their group had long since reached safety.

One man sat by her side refusing to leave her alone. He stayed until firefighters had finally located them and he was forcibly ushered to go on down (otherwise he would be thrown down the stairs), with the reassurance that they would carry his friend down to safety.

He finally exited the north tower just as the building began its final collapse. His friend, and the firefighters inside never made it out.

Thousands of firefighters lost their lives that day. The first ones to arrive when the call was sounded braved their way inside the growing wreckage of the World Trade Center to scour every corner of every floor to find people who needed to be saved. As time went by and it was imminent and certain that the towers were on the verge of collapse, they didn’t flee. They continued in, on and upwards in the attempts of scaling 110 floors to do what they could to find as many survivors as possible.

When the towers finally collapsed, no firefighter managed to even reach the floors above the 50th. There just wasn’t enough time.

Hundreds were saved by the courage and valor of these firefighters, all doing what they could in the call of duty.

Firefighter Dustin Stevens from Franktown Fire and Rescue and his fellow firefighters observe a moment of silence Read more: Metro firefighters remember responders lost on 9/11 - The Denver Post.

On the ground, inside the building and on the air, there were heroes all around.

The passengers of Flight United 93 was the flight that fought back and thwarted the attack on the White House. A handful of passengers took it upon themselves to try to regain control of the plane to whatever end. Perhaps none really knew what would really happen when they had regained control, they just knew they had to try something.

The struggle and distraction provided by the attempts of the passengers to get inside the cockpit made the hijackers lose control of the plane. Instead of making it all the way to the White House, the plane crashed at a 45-degree angle in a reclaimed coal strip mine a few miles from Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Motorists on the ground witnessed the plane falling rapidly and at an angle right above their vehicles as many prayed the crash would spare the school that was just a few miles away from that coal mine.

The crash site in Pennsylvania. Photo from thewebfairy.com.

None survived the crash. United Flight 93 fragmented violently upon the crash.

While speculations still abound about whether the target was indeed the White House, what we know is that their efforts spared any further deaths on the ground.

Yesterday we grieved, remembered and honored the victims and all our heroes. Whatever the purpose of the attack that fateful day 10 years ago was, it left an entire world devastated. I saw the footage last night and the cries, the expressions of utter despair on the faces of those who were on the streets of New York that day are etched in my mind.

But in the midst of that, many of us are also humbled by the courage and valor exhibited by these true-to-life heroes.

Lives that were irrevocably changed by acts of kindness and humanity to remind us all that in the midst of tragedy, the human heart still prevails. Let them be an inspiration to all of us who are fortunate to still be here with the chance to make a difference.

And maybe then, we can truly say that we’ve confronted terror in its face, and have finally defeated it.

Prophecies of Doom

When the news broke that Japan’s 2nd nuclear reactor in Fukushima exploded two days ago, a massive wave of text messages, FB status updates and Twitter updates warned Filipinos to brace themselves; stay indoors; seal doors and windows; protect themselves from acid rain — because the radiation from the nuclear explosion would hit Philippine shores within the next few hours. One specific text message that went around even cited that the news had come from BBC News.

Of course none of the warnings were true. Neither CNN, nor BBC, nor even FOX news validated that rumor. In fact, several news items broke a few hours later disputing that any other country would get hit by the radiation.

I’m all for taking precautions against potentially dangerous situations. And I appreciate people’s enthusiasm for spreading the word quickly.

What I don’t appreciate are news being disguised as official news, when they’re nothing but conjecture. If you can spend several pesos sending long text messages about news you aren’t sure of, you can spend a few more pesos checking the Internet for validity of the news being spread.

Especially if the news being spread is one that could potentially spread mass panic.

Much like prophets of doom who foretell that the world truly will end in 2012… with these recent (and still ongoing) earthquakes in Japan to further lend credence to the theory.

Who knows what will happen in 2012? Who knows if the world will truly end?

I suppose it’s the part in me that resists giving in to fate that makes me cringe at prophecies such as this. I like living for the here and now. I like the fact that every minute I’m alive means it’s another chance for me to appreciate being alive. I like the fact that tomorrow is unknown territory. It’s scary in some ways, yes. But it’s also thrilling to think of the possibilities.

Three Short Stories

Since I shamelessly (albeit a bit hesitantly) shared my blog URL for the first time ever with office mates today… I feel a little bit ashamed that I’ve allowed this blog to take a dive into the “deprioritized” list hence the absence of new, quality content.

Hence, this new post about random nothings. Well, not really nothings.

Call this little quickie stories to paint a picture of life as it unfolds these days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story # 1: In the Grip of Chaos.

New Year started with an explosive announcement. My boss resigned, and made me inherit most of what he left behind — the responsibilities, the problems, the aches and pains… and occasionally the joy, the fulfillment and pride. And best of all, his MacBook.

It’s been a crazy ride. As if last year wasn’t crazy enough, the world seems to deem me fit and able to withstand all manners of chaos. From my domestic life, to my career, my personal time, my time with my family, and all the other responsibilities, chores and errands in between.

I have a secret nightmare. In it, I fear that my seemingly healthy pallor and constitution will gradually and sneakily take its toll on me someday… and I will suddenly find myself terminally ill.

Lately, my head feels like a mass of nerves. A series of interconnected neurons that have all gone astray, all tangled up and jarred, laid out in a messy heap with no more rhyme or reason. This drives me crazy – the sense of having absolutely no sense of control over anything, and worse —  the head-pounding misery of wondering how this all just came to be. I didn’t see it all coming.

But my story is far from over. So I never lose out on the fervent wish that some day soon, my happiness and peace-of-mind meter decides to take an upward spiral — and hopefully stays there for a long, long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story # 2. Changing Tides.

I know many in the Philippines don’t think much about what’s been happening around the world as a result of the Revolution in Egypt that finally unseated long-time tyrant Hosni Mobarak.

I was watching CNN that day and saw the very first broadcast made by Vice President Omar Suleiman that changed the world. I was washing the dishes in the kitchen; the TV in the living room was slightly muted but intelligible enough that I could figure out the major developments while cleaning out the kitchen. Like many Egyptians, my heart skipped a beat when the Vice President made the proclamation.

A few weeks later, we watch in abject horror as more and more lives are brutally taken in Libya.

In Yemen, the public is calling for the President’s resignation, even though his official rule still ends in 2013.

In Bahrain, police set-off tear gas and fire rubber pellets at protestors who are clamoring for better jobs and political equity.

Even quiet little Oman stages a mini protest — though for what motivation, I can’t be sure.

I don’t know what to make of these events… and what the future holds for the rest of the world. With people marching on the streets, putting their lives at risk to rally for their rights — on one hand the call for positive change while electrifying in different ways, is nonetheless a good change. On the other, where do we draw the line on anarchy? Is this how the world will eventually fall apart at the seams?

Story # 3. The Fight for Democracy Forgotten.

And speaking of revolutions, a hot news item recently emerged in which debates are ongoing whether former President Ferdinand Marcos should be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

It’s astounding how the polls at ABS-CBN shows that 59% of Pinoys are in favor of having him buried right there. The deposed, unseated Dictator that caused the People Power Revolution in 1986 — buried in a cemetery intended for the nation’s heroes??!?

How quickly people forget. Or is it just because the new generation of Pinoys grew up not really understanding the painful realities that characterized his reign?

It doesn’t help that you’ve got the late ex-President’s son ranting about how if he had stayed in power, the Philippines would be a Singapore by now. Who are we kidding? Take a lesson from History: we were poised to become an economic superpower when Marcos’ Presidency began. By the time he was deposed, the value of the Philippine Peso had declined massively. How’s that for becoming a Singapore if he had stayed on?

Funnily enough, our President now is the son of two freedom fighters who spurred the Revolution that changed the course of the Philippines’ history. To coincide with the 25th Anniversary of that Revolution and not accord it the proper deference by celebrating it as an official holiday — makes me feel that we’re allowing everyone and everything to ignore the significance of that day 25 years ago, and the lives given for the cause of Democracy.

How truly, truly sad.

Hostage Crisis in Manila

August 23, 2010. Former Chief Superintendent Rolando Mendoza takes a tourist bus full of Hong Kong Nationals hostage as they were in transit en route to Manila Ocean Park. It began at 10 in the morning, and eventually ended in a bloodbath that tragically claimed the lives of 9 victims.

There’s a lot of buzz going around that things could have been and should have been done differently so they wouldn’t have had to end the way they did.

I completely agree.

But am I one of the very few who actually feel sympathetic to our local Police force and the field agents who were handling on-ground negotiations?

In a hostage crisis, expert negotiators have said that the greatest weapon of field agents trying to resolve a hostage situation is patience. Allow the situation to unfold on its own, and the hostage taker to to dictate his pace as he slowly comes to believe that his demands are being met.

The fact of the matter is, the hostage negotiations were going smoothly, until the hostage taker’s family members were apprehended by the police force. Many have raged against this move. But the fact of the matter was, the hostage taker’s brother relinquished his right to be treated with compassion the minute he started goading his brother into not giving in to the hostage negotiators until he (the brother, not the hostage taker) had been given back his gun.

In what universe should a scenario like this be tolerated, and the individual not be held accountable for his actions? Loved ones of hostage takers brought to the scene are meant to help diffuse the situation, not aggravate it further.

We can also blame the police SWAT team all we want. But to give them credit, these people put their lives on the line by attempting to assault the hostaged bus. They did the best they could given the circumstances. I challenge any critics to try to figure out how to properly and successfully assault the scene that had only one tiny door, and confront a madman who used the hostage victims as human shields.

While watching the drama unfold on national television, one of the things I immediately thought of even before the situation rapidly changed for the worst — was the media’s role in all of this. It’s one thing to give transparency to the nation, but another to put a mission as critical at risk just to get a story out. I couldn’t quite imagine why on earth everything was being shown on National TV, including their assault strategy, the apprehension of Mendoza’s family that ultimately pushed him over the edge. Talk about discretion in planning for and executing a successful rescue operation. And as we already know, it didn’t quite turn out the way we’d all hoped.

My heart goes out to all the victims of this tragedy, and my prayers and condolences go with them.

If we are to have learned something from this entire debacle, then I hope that:

  1. Our media would learn to exercise better discernment in their quest for professional and more importantly, responsible journalism.
  2. Our field agents (whether military, police, marines, etc.) be given proper training, equipment and all the tools and skills they need to enable them to do their jobs better.
  3. Filipinos in general would exercise better judgment and exercise some modicum of self-control and self-sacrifice on times that call for it. I will forever wonder what the hostage taker’s brother had in mind when he started exacerbating the situation and further fueling his brother’s anger. What on earth was that supposed to accomplish??

Oh, and one last thing.

I read in one blog that says that the assault team should have done something as early as mid afternoon because clearly, the hostage taker was insane and deranged, therefore the situation would have come to the same end either way.

I have this to say about that. Every hostage taker is insane and deranged. Have you ever known of a hostage taker who was in his right mind when the act was committed?

Six Months After Haiti

I saw a special feature at CNN over the weekend about the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and what has happened since. It’s been six months.

It’s astounding. Countries who had pledged financial aid (with the exception of Australia, Brazil, Estonia and Norway) have yet to hand them over. Less than 2% of the committed funds had been delivered to this calamity and poverty-stricken country.

Meanwhile, hospitals are closing down because there’s simply no money left to keep the place running.

Medicine has run out. Volunteers have upped, left and abandoned the place, so operating rooms of the hospitals have become a ghost town. As a result, victims of the earthquake are no longer receiving the medical attention they need to completely recover. Many children (like the one above) don’t even get the required minimum daily nutrition to at least equip their bodies with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to become healthy again.

Most of the rubble from fallen structures have yet to be cleared. In one of the stories shared by CNN, there was one boy who was found hiding beneath an iron table, buried under tons of rubble — a whole month after the earthquake. He was alive, but emaciated and severely traumatized. It was a miracle he was even alive. Five months later, the boy is back on his feet and healthy, but uncommunicative. Only heaven knows how long his emotional wounds would take to heal, if at all.

Millions still live in makeshift tents, as they wait with bated breath for their homes to be rebuilt, or even the rubble in their former homes be cleared so they can begin rebuilding the lives they’ve lost.

How quickly we forget. I suppose it’s but human nature. After all, it’s not like we don’t have have our own share of problems and calamities in the Philippines. That’s the way it is sometimes. Google up “How I can help Haiti Philippines”, and most sites I’ve found have entries dated all the way back in January. It took some effort to find ways to help that are recent.

Busy as I’ve been tending to my life and my own concerns, I can’t turn a blind eye anymore though. Whatever help I can give is tiny, miniscule and almost completely negligible… but I cannot in good conscience, not do anything either. I suppose for lack of a better explanation, it’s basic human decency to reach out to our fellow human beings who need to literally survive. If my help can help feed one more child for another week, then what the heck, right?

If you feel the same way and want to help in your own little way, here are some ways you can help:

1. Philippine Red Cross: click here to donate (although the PNRC site has been down today…)

2. Global Charity Association: click here to find out how you can help

3. Be a Facebook fan of “Let’s Help Haiti”

On P-Noy and wangwangs

I don’t know how most Pinoys feel about PNoy’s decision to not use his right as President of the Philippines to use wangwangs when he goes places. While the principles behind him wanting to equalize himself along with the rest of the nation’s population is certainly an admirable thing, I wonder at how practical it actually is.

It’s been just a week since he was inaugurated as the President of the Republic, and already he arrives at meetings and functions late. Whether his tardiness is attributed to a bummed stomach, or unforeseen traffic – somehow I can’t help but feel that tardiness is a graver sin than not using his wangwangs to get to where he has to go just to prove a point.

It’s not just the tardiness per se. I’d be one to criticize tardiness when I’m hardly the most punctual person in the world.

But he’s the President of the country. His focus should be on making the country a better place rather than on strictly imposing limitations on himself that don’t really do anything to help solve the country’s problems. Somehow I can’t abide his insistence on not using his wangwangs to maneuver through Metro Manila traffic if there were something as important as peace talks, or foreign diplomatic meetings where time is always of the essence.

For the sake of the millions of Filipinos who are now counting on him for change, I hope pressing problems don’t take a backseat to his insistence on protecting his image.

2010 Philippine Elections: A Summary

President/ Vice President NoyBi.

It seems we have a clear winner for President, and an almost clear winner for Vice President.

The Noy Aquino-Jejomar Binay tandem so far wins the race (unless Mar catches up in the next few hours from the remaining municipalities). Unofficial results, of course. And still a partial count… but the numbers are quite clear.

Villar, Gibo, Gordon and de los Reyes have already conceded defeat.

Now… I did not vote for either of the 2 winners.

But I love my country.

And so, for her sake, I will embrace this new administration with open arms and give them all my support and loyalty. I, like many Filipinos, genuinely hope for the best.

I want to be a good citizen. Aside from paying my taxes religiously, and helping my husband month on month fix his rigorous taxes too… aside from exercising my right to suffrage, I will be a good citizen by giving this new administration a chance and simply stop… complaining and just letting them do their jobs.

President Elect Noy, please take care of this country and do what you have to do to start finding solutions to our country’s problems. For now, this is all the message I have for you.

I am a proud voter. Along with almost 50M other Filipinos.

Never in the history of my voting life have I ever felt so much pride for the indelibe ink on my finger. And never had the turnout of the voting public been higher than it was on May 10. More than 50M registered voters… at a 75% turnout. That means around 40M voters, more than half of the Filipino population.

And the 75% doesn’t include the votes that did not go through the PCOS machines yet.

All this, in spite of most of us having to brave the smoldering and torturous heat and humidity, lining up for hours just to get our votes in. It’s truly amazing.

Yesterday, a passing thought entered my head.

For those who could’ve voted, but chose not to… and especially for those who were simply too lazy, apathetic or cynical to cast their votes… I have no kind words to say to them.

Human nature leads all of us to spend more time complaining about what the government is doing (or not doing) for its constituencies. But frankly, those who have the least right to complain are those who can’t even go out of their way to do what little they can for their country. They complain about the ineptitude of the administration when they themselves were indifferent enough to have done nothing, when they had the chance to be heard.

Like I always say… kung sinadya mong hindi bumoto, wala ka ng karapatang magreklamo. (If you deliberately chose not to vote for whatever reason, you have no more right to complain.)

Democracy Truly At Work?

Hope has sprung forth on the 10th of May. Maybe it’s also thanks to the automated elections… but from what we see, these elections have been smooth-sailing and peaceful.

Election returns were fast, quick and clean. They seemed untampered with, and thus, legit.

Presidentials and Vice Presidentials conceded defeat even before results were finalized (well, most of them). And all of them truly did give way and make way for the new President Elect, pledging their support and allegiance as soon as they knew that results were unquestioned.

It gave me goosebumps when all those who conceded plainly, simply and humbly said that “the people have chosen, and what the people have chosen, I will support” (not in those words).

Have we truly started on our journey towards true democracy?

What Happens After?

Well, I’m quite excited to see what happens next. But also perhaps, somewhat afraid.

I keep my fingers crossed that when the results are truly final, the number 2s (Erap for Pres/ Mar or Binay for VP) will peacefully concede and just let the results be.

I hope and pray that the ongoing conflicts and violence in Mindanao will start coming to a peaceful resolution. It’s a long way to go yet, but I continue to fervently hope that a resolution happens within my lifetime.

I am a bit anxious about PGMA as a whole. I worry a bit if there’s any validity to her plans of installing herself as Speaker of the House (since she’s already been proclaimed this morning in Pampanga) to help her supposed climb as the Prime Minister. I hope it’s not true. We don’t need this right now. In the midst of a more hopeful future, we need a united country all headed towards a common, peaceful goal.

On the side, I worry about her too, and the charges she will have to answer the day her Presidential term expires. I still think some the accusations against her are overrated and are an overreaction arising from fear and insecurity. And I think her biggest downfall was her relations and the people she surrounds herself with.

I’m hopeful too about Noy. Still apprehensive to some degree, but hopeful too. I hope he’s truly ready to take on the role of the most powerful person in the country. Because with it comes 6 long ,painful years of public scrutiny. Many see him now as the Messiah. The one who will change Philippine politics and turn it all around. The one who can solve all our problems. But no one can do that overnight. And alone. It takes an entire citizenry to enact changes. And it takes a long, long time to right the wrongs done through decades of a warped and corrupt political system. And with a body of Senators who are still the same senators of decades… the old traditional politicians acting as the chief legislators of our country… I wonder how much change can we really expect.

Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I just hope that we as a Filipino citizen, are also ready and willing to embrace a promising era that speaks of change and reformation. And I hope we all do our part in whatever way big or small, to turning this country around.