Downtown Tacloban bears few visible scars from Typhoon Haiyan. Central Tacloban could be seen as embodying the spirit of the Filipino; diligent and inaudibly unvanquished, ostensibly impassive to political and environmental depreciation, with a cultural indolence concealed by outward vivacity and infectious warmth. The town has sufficiently recovered to serve the people in meticulously organised chaos, synonymous in with much of the Philippines. Downtown particularly, flourishes under the momentary veil of an enhanced local service economy brought on by the incursion of foreign aid workers, international volunteers and inquisitive tourists. There is visible hope for the people of Tacloban one year after the world's strongest storm hit land, causing appalling external damage not only to the city of Tacloban, but to multiple municipalities across the Philippines.
Earlier this week on the first anniversary after Haiyan, local people and foreign NGO personnel converged on Tacloban. Amongst the many organised acts of tribute, there sat a great collection of booths from INGOs showcasing their efforts during the last twelve months. Photography and Artwork intricately covered the courtyard of City Hall. The booths visually represent orations of Resilience, Hope and Life one year after the Typhoon. Local and Foreign Media assemble, judiciously positioning their protagonists to recount for the world, their stories of heroism, sorrow and survival. Their voices raised pithily, our thirst for gossip satisfied instantly.
The courtyard, an elevated grass area outside City Hall, overlooks what is left of the once covered, Balyuan amphitheatre. There is however a much wider disconnect between the courtyard and the amphitheatre than the few meters that separate the two spaces. If the courtyard speaks of progress, promise and renascent prosperity, the amphitheatre conveys antagonism, obligation and moral purposefulness. At the very bottom of the hill and out of view stands Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, Yeb Sano. Though his oratory on Nov 8th is less publicised and his audience less esteemed than that at his impassioned plea to UN delegates in the immediate aftermath of Haiyan, his message is no less desperate.
As the crowd congregates under an oak tree for shelter from the midday sun, Yeb stands without a flinch. His hair is longer, his attire indecorous and his skin colour, visibly darker. He is blithe to anything; choosing to speak slowly in Tagalog, addressing an audience of but a few hundred. Though his words cannot be deciphered by the handful of foreign faces in the crowd, they are almost unimportant. Nobody in the crowd is in any doubt what the message is. Part of a small and dedicated group, Yeb arrived in Tacloban after completing a 1,000km, six week, walk for climate justice from Manila to Tacloban. His group, respectful of and inspired by the occasion, they are not content with promise of hope and the winds for gradual change, they demand justice, and they demand it now.
Yeb Sano and the climate justice walkers are a minority, but they certainly are not an anomaly. Some six hours earlier, a reported 20,000 gathered at Tacloban Convention Centre to form the People's Surge march and begin their walk, campaigning for justice from the Government amongst claims of corruption, deception and negligence.
In the wake of Haiyan, it is easy, almost necessary, to forget about justice. To ignore nobility and surrender liberty. There is no dignity in death and there can be no sincerity in suffering. Such lofty proclamations give way to emergency and survival. But, it is because of Haiyan that we should be reminded of justice and the arbitrary way nature and humans, through gratuitous negligence, are left to caw. Because to offer hope at the expense of justice is to be complicit in the people's suffering.
What is most extraordinary about Yeb and all those that fight for their own innate sense of justice, is that in a country where words and actions and are often mutually exclusive and political bureaucracy surpasses human life, a small and often fragmented group can together stand among a murmuring chorus for change. Yeb does not stand to witness improvements. He stands to witness the end. The end of climate injustice, of commercialised internationalism at the expense of the planet and of the Philippines.
As the sun set on Tacloban on 8 Nov, the main road from the Airport into the town illuminates with candles and the night sky flickers with lanterns. If the day was about looking forward, the candles provide a solemn reminder to the lives lost and many more deeply affected. For now, many of the people remain thankful for the hope that has been restored through efforts of the local and international community.
For the few that fight against another Haiyan happening, hope and current action is not enough. More than offering help to the people of the Philippines, thre is a need to call for justice. If we don't have the will to fight for justice, we must at least lend a voice to all those like Yeb Sano, who do fight. Because just like poverty, restoring hope to natural calamity victims cannot be an act of charity, it must be an act of justice.