By Donna Webb
In the Philippines, the idea of Bayanihan, working together towards a common goal for the benefit of the whole community, shapes the country’s core values. According to the World Giving Index 2012, the Philippines is the second most charitable country in Southeast Asia. In 2012, the Philippines’ giving behaviour in terms of volunteering time increased to 44 per cent, up from 41 per cent in 2011.
The Filipino tradition of volunteering can best be illustrated by the outpouring of compassion for victims following the devastating typhoon 11 months ago. On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. United Nations agencies reported that the storm killed 6,340 people and left 4.1 million people homeless.
In the aftermath of the storm, local doctors were stirred to take collective action. Dr. Evangeline Cua, a surgeon from the Western city of Iloilo sent out an urgent message on Facebook appealing for donations to dispatch a medical team to hard-hit Tacloban City. Donations poured in and within 24 hours, she had received enough funds to dispatch a team of nine volunteers with medical supplies.
The Church played a major role in providing relief and recovery. Not only did the Filipino community turn to the church for spiritual comfort, but the church also served as a physical shelter for the sick, wounded and displaced. Dr. Cua and her team set up a makeshift medical bay in the Church of the Redeemer where they treated people with infected wounds, respiratory and GI infections, and skin lesions.
What accounts for the Catholic Church’s social influence in the Philippines? The answer lies in the country’s colonial history. In 1565, the Spanish landed in the Philippines, established settlements and quickly converted the majority of the Filipino population to Christianity. The Catholic Church’s role was not limited to providing spiritual guidance; it also provided access to social services such as education and health care.
While the Church offered hope after the storm, the Bayanihan spirit drove local people to band together, support the victims, and rebuild the community. It explains why Dr. Cua reached out to the community and the world via Facebook. It explains why a doctor who was accustomed to the safe confines of a private hospital would brave debris-strewn roads and expect nothing in return. It explains why she decided to go, even after her sister pleaded with her to stay because of security issues.
“How could I go on with my life when I know that people are suffering and I could actually do something to help and not go there? I thought, at that time, that it’s our moral obligation as a human being to extend help,” she said.
The Bayanihan Spirit: Dead or Alive – Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 7:91-105 (1979)
World Giving Index 2012
History of the Philippines
Philippines Aid begins at home: Social Media helps local people prevent spread of illness following Typhoon Haiyan (The Independent)
Typhoon Haiyan After Action Report: Local Physicians Give First-hand Findings (Emergency Physicians International)