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Eating in the time of Yolanda

/ 09:55 AM December 12, 2013

Eating in the time of Yolanda,” would have been an apt title to a short video about how to cook canned sardines in three different ways.

The segment that was aired by GMA 7 during its early evening newscast last Tuesday was not really about culinary tips but how our brothers and sisters in Eastern Visayas and northern Cebu should cope with the great misery and deprivation after supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) destroyed their communities and turned their lives upside down.

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I was cooking dinner and heard the audio of the short feature, in which viewers were taught how to cook canned sardines three-ways – bola-bola, omelette and lumpia.

My friend and native chef-cum-historian Louella “Loy” Alix will have to correct me if I’m wrong in my presumptions but I think bola-bola (breaded ground lean pork shaped into small balls and fried in oil) and lumpia (vegetable and ground pork and shrimp wrapped in crepes and likewise fried in oil) are fusion dishes, that are influenced by our colonial past and by the Chinese. An omelette is a western dish that was brought to our shores by the Americans.

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To these creative selections, I’d like to add my own: sardinas with misua (thin rice noodles) or with patola (white squash). My family used to eat this fare during lean days in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. In all these dishes, the main ingredient is sardines.

Canned sardines, along with bottled water, noodles, at least three kilos of rice, sometimes biscuits and coffee placed in plastic packets comprised the relief goods that government and private institutions distributed to earthquake victims in Bohol in October and Yolanda survivors after Nov. 8.

Bohol is slowly recovering close to two months after it was brought to its knees by the 7.2 earthquake but the magnitude of the devastation in areas battered by the supertyphoon is such that up to now, people are still struggling to make sense of their lives.

Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who lost entire families including houses and business still try to survive on a day to day basis. Because they don’t have money to buy food, the steady arrival of relief goods, if they’re lucky enough to get more than a week’s supply, really come in handy, especially canned sardines which are ready to serve.

It’s been a month into the disaster and even if one is the most patient and enduring human being on earth, there is a limit to eating canned fish daily even if it swims in tomato sauce (my favorite) or olive oil. Eating the same viand day in and day out can be killing. In the words of my favorite wag, it is akin to being blown off again by the storm surge.

The segment producer who thought of presenting sardinas three ways is really creative and attuned to the times, one who deserves a pat on the back for helping people find ways to improvise in the context of their limited and trying situation.

It’s like being given tarpaulin which people used as roofs over temporary houses, or a broken tin roof that found good use as a salipod (covering) in a detached toilet, never mind if there are cracks in it. Undoubtedly, these innovations, like the sardinas omelette, lumpia and bola-bola demonstrate over and over again the resilience of the Filipino people. It’s a miracle that our people remain positive despite the miserable condition. Og sa ubang nasud pa nahitabo ang Yolanda, daghan nang naghikog. (Had Haiyan occurred in another country, many would have committed suicide).

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Compare that with the sour mood that comes out of the Malacañang press briefings nowadays. I was watching the news conference on television last Tuesday, the day after Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez attended a joint congressional committee hearing on the situation in ground zero before and after the supertyphoon.

As we know, Romualdez broke down during the hearing in which he criticized the administration for slow and sloppy rescue, rehabilitation and recovery efforts. He also slammed Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas for allegedly forcing him to sign a document that would, in effect, “cede” control of the local government to Malacañang. The mayor accused Roxas of playing politics at a time when it should be the last of human concerns.

Against the background of Romualdez’s disclosure and widespread perception that the Aquino administration did a poor job of rescuing and rehabilitating people in affected areas, it is fair to expect that the Chief Executive and his underlings are under a lot of stress.

However, I didn’t expect Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma to be annoyed enough to show a sour face in public. He was sullen and almost glowering throughout last Tuesday’s press conference, irked by questions about Mayor Romualdez’s supposed “media campaign.” I wonder if Secretary Coloma was blaming the Malacañang press corps for the bad press the administration is getting.

Government officials who don’t think twice about appearing annoyed in these stressful times or engaging in public debates laced with partisan politics should listen to the people before it’s too late. They are sick and tired of politics.

This was the gist of Fr. Edwin Bacaltos’ Facebook message yesterday. The Redemptorist priest based in Tacloban City who rescued thousands of people at the height of the supertyphoon was clearly annoyed at politicians who don’t take responsibility for their actions and would rather pass the blame back and forth.

Foreigners who helped them recover have more sympathy for Filipinos, according to Fr. Edwin.

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