By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 06:34:00 09/26/2010
MANILA, Philippines—The bloody end to the recent hostage-taking of a bus full of tourists did not just give rise to grief, strained relations and tense exchanges between the Philippines and Hong Kong.
In an unexpected, but welcome, twist, it has led to the Hong Kong Red Cross pledging US $110,000 to the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) for the program to build shelter for the thousands of victims of typhoon Ondoy (internationally known as Ketsana) whose homes were swept away by the raging floods.
PNRC Chair Richard Gordon said Betty Lau, acting head of the International and Relief Service of the Hong Kong Red Cross informed him of the donation in a letter, after she thanked him for the “timely and much-needed assistance” that the PNRC provided to the Hong Kong tourists held hostage in a bus in Manila.
“Learned from you during our meeting in Hong Kong that the Typhoon Ketsana shelter program is still in need of funding, please kindly be informed that we still have a donation of USD110,000 approximately which can be mobilized for supporting the Typhoon Ketsana shelter program,” Lau said in her letter.
While the hostage-taking played out live on TV for 11 hours, the PNRC was quietly working in the background, according to Gordon.
The PNRC provided sanctuary and comfort to the passengers released early on.
As the hours crept by and tourists still remained in the hijacked bus, the PNRC placed its ambulances on standby. When the incident reached its tragic end when the hostage taker began shooting, PNRC volunteers were among those who jumped into the bus, gave first aid and CPR, and rushed the wounded to the hospital. Eight tourists, plus the hostage-taker, did not make it out of the incident alive.
The PNRC volunteers also watched over the injured 24 hours a day, even sleeping in the hospital rooms. They counseled the tourists to help them come to terms with the tragedy. One of the victims tried to give money to the volunteers to show her gratitude, but they refused to accept it, Gordon said.
He said the PNRC also accomplished another crucial task in the shocking aftermath of the incident.
It traced the location of the victims and was able to provide information to Hong Kong authorities, through the Hong Kong Red Cross, about the whereabouts and condition of its citizens, especially given the frenzy that marked the bringing of the hostages to the hospitals.
Gordon was, coincidentally, in Hong Kong when the hostage taking was unfolding, but was constantly in touch with the
“What Hong Kong needed was information as to where their people were,” he said.
Gordon said the PNRC's operations have been set up in such a way that there is an organized system of collecting information and tracking people, as these data are as important as the medical and physical assistance it provides.
The PNRC chair also said the organization continues to be involved in helping the victims of Ondoy, which, a year ago today, submerged parts of Metro Manila and damaged homes, vehicles and property.
The PNRC has been building houses for the victims, including 1,100 in Antipolo, 200 in Pangasinan and 120 in Bulacan. It has also repaired over 5,000 damaged houses, and has the budget to repair more.
The PNRC is also more equipped than ever to come to the aid of those who may be stranded in floods. It recently acquired two amphibian vehicles that could navigate submerged streets and collect people trapped in their homes.