Remembering Haiyan: Philippines, U.S. cooperate in toughest of times

Remembering Haiyan: Philippines, U.S. cooperate in toughest of times

In many ways, the sixth anniversary of the largest typhoon to ever hit the Philippines offers a grim reminder of the vulnerability of a nation that consists of 7,641 low-lying islands. Yet, the experience of Typhoon Haiyan (known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines), which killed more than 6,200 people and displaced more than 4.1 million in November 2013, also provides one of the clearest examples of an enduring partnership between the Philippines and the United States.

With winds that reached 322 kilometers per hour and gusts even stronger, Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on November 8, 2013, affecting nine of the country’s 17 regions. Haiyan’s landfall also triggered a massive outpouring of international aid. With U.S. $86 million in government assistance and U.S. $57 million in private contributions, the United States took a lead position by funneling money, military personnel and civilian relief workers to the islands.

The response involved more than 13,400 U.S. military personnel, 66 aircraft and 12 naval vessels, which delivered 2,500 tons of relief supplies and evacuated more than 21,000 people, according to a case study written in July 2016 for the National Defense University Press by disaster relief experts from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. (Pictured: U.S. Marines unload relief supplies for typhoon survivors in Guiuan township, Eastern Samar province, Philippines.)

That effort reflected a partnership cemented 75 years ago when U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in the Philippines in October 1944 to begin the campaign that recaptured and liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation. In an October 2019 ceremony honoring that fight, Philippine National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon spoke on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Indeed, the blood, sweat and tears that were shed by Filipino and American troops who fought side by side to reclaim our freedom will become the cornerstone of the democratic way of life that we all enjoy today,” Esperon said, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

Aid to the Philippines continues to flow from public and nonprofit sources. The American Red Cross, for example, reported that it has worked with the Philippines Red Cross to construct water systems and community evacuation centers, providing seed money and business training to local residents.

Lessons learned from Haiyan have saved lives, too. A similarly strong storm intensified to Category 5 before weakening to Category 3 when it made landfall in December 2014. Cyclone Hagupit affected more than 4.1 million people, but only 18 deaths were reported. Disaster experts attributed that to a mass evacuation of more than 1 million people.

In addition to early warnings and evacuations, both militaries are maintaining disaster readiness. They participated in Balikatan 2019, an annual military exercise, in the Philippines in April. It included humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) scenarios and involved 4,000 troops from the Philippines, 3,500 from the U.S. and 50 from Australia.

U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Chris McPhillips noted that Balikatan demonstrates the United States’ commitment to standing “shoulder to shoulder” with its Philippine counterparts, according to a report in The Philippine Star newspaper. Balikatan is a Tagalog language phrase that means “shoulder to shoulder.”

The two countries in January 2019 also celebrated the completion of a HADR warehouse, which will be used to preposition equipment and supplies critical to disaster response. The warehouse is at the Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Philippines.

“This project illustrates not only our commitment to the U.S.-Philippine alliance, but also both of our countries’ dedication to peace and stability in the larger Indo-Pacific region,” said Sung Y. Kim, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.