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02/11/2012: Pinoys Keep Bayanihan Spirit Alive in Devastated East Coast

2 November 2012

NEW YORK—Filipinos in the devastated East Coast of the United States are keeping the bayanihan spirit burning as they continue to go out of their way to help one another cope with the aftermath of what could be the worst natural disaster to hit the American mainland.

From Virginia all the way to Connecticut, stories of Filipinos helping not only fellow Filipinos but others affected by superstorm Sandy have been reaching the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Philippine Consulate General in New York.

“We are heartened to know that the bayanihan spirit is alive and burning among our kababayans here in the US,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. said. “It is in situations such as these that we see the best in the Filipino.”

Consul General Mario De Leon said bayanihan was at work during his visit to storm-ravaged areas in Jersey City on Wednesday.

“The Filipino rose to the occasion and in the true bayanihan spirit has been extending a helping hand to others in need.”

In the Country Village section of Jersey City, the almost 2,000 Filipinos there are helping one another emerge from the devastation, Consul General De Leon said.

“The few Filipinos who have generators let kababayans who have no electricity charge their mobile devices,” he said. “Filipino store and restaurant owners also kept their establishments open despite fears of possible looting.”

In Staten Island, where two Filipino families lost their homes to storm surges, fellow Filipinos opened their doors to them and took them in.  The same is true in New Jersey and Long Island where Filipinos whose houses were damaged by floodwaters, falling trees or violent winds found shelter in the homes of friends and relatives.

In Suffolk Country in Long Island, a Filipina said kababayans can come to her home where they can have hot meals, take their showers and do their laundry. In Manhattan, a family of Filipino doctors and nurses has been volunteering their services in local hospitals.

The Consulate General in New York itself had launched Operation Kapitbahay that allowed Filipinos access to the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue where they could charge their mobile devices and connect to the internet.

The first to charge a mobile device was Cebuana filmmaker Janice Perez. Like other Filipinos displaced by the power outage in Manhattan, Perez welcomed the consulate’s display of bayanihan as this allowed her and other Filipinos to remain connected with their loved ones in the Philippines.

Filipino organizations have also risen to the occasion. The Oriental Mindoro Association headed by Juliet Payabyab is gathering clothes and water for affected Filipinos in Staten Island, which is among the worst-hit in New York.  The Handang Tumulong Foundation Inc. is also mobilizing assistance for relief efforts.

Even the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan has offered to a helping hand with its Operation Kaligtasan. Bayan leader Gary Labao visited the Philippine Consulate and volunteered to search for Filipinos who may have be in evacuation centers in hard-hit New York and New Jersey.

The Association of Filipino Teachers in America led by its Vice President Ronnie Mataquel are volunteering at a shelter in the Bronx that caters to displaced residents of City Island while members of the Filipino-American Amateur Athletic League in Connecticut are helping out at the Red Cross facility in Greenwich.

In Long Island, community leader Ramon Villongco is leading efforts to look into the situation of Filipinos in Long Beach, Mastic Beach, Babylon, Hempstead, Bayshore, Brentwood, Hicksville, Glen Cove and other areas that were badly struck by Sandy.

The East Coast-based Filforce airsoft group was the first to provide the Embassy with the first reports of the impact of Sandy on the Filipino Community as some of its members in Atlantic City, Jersey City and Long Island absorbed the brunt of the storm in terms of flood-damage to their homes and vehicles.

In Washington, the Filipino Migrant Heritage Commission also responded to the call of the Philippine Embassy for Filipino organizations to look into the situation of their members in the affected areas. FMHC leader Grace Valera said their group was in touch with members in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey before, during and after Sandy’s onslaught to make sure that all of them are all right. ###