Roughly five years ago, I had just started my job at Greenpeace, and everyone was hard at work preparing for this "ship tour." I was just learning that once every few years, a Greenpeace ship sails to the Philippines, visiting strategic places to help advance our campaigns. Being new to this, my thought process was still at 'wow, Greenpeace has actual ships?,' when I found myself in an emergency meeting with all the staff. As soon as everyone was inside the room, our Executive Director at the time dropped the bomb: “all ship tour plans are cancelled."

The ship had to be rerouted in the wake of Typhoon Pablo, the strongest typhoon to ever hit Mindanao, to bear witness to the destruction brought about by the super typhoon, as well as to offer any support we could to transport relief goods. I know—tough luck for my first week on the job, right? In fact I would only meet most of my colleagues much later, as practically all were deployed to New Bataan, Compostela Valley, and the coastal areas of Baganga, Cateel, and Boston.


Meanwhile, our small team was assigned to visit Iligan City, where the people managed to come out of Typhoon Pablo with zero casualties—the only sliver of good news amid the haystack of devastating statistics and images. Media networks were already describing it as a shining example of disaster preparedness through the combined efforts of national agencies, local government, and civilians. At the onset, we also thought it was an incredible feat. So we went there in search of a story of hope and resilience.


But it didn’t take long for reality to cut through the surface, through recounted memories of Iligan the year before. They were terribly hit by Typhoon Sendong, which claimed thousands of Iliganon lives. Little did I know this trip would significantly change how I understand resilience, and trigger strong emotions from me until now, almost as much as my first-hand experience of Ondoy (I’ll reserve that for another day).


I'll never forget the vivid narration of a river of death carrying massive tree trunks and debris, rushing down the mountain and consuming villages on a pitch-black night.


I'll never forget this man's face when we asked him how he felt when they heard news of typhoon Pablo, and he answered, “yung iba sa’min, noong dumating ang Pablo, ang sabi’y ‘sige lang, gusto ko nang mamatay na ngayon!’” (some of us, when Pablo came, said, “let it come, I want to die right now!”).


The people who have gone through such trauma–they’ll probably be recovering for most of their lives. I remember thinking, what if what enabled zero casualties wasn’t so much hope, but fear? It was from that point on that the word resilience started to have an irksome ring to my ear. Resilience? Tell that to the dead. Tell that to someone battered by grief and loss of loved ones they can never get back. Resilience is, more often than not, passive resilience, which takes lightly the courage people were forced to show only because they had no choice but to continue living.


On the other hand, I’ve seen it make brave people of us, though I guess it can be said of any calamity. I’ve met several farmers, fisherfolk, artists, government officials, students—individuals from different walks of life who have accomplished great things that they wouldn’t have been able to, had a disaster not happened. Many of them are now leading the charge to protect their human rights, which are impinged or put at greater risk by the impacts of climate change, brought about or exacerbated by the actions of greedy corporations.

If there’s one thing I learned from working closely with these communities across the country for the last five years, it’s that we must strive for more than our survival in the next disaster. Keeping our hope intact is good, but our drive to seek justice must be as steadfast.

It's justice we need and nothing less. Because the science is clear: this wasn't just the work of nature. There are evil hands behind this--powerful corporations knowingly messing with the climate and exploiting the planet. Their actions put lives in peril, and consign us all to an uncertain future. And yet they get away with business as usual, practically scot-free. If we stop striving for justice, the evil continues.

The world needs to say, “it could be any one of us.” This call should be loudest here in the Philippines, because haven’t we all felt the impacts of climate change, one way or another? Don’t we all have a story to tell? Just as any of us can pitch in to this story, so can all of us stake a claim in the struggle for justice.

A Greenpeace ship is on its way here again, but for the first time ever, it will sail in the name of climate justice. It arrives just before the start of the public hearings of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, as part of the national inquiry on the impact of climate change on the human rights of Filipinos and the responsibility of the biggest carbon polluters.

Let’s make this ship tour unforgettable. This is our story, and our battle to win!


Join the Rainbow Warrior’s journey in the Philippines for Climate Justice. Visit the world’s first purpose-built environmental campaigning ship by registering for Open Boat days in Manila on Feb17-18 and Tacloban on March 3-4.