It’s a Christmas double whammy.

Filipinos are still recovering from more than a year of lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic when something like an atomic bomb was dropped in the belly of the country.

A monstrous typhoon, internationally known as “Rai,” swept from northern Mindanao, passing through the central regions and exiting in Palawan. It left behind destruction and death.

It may take more than a year before the areas ravaged by Typhoon “Odette,” the 15th storm and most powerful to hit the country this year, for these areas to recover and return to normalcy.

It was a double whammy for the Philippines. Rodrigo Duterte’s cash-strapped government would have to beg again to foreign donors and international financial institutions to lend funds to build back better.

It is a hard lesson learned for the local governments and the people in areas outside the capital. Public infrastructure and private properties should be built to withstand typhoons with winds of more than 250 kph, or a super typhoon category, and earthquakes stronger than magnitude 7.

It was a lesson learned in 2009 during Typhoon “Ondoy,” which poured rains more than a month’s worth in a single day, and Typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013, the most destructive storm to hit the country in a century.

Earthquakes are unpredictable. Typhoons are predictable. But climate change has made storms so unpredictable, like Odette which intensified from a Category 1 to a Category 5 typhoon in a matter of hours.

Luckily, it made landfall in the early afternoon and people in coastal and low-lying areas were able to move to safer and higher grounds before it struck. But the damage was enormous on properties, infrastructure, agriculture and lives.

The terrain in northern Mindanao and in the southern parts of the Visayas were very vulnerable to strong typhoons, unlike in the eastern seaboard of Luzon where the Sierra Madre mountains provide a wall to break typhoon strength.

Batanes, an island province in the extreme northern Luzon, is more prepared for destructive typhoons as houses are low and are made of stones.

It is about time the government, urban planners and the people start thinking of building typhoon-resistant homes to minimize death and destruction.

Learn from Ondoy, from Yolanda, from Ulysses and from Odette.

But every disaster is also an opportunity.

Politicians aspiring to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte next year have not wasted time rushing into disaster areas to make their presence felt.

Vice President Leni Robredo has an excuse for visiting disaster areas. She is the second highest official in the country and it is her obligation and duty to see to it that help is given where it is really needed despite her meager resources.

The private sector and many people trusted her with the bulk of donations that poured into her office, which were able to reach affected communities in three Visayas regions and Northern Mindanao region without fanfare.

Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao, another nationally elected official, also sent plane loads of relief goods to affected areas and a locally elected official, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, was in Cebu to physically help in disaster response.

Former senator Ferdinand Marcos Junior went distributing relief and cash to local officials, all reported in social media. Dozens of rice bags were stamped with his May 2022 campaign material — a shameless display of politics.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson was decent enough to stay away from using the disaster to promote his political interests. His role as a legislator does not require him to distribute relief goods but make sure there are resources the government can use to provide relief as well as craft laws to prevent a repeat of future disasters.

The people are turned off by politicians taking advantage of their miseries, using relief operations for propaganda and promoting selfish political interests.

If there are politicians willing to help, they can do it without fanfare, without advancing their own political interests and sincerely listening to the people on the ground on what they really need at the moment.

Do not politicize the disaster. Please help genuinely and not think of anything in return — like a vote for a measly bag of relief goods consisting of one or two cans of sardines, instant noodles, sugar, coffee, and several kilos of rice or a few thousand peso bills.

Politicians must learn from the Catholic Church and relief and humanitarian agencies, like the Red Cross. Volunteers from these organizations were already on the ground as soon as Typhoon Odette left.

They were assessing the damage and finding out what the people and the community needed. They may be victims of the same typhoon but these did not deter them from working doubly hard to put back the communities on their toes.

Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, who is also the head of the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), immediately mobilized the humanitarian arm of the Church, through Caritas Philippines, to help disaster-stricken communities.

He said the Philippine Caritas is expecting help from other Caritas agencies around the world and from the US-based Catholic Relief Services, just like what happened during Typhoon Yolanda.

Funds were sent directly to at least 10 dioceses in the three Visayas regions and northern Mindanao region to provide food and water to tens of thousands of affected families.

But the Church was not only helping Catholics. People from other beliefs were also given food and water. Much later, the Church will give clothes, kitchen wares and materials for shelter to help rebuild communities.

Churches around the country will accept donations, through a second collection during Masses, to raise much needed funds for typhoon victims as well as rebuild damaged churches.

Some people had sought shelter in churches because they found the structures safe against howling winds of nearly 200 kph, but some churches were not so lucky as Typhoon Odette blew off their roofs, damaged stained glass windows and nearly toppled down church walls.

Helping people in disaster-stricken areas is not a one-time event. It will probably take years for communities to recover, looking back at the experience in Leyte where Typhoon Yolanda struck in 2013.

Help from the government is terribly slow and its assistance may peter out when Duterte’s term ends next year.

Politicians, who are aspiring to become president, will cease to help after the elections.

But the Catholic Church will be the only institution committed to continue its humanitarian operations in the communities.

In its own little way, the people can help by dropping a few coins or pesos during Holy Masses.

Do not rely on politicians who have ulterior motives. Filipinos must take the initiative. It is not only a Christian duty to help. As a people, we need to look out for one another, especially those in need.