Filipino culture prides itself on the spirit of “tulong tulong tayo” and “bayanihan” — references to helping one another in times of need. And so it is particularly painful to hear reports of looting in that culture — yet as a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer reveals, the “mobs” in Guiuan on Monday morning four days after the typhoon hit were just ordinary people, desperate for food, and the owner of the store being looted realized it.

“Everybody knew everybody here. There were government employees, policemen and even my friends,” said the owner. “I was standing behind [one looter’s] back. She was sitting there, tired from the looting,” she said. “She saw me and said: ‘Thank you.’ I almost cried.”

GUIUAN, Eastern Samar—For Susan Tan, it was a case of forgive and forget. The 43-year-old grocer of Chinese descent said she was shocked and disappointed to see friends, government employees and even policemen among those who ransacked her grocery store and warehouse after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” flattened the town at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

She did not take it against the looters but instead pinned the blame on the government’s slow response to the worst disaster ever to hit Guiuan, site of a US-built air and naval base from where US Gen. Douglas MacArthur launched the allied offensive against the Japanese in the final stages of World War II.

Tan recounted that she and her employees were still able to sell goods on Saturday and Sunday after the typhoon, packing peak winds of more than 270 kilometers per hour, smashed across the coastal town from the Pacific on its first landfall.
The looting started on Monday at 8 a.m. The food shelves were cleaned first. And then the chairs, furniture and fixtures.

“I was there watching and I couldn’t do anything to stop the mob,” she said in an interview at the now empty store with only a few shelves left.

“Everybody knew everybody here. There were government employees, policemen and even my friends,” she said recounting that one policeman was even wearing his uniform.
Then her warehouse was pillaged, along with other small and big stores in Guiuan, a tranquil seaside town before the monster typhoon turned it into a wasteland.
She was already planning to give away her goods to the municipal hall, thinking her warehouse would be sacked anyway.

The local government had even sent her a military escort to help her bring three truckloads of goods to the municipal hall. But after the soldiers left, the mobs descended on the warehouse.

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