By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
Dec. 24, 2013
CHICAGO – It has been more than a month since the Filipino Community in Illinois organized the fundraising drive called “Help for Haiyan”.
The event gathered some 6 thousand balik-bayan boxes, which filled 14 container vans worth of donations.
They also raised about $19,000.
Co-organizer Apple Umali says she thought the goods would get to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda immediately.
“We were so caught up in the heat of the moment, that there’s a way to help our Filipino people, not by shipment, because that’ll take six weeks, but omigosh there will be a plane that will drop off our goods within a matter of days,” Umali said. “We all rushed together and didn’t even question it, not just myself but the entire Filipino community.”
But the plane reportedly promised to them never came.
To this day, some 133 pallets containing dry goods and medical supplies are still sitting in a warehouse in North Lake, Illinois.
Ramon Dino’s company Custom Truck offered to house the donations.
“A little frustrated kasi maraming nangangailangan sa Pilipinas na eto yung mga medical supplies for the kids, baby supplies and everything,” Dino said. “I’m a little frustrated pero andito kami. Ready kami kung kailangan nilang i-move ito. We can move it right away.”
The confusion over the sending of donations began when Chicago businessman Ron Vergara told kababayans and Balitang America that a US Military C-130 plane flying of O’hare International Airport would airlift these relief goods to the Philippines, thanks to a US military contractor named Steve Finney.
“Immediacy became clear to us,” Help for Haiyan co-organizer Rey Borja said. “We cannot wait 30, 69 days for these stuff to get out there, so we realized we have a contact who could put it on a C130 cargo plane bound for Manila; I mean bound for ground zero.”
But US Department of Defense Public Affairs officer Lt. Jeffrey pool said there is no US Military C-130 plane with this specific order or mission to airlift relief goods to the Philippines.
Pool also said they are not aware of any military contractor named Steve Finney arranging such a mission.
Vergara defended himself saying he only conveyed information given to him by Finney, assuming that Finney was with the military.
“Basically I shared that with everybody else,” Vergara said. “There was a plane being arranged, it was going from New Jersey, come by Chicago and go to Houston and pick up more supplies, then get to the Philippines. Basically what I did, Don, was I repeated what I was told, not something that I would make up.”
Balitang America has reached out to Steve Finney over the phone. Finney denied he told Vergara that he works as a military contractor. Finney says he works for a fire-proofing company.
Finney reasoned the C-130 story was only an idea he suggested to Vergara and he never promised that it has been arranged.
Co-Organizer James Villar says Vergara should not have made people believe that story.
“He didn’t have to spread this rumor, which turned out to be a complete lie, on the city,” Villar said. “There was no need for it. Why would you do it? That’s the biggest question. Why?”
“I could see why people would question it,” Vergara said. “I came into this thing with nothing but, no intention of anything bad. Did it not happen? Yes unfortunately. Did we get egg on our face? Absolutely. Are we upset about it? Absolutely. Do we feel bad? No because you know why? Something happened that is extremely beautiful. The Filipino community got together and we got stuff on the way to the Philippines.”
“No one opened up a flea market,” Vergara added. “It’s on its way.”
Following this confusion, other organizers have sought ways to ship the goods to the Philippines.
They say three containers were sent to the Philippines via LBC foundation, scheduled to arrive in Manila on January 7th.
Two other containers were sent through a cargo company, scheduled to arrive in Manila by December 20 and 27.
Another container was shipped by businessman Jon Cotay of Akira and is scheduled to arrive in Manila on January 30.
Illinois Governor Patt Quinn and the US Department of Defense stepped in and have also pledged to help.
They will ship the remaining 133 pallets or about six containers worth of goods that are now tentatively scheduled to leave Chicago on December 27 and are scheduled to arrive in Cebu on February 27 to finally get to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.
Organizers are still trying to determine how to send and distribute the money raised from the event.
You may contact Don Tagala at firstname.lastname@example.org