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Rising off Japan ruins, Pinay waits for President Aquino

Tokyo—Laundromat worker Lorna Quikota witnessed firsthand “how the Japanese do it.”

Just six months after 40-meter waves swept across her city in the Tohoku region, she’s back on her feet. The local government has not only built her a new, fully furnished home, but is also placing her in a new job.

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To think that not too long ago, she was wandering the devastated streets of Ishinomaki looking for food and her missing husband.

But even in a country famous for its resiliency like Japan, Filipinos like Quikota appreciate that invaluable support, that “extra-push,” coming from a kababayan. That’s why she and the rest of the Filipino migrant community are looking forward to President Aquino’s visit to Tohoku on Monday.

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The President leaves for Japan this Sunday morning, just two days after arriving from the US.

“I hope our President could help those of us in need,” she said in Filipino.

Donation package

Mr. Aquino will turn over a donation package to the mayor of Ishinomaki City, his way of commiserating with the hundreds of residents—including Filipinos—who lost loved ones in the twin disasters that struck northeastern Japan on March 11.

Foreign Assistant Secretary Maria Theresa Lazaro described the President’s visit to Tohoku as “a gesture of continuing solidarity with Japan.”

Mr. Aquino will spend most of the day touring the region, where more than 10,000 people perished following a 9-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that ravaged towns and cities up to 10 km inland.

Among the fatalities were Quikota’s Japanese husband and an in-law, whose bodies were not recovered until a month later. Quikota herself almost got killed when the rushing seawater nearly swept her off the street.

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When the water subsided, she recalled, the scene that followed was pure devastation: bodies lay all over, houses were flattened.

3 days without food

“Those were hard times,” said Quikota, who has been living in Japan for nine years.

“That’s when I experienced having nothing to eat for three days. I walked the muddy streets. We had no water in the evacuation center. And I kept thinking where I could find my husband and my in-law. So many people were dead,” she said.

Quikota and her neighbors are now picking up the pieces. Part of the struggle is dealing with the stigma attached to victims who were living near the nuclear plants affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

That’s why visitors to Tohoku—including journalists covering President Aquino’s visit—are advised not to mention anything about “radiation” or “disaster” when they mingle with the locals lest they hit a raw nerve.

Mr. Aquino’s itinerary includes the Kadonowake Junior High School Evacuation Center and the Ishinomaki Catholic Church where he will meet with the Filipino community.

Civic-mindedness

In Manila, Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said: “The President wants to express our solidarity with the Japanese because what they went through is no laughing matter.”

Valte said the President was particularly keen on seeing how the technologically advanced but disaster-prone nation managed to recover from the March crisis at an astonishing speed, and how the Japanese people showed “civic-mindedness” even during calamities.

Valte noted that the Japan disasters happened as the deadline for paying taxes drew near. Yet in its horrible aftermath and “a few days after the deadline, the Japanese were still lining up to pay their taxes. The President said their civic-mindedness was really an example that should be followed by everyone,” she added.

The President would also take a look into Japan’s disaster preparedness systems, the Palace official said on state-run radio station dzRB.

63-member delegation

The government is spending around P20 million for the President’s three-day working visit, which is expected to reap at least $1 billion in fresh investments and more than 9 billion yen in development assistance.

Mr. Aquino and his 63-member delegation are going to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese government via a special commercial flight, according to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.

Among the official delegates are Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Energy Secretary Rene Almendras.

President Aquino will pay a state call on Japanese Emperor Akihito and meet with the new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, to discuss a wide array of issues advancing Manila and Tokyo’s strategic partnership. With a report from Norman Bordadora

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TAGS: devastated streets of Ishinomaki, Foreign Assistant Secretary Maria Theresa Lazaro, Ishinomaki Catholic Church, Japan visit, Kadonowake Junior High School Evacuation Center, laundromat worker Lorna Quikota, President Benigno Aquino III, Tohoku region
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