BAN-AO, Baganga, Davao Oriental, Jan. 3, 2013
(Bong D. Fabe)
The first week of December last year (2012) was a week of terror for residents of Davao Oriental, Mindanao, Philippines as super-typhoon ‘Pablo” (packing winds of 110 miles per hour) ravaged their villages and killed more than two thousand (latest count). More than five thousand families were rendered homeless as ‘Pablo’ uprooted almost everything along its path. This was aggravated by the fact that people were largely unprepared as typhoons rarely hit Mindanao.
In the midst of this onslaught of nature, Bong Fabe, a freelance, respected, principled, and dynamic peace journalist has since come down to share the victim’s stories. He has written several articles from his on-the-ground experience with the people and communities in the typhoon-devastated areas of Davao Oriental.
I am privileged to share some of his stories with you through this humble blog.
The original story appeared here.
With the blaring sound of the car stereo playing “Four Strong Winds” as background, the cacophony of the various construction, rehabilitation and recovery activities spearheaded by a non-government organization spelled the beginning of a new life for the Pablo-devastated people in this village.
While the song played on largely un-noticed by the volunteers busy with helping the Ban-aowons (how people of Ban-ao are called) get back on their feet, one teacher-volunteer from Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan flashed a very big but sad smile as she sang along with Neil Young.
“Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high; all these things that don’t change, come what may. But our good times are all gone, and I’m bound for movin’ on. I’ve been through this a hundred times or more..”
I very much like this song. And it is very apt in this situation, knowing from the people’s story that it was really Pablo’s strong winds that “destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones,” she said as she prepared her materials for the psycho-social activities she and her co-volunteers from Xavier University will be conducting for the children in this village.
Thanks in part to the children, whose resiliency shone to the fore to teach the adults to take everything in stride, Ban-ao is little by little getting back on its feet after Pablo almost totally erased it from the map of Davao Oriental.
“We lost everything. Our houses, our livelihood and our friends; some even lost their relatives. Nothing is left here,” Ban-ao Barangay Chairperson Mera Adlawan Ching said.
One resident said that she will never fully recover from the traumatic experience of losing her two small children to Pablo’s winds. “We took cover under a bridge. I was holding tightly my infant son while my two small children were holding my skirt. A few seconds later, I no longer saw my other two children as the strong winds literally flew them away,” she narrated.
A 10-year-old girl said she saw how the strong winds literally swept her grandmother a few feet up in the air and smashed her on the concrete road, instantly killing her.
Laurencio Batang, 59, said that villagers out in the open have to literally “hugged” the earth to counter the pull of Pablo’s strong winds.
“We have no recourse but to cling to the earth, just grasping the grass, so that we will not be carried by the strong winds,” he said.
He, along with Lilita Cabrera (52), Armando Escamillian (53), Renato Dacuycuy (55), Nenen Go (63) and other older resident said that in all their lives, Pablo was the first typhoon to leave so much destruction and deaths behind in a hundred years in Ban-ao.
“I remembered my grandfather told of a story of a very strong typhoon to hit the barangay in 1912. It was much stronger than Pablo,” Escamillian said.
While all of Baganga and other municipalities of Davao Oriental facing the mighty Pacific Ocean were flattened to the ground by Pablo’s strong winds, Barangay Ban-ao (a small village) is the hardest-hit with 27 people dead and almost 100 percent of its 520 families rendered homeless.
Left with nothing — no food, no water, no houses, etc., Ban-aowons were saved for a while by Barangay Councilor Ignacio Cabrera, who gave the residents one hour to “loot” his store for food items and whatever they can get.
What an act of humanity from a man – which makes me cry every time it crossed my mind. Considering how crimes are taking place in Chicago or L.A. and other metropolis everyday and why there has been so much hatred in Northern Ireland, and in the Israeli-Palestinian border and elsewhere, you would imagine that there was no more human being in existence who is as good as Councilor Cabrera. Indeed, in the middle of the most trying times God lends His heart to someone.
Led by Ching (the Village Chieftain), the residents started organizing themselves and salvaged still useful housing materials to repair what they can of their destroyed dwellings to shelter them from the constant rains and winds due to the Amihan (North wind) and the searing heat of the sun.
Exactly five days after Pablo’s wrath was unleashed in Ban-ao, the first semblance of Ban-ao’s reconstruction, rehabilitation and recovery operations arrived in the form of the Cagayan de Oro City-based Balay Mindanaw Group of NGOs (BMG) and the UK-based Disaster Aid International (DAI).
Less than three weeks in the area, BMG leaders decided to adopt Ban-ao and pour whatever resources the group can gather into its effort to bring back the village from the clutches of death.
“We are bringing not just tents and water here but the complete package. Our strategy, helping re-build resilient communities through barangay-based and barangay-focused disaster response work in Davao Oriental,” said Charlito “Kaloy” Manlupig, BMG head.
Manlupig said that the first key intervention is helping the survivors set up a tent community as temporary emergency shelter while they reconstruct or repair their damaged houses. “This community will be the focus of our delivery of relief, rehabilitation, psycho-social and other assistance,” he said.
He explained the reason why BMG adopted Ban-ao. “The main idea is to focus our resources on one barangay at a time instead of spreading them all to the 42 barangays of the three hardest-hit municipalities at the same time. After all, barangay-based and barangay-focused development, disaster response and peace-building work is one of our key strengths. Instead of treating the survivors as mere recipients of aid, they are considered as the key stakeholders in the difficult task of community re-building. The intervention will try to cover the whole range of community needs, from organizing to provision of basic needs of food, water, medicines, etc.”
As of Dec. 30, 2012, BMG and DAI had set-up hundred of tents here, with DAI’s expert disaster response leader Ed Cox leading the residents in pitching the tents.
The ground on which the tents were pitched were cleared of debris by a payloader lent for free by Ching’s businessman-relative, who was itching for a way to help his cousin’s constituents get back on their feet.
And like the song, the people in this village bounding the municipalities of Baganga and Cateel, Davao Oriental are really “moving on” in the New Year 2013. Thanks in part to BMG and DAI, and the other “unknown” hundreds of well-meaning groups and individuals who donated time, effort, resources and even their hearts, souls, minds, and strength for the people of Ban-ao.
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