Beneco linemen brighten up hope for Capiz

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Sunday, December 29, 2013


WHILE rushing repair of fallen electric wires in Tapaz, Capiz, two linemen of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) who volunteered for the month-long post-Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation work descended from their adjoining poles for a respite.

It was past noon, yet the team, faced with the enormity of the job of redoing what super howler had undone in Roxas City and the 16 towns under the Capiz Electric Cooperative, was still reluctant to go for a lunch break.

After climbing down, Brigido Bagto rested beside a guava tree. He pulled out from his red jacket pocket his signature pouch of beetle nut, lime, tobacco and beetle leaf and began mixing a chew. Beside him, Edison Naoe plucked a guava leaf, which he also began to nibble.

Parents fetching their kids from school for lunch noticed, Naoe later recalled. "Panay ang tingin nila sa amin at nagsasalita sila ng salita nila," he said, referring to the Hiligaynon dialect. "Maya-maya, bumili sila ng tinapay, soft drinks at batchoy. Tinawag nila kami para mag merienda. Ang sabi nila ay gutom na daw kami at pati dahon daw ng bayabas di namin pinalagpas."

Edison shared the anecdote to us evening of December 16, while his team was packing up for their long trip for home before dawn the following day. He swore he will never forget such gesture of community hospitality and kindness.

Such rural folk's sensitivity for others amid their own suffering was also etched in Brigido's memory: "Uray anya kinarigat trabaho ditoy ket naragsak karo no agapasalamat da kadakami (However difficult the job is, it's still fun especially when they thank us).

Sheldon Polittud had the same view, saying that while the tropical sun was dizzying and skin-scorching, "you feel the respect of the people (of Capiz); they see to it that you get your fill, not only in terms of food but in terms of care."

"Sobra po ang init ng klima dito, tapos delikado pa ang trabahi namin, pero masaya na rin sapagkat nakapaglingkod din kami sa mga kababayan nating Capizeno," Tomas Almaras Jr. said.

"Kung saan kami nagtatrabaho ay lagi kaming binibigyan ng pagkain," Jonny Pascua added.

The community had thanked Brigido repeatedly by seeing to it he never ran out of his chew mix, according to Engr. Carlo Bentayen, shift officer of Beneco's operations and maintenance division.

On their way home, Bentayen had his boys detour to Boracay for a well-deserved splash by the world-famous beach. They then boat ride to Mindoro and Batangas and, from there, the long boom truck ride to Baguio.

As it was made that way, the Beneco boom truck proved multi-purpose. It lifted them up to free wires from broken wooden posts and transfer these to replacement metal posts.

On the way to Capiz, they had loaded it with their tools, a generator set and sacks of rice, potatoes and sayote that they distributed along their repair routes.

Naoe recalls seeing elderly and children begging for food and water on their first days on the road. Such sight soon vanished as even the most vulnerable struggled to restore normalcy and dignity in their lives, to the point of sharing what they have with the linemen and others who came to help the province back to life.

The 12-member team led by Engr. Rocky Pallogan, Beneco's operations and maintenance department, and line maintenance supervisor, Engr. Zac Torres, started repair work in Roxas City before moving on to Dau, Dumalag and Tapaz towns over the month-long period.

When they saw how the crew gracefully adjusted to the new work environment, Pallogan and Torres returned to Baguio. A week before the crew pull-out, lineman Faustino Damian Jr. also flew home when he learned his wife was confined in a hospital.

"Together with the crews from other electric cooperatives, we've barely restored the backbone (main trunk) of the system of Capelco," noted Engr. Bentayen.

"I wanted to stay and work longer but my wife has directed me to come home," he added with a chuckle on their last evening at the St. Martin of Tours Parish in Dumalag where Fr. Niel Olano billeted them.

Despite much more left to be done, Dave Addon felt fulfilled having dedicated a month of his life to helping restore power in Capiz. "It's the best experience," agreed Domingo Falag-ey who likened the crew's work ethic to that of a carabao.

"Naganas uray awan kwarta (It's enjoyable even if there's no money in it)," observed Arthur Paneda while the team took time out to haul 250 cavans of rice for the relief mission of Shoshin Kinderhilfe, a small foundation in southern Germany.

"We came and saw the wonderful volunteer task you did for Capiz," Shoshin head, former world shotokan karate champion Julian Chees, told the crew.

"As a token of our appreciation, please receive this little gift from us," he added, as he handed out P1,000 to each of the crew.

The team arrived back last December 19, days before President Benigno Aquino III rejected Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla's resignation for failing to energize all typhoon-ravaged towns before Christmas Day. The day after, Beneco workers led by general manager Gerry Verzosa welcomed them with a "daw-es," an Igorot cleansing ritual.

While in Capiz for the relief mission, Chees learned from a woman who washed laundry for the linemen that she found a clove of garlic in the pocket of an electrician's clothing. Garlic is believed to be an antidote for "aswang," a vampire-like mythical creature believed to fly into the night in Capiz.

The Beneco crew burst to laughter when told the woman identified the laundry as coming from another visiting crew.

"I told the laundrywoman that the ‘aswang’ myth is in the same class as the mistaken belief of many that we, Igorots, have tails," Chees narrated to the Beneco crew. (Ramon Dacawi)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 30, 2013.

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