Sendong survivors still struggle for stability

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

AROUND 11:00 p.m. on December 16, 2011, Sitio Tibasak residents scampered to safety as raging waters bringing debris submerged and tore people and their houses apart.

Everyone was screaming for help. As they reached the higher grounds of Tibasak, they heard loud cries begging for help but they could only do nothing as darkness enveloped them. As they gripped for survival, they were horribly shaking to contain the cold and the fears that haunted them while they struggled to survive. An hour later, the cries slowly faded, died down and an eerie silence followed.

“We wanted to see the sun up, so we could do something, but as daylight slowly emerged the unimaginable death and destruction shook us the more,” Apolonia Natindim recalled her tragic experience with Tropical storm Sendong that devastated the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and the other towns affected.

Apolonia would never forget Sendong that took her aging mother who slipped away as her frail body yielded to the lashes of the water and debris.

Despite the tragic passing of her mother, Apolonia was grateful she found her, unlike her other relatives who have remained missing until today.

“I am thankful that I found my mother, but I am sad that I have relatives and neighbors who have remained missing up to now,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.

'Ground zero'

It was mid-day and Saturnino Zambrano sat on the third level of a concrete three-story house. He was pensive as he looked far-away. He seemed to be surveying the cornfields below, but he was staring at an acacia tree in the distance.

Zambrano, 64, was born and raised in Sitio Cala-cala in barangay Macasandig. Up until two years ago, he and his family enjoyed the simple living of having a small vegetable garden outside their home and a pleasant view of the Cagayan de Oro river and served as one of the ‘tanods’ there. But since Sendong, everything in his life changed.

“I lost my land, my home… the experience that my wife and I went through that night will forever haunt me,” he said.

As tears trickled down his wrinkled cheeks, Zambrano recalled how he and his wife miraculously survived the wrath of the flash floods that damaged most of Cala-cala.

According to Zambrano, the flood water was already neck-deep when their house was washed away. He and his wife were swept toward an acacia tree but because of their aging bodies, they could not climb it. The fast-rising water, however, pushed them up to the branches, so they were able to take refuge there.

“We were holding on to the branches for about ten hours… it was very tiring but we kept thinking that one of us has to survive so our children will know what happened… I couldn’t imagine if our bodies would not be found and they would forever be wondering about us,” he said.

When they were finally rescued, Zambrano recalled seeing dead bodies, mostly children and the elderly littered all over Cala-cala.

“Until now, I couldn’t forget those images… those people were so helpless. Some of us were just really fortunate to survive,” he said.

Sitio Cala-cala after Tropical Storm Sendong
Sitio Cala-cala after Tropical Storm Sendong hit Cagayan de Oro City on December 17, 2011. (Photo by Cai D. Panlilio)

Indifference to evacuation centers

The women residents interviewed in Tibasak on December 12 told Sun*Star Cagayan de Oro in unison how Sendong embedded fears in them each time there are heavy downpour that come with howling winds.

“I tremble whenever it rains with strong winds. We always listen to weather reports on radio and to the instructions of the barangay disaster team so that we will have an idea when to vacate our houses,” Delsa Egargo said.

Egargo doesn’t like the evacuation centers in Barangay Macasandig. She usually goes to the higher ground in Tibasak where her relatives live. “I’d rather stay with them because it is more comfortable than the evacuation centers. I find it more stressful in evacuation centers,” Egargo said.

Economic woes

They also ranted on the economic instability they battle each day despite the relocation afforded to them. Some preferred to stay in Tibasak than move to a relocation site in Barangay Indahag because there aren't livelihood in the area.

“If we live in the relocation site, the fare is expensive. In Barangay Indahag, my relatives have to spend P50. Where will I get that? I would rather stay here in my place. I was born and raised here. And I will only spend P14 to go to the market and sell vegetables to earn,” Apolinia said.

But, the recent Hapsay Dalan campaign in Cogon compelled Apolonia to stop selling and continue to do laundry instead. However, even doing laundry has become scarce these days as their middle-class neighbors moved to different areas already.

Maricel Lintunan, who used to live in Tambo, Macasandig said she has no livelihood in the area.

“My husband is the only one in the family who has an informal job,” said Lintunan.

Her husband is a barker in Cogon market.

Lintunan said her husband’s income is not enough but they are able to manage amid the lack.

A danger zone

Two years after the devastation of Sendong, the Zambranos are again living in Cala-Cala, which has now been declared a danger zone by the city government. His current residence is the only concrete structure that was left standing after Sendong’s wrath.

A few meters from the house stands an image of the cross, a memorial for those who lost their lives in the flash floods.

“I volunteered to take care of this house because I get paid for this… I also don’t have to pay any bills here and I still get to stay in my place of birth,” he said.

As an added source of income and personal consumption, Zambrano and his wife plant corn and vegetables in the vacant field.

According to him, they were able to earn P22,000 for a harvest of 43 sacks of corn during the first quarter of his year. This month, however, he cannot expect a good one because the recent heat has damaged most of the crops.

While some survivors have opted to stay in their barangays, most did not have a choice but to avail of the housing program in several relocation sites several kilometers from the city proper.


Peter Edrote, board of director of Indahag Habitat Resettlement in Phase I, said Sendong survivors in the relocation site lack enough livelihood.

Edrote is also the president of the urban container gardening – a project that aims to recycle waste for gardening.

“No one is looking after us – the people here have no livelihood,” he said.

He added that livelihood is also the main problem of the survivors.

One of the residents, Elizabeth Abu, affirmed Edrote’s statement when she said a sari-sari store through a cooperative is a good project to help them acquire additional income.

“My husband’s income is not enough for our daily expenses,” Abu said adding that her husband is a motorcycle driver who earns P100 to P200 per day.

The president of the relocation site, Ereneo Opiana, said around 80 percent of the residents are striving hard to earn.

“If they lived in poverty before TS Sendong, their economic situation now has worsened,” said Opiana.

But in terms of houses, he said the people in the relocation site are satisfied.

“Their houses are concrete and painted. They are a lot more beautiful than their previous homes,” said Opiana adding that the survivors used to live in makeshift shelters.

Augustus Abcede, 53, is one of the residents of the Macapaya resettlement site. He has been living in the area for a year now and is also the current president of the Macapaya Hills Oro Settlers Association Inc. Like so many others, he too, lost people dear to him.

“I lost two of my children, a grandchild and twelve other relatives during Sendong. Until now, their bodies have still not been found… What choice do I have, but to move on?” he said.

According to Abcede, his former association in Cala-cala, along with four other associations requested to be transferred in Macapaya because they thought that it would be better to be housed in a duplex-type residence, rather than in a quadruplex-type like the one in Calaanan.

“We had no choice but to avail of the housing program because our houses were destroyed,” Abcede said.

They did not expect, however, that they would be facing so much difficulties in the resettlement site.

“We do not have access to water and electricity… the government used to send fire trucks everyday so we can have access to water, but after the elections last May, the fire trucks stopped coming here,” he added.

Since then, the residents have had no choice but to purchase water from Indahag which is a few kilometers away from Macapaya. But delivering water services to this resettlement site has posed many challenges. The only available transportation residents have is a motorcycle with sidecar. Also, the roads leading to the area is still not properly paved.

For their electricity needs, the residents have been using candles and oil lamps in their homes during the evening. They have also resorted to contributing 10 pesos a week for gasoline, which is used on a generator for their street lights. This amount may seem small, but to the residents who have no stable income, the amount can be too much to give.

“The residents have started to express their desire to move out of the resettlement site and rent a small place within the city proper… life is just becoming too difficult for us here,” he expressed.

Most of the residents in Macapaya used to have decent jobs in the city proper as laundrywomen and cab drivers. Sadly, they were forced to quit their jobs because the transportation expenses of one hundred pesos a day was too much for them to shoulder.

Fortunately, the National Housing Authority has hired workers for the concretion of the roads in the subdivision. From July until December, several residents are taking home P 230 per day.

Nelia Mason, a board of director of the settler’s association, said that they have some members who were granted housing units, but because of the difficulties, they opted to stay in the danger zones.These people, however, use the housing units whenever barangay officials announce a preemptive evacuation.

“We do not report these people to the DSWD or the NHA because they are survivors, too. We cannot judge them if they cannot live without the basic needs here in Macapaya. For us living here in Macapaya, we don’t have a choice because we have no more homes in Macasandig… it’s good for those people who still have shelters there, even if it is in the danger zone,” she said.

Rodelsa Circle after Tropical Storm Sendong
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY. The Rodelsa Circle at Rotunda was submerged as water rose toward the city proper during the Tropical Sendong on December 17, 2011.

Livelihood attempts

Edrote said one of their projects is geared toward segregating waste materials and use them for their gardening projects.

He said they have gathered plastic containers of juices, put them together to create big containers where the residents put in their vegetable seedlings.

At present, Edrote said the residents don’t rely on what the government or any private organizations bring them. They take initiatives to survive.

“Some of the residents here are making rags, they have learned it while they were still in the evacuation centers,” said Edrote adding that there is no cooperative for such livelihood in their relocation site.

However, he added that the rags they made have no definite market, so they find selling the product hard.

Edrote said the residents also attempted to make eco bags, but it lasted for just eight months.

Opiana added that most of the residents in the relocation sites are workers—laborer, carpenter, mason and some others are government employees.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development-10 (DSWD-10) is trying to implement the Self-Employment Assistance-Kaunlaran (SEA-K) in the relocation site, said Edrote.

Edrote said the SEA-K project will give out almost P10,000 to around 30 beneficiaries in the area.

“However, it should be spent on the condition that the livelihood to undertake is drive the “trisikads,” he said.

Unfortunately, Edrote said there’s no place in the area wherein they can earn from driving trisikad because there are no markets and schools in the relocation site.

He said around 50 percent of the residents are not members of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).


Opiana said one of the causes of quarrels in the relocation site is the use of firewood in cooking.

“The smoke coming out from the kitchen will go to the adjacent household that starts a quarrel among neighbors,” he said pointing out that the houses in the relocation site are quadruplex that houses two families living in one house. Only a wall stands between them.

Trinidad Cartoza who lives in the relocation site in Phase-I returned to her old house in Corona drive in Tibasak extension for her livelihood.

“I go home at night and spend my days here in this house,” said Cartoza in an interview at Tibasak extension where she maintains her backyard piggery.

Raising pigs are not allowed in the relocation site.

She said around 30 families in the relocation site are spending their day time at Corona drive so they could return to their means of income.

Rowel Paul also a Corona drive resident applied for relocation, but he was turned down because the sites are already full.

Paul fears for his family's safety during storms but the family source of income is as important to survive.

Although his source if income is in Tibasak extension, he wants to be relocated to bring his family to safety which he finds more important than the livelihood.

“I will find a job or do whatever I can to find a source of income in the relocation site,” he said.


Enough water is also a vital need in the survivor’s community, he said.

"We also need a health center with rotating doctors to attend to the health of the residents," he added.

Edrote added that it would be better if there will be a market in the relocation site.

“It is important to have a market here so the people won’t have to go downtown,” he said.

When asked what about the most important thing the survivors need, Edrote said: “Jobs!”

Site development problems

Mayor Oscar S. Moreno admitted the problem with some of the resettlement sites for the Sendong survivors is the absence of master plans before the development could have started.

“I inherited the problems on the site development such as the roads, drainage systems, water source and electricity… We are, however, modifying this in other resettlement sites by making a site development plan first,” he said.

Mayor Moreno was referring to the informal settlers within the city, which he intends to include in future relocation sites.

Moreno is grateful for the nongovernment organizations' efforts to work on the relocation sites.


Barangay Balulang chairperson Alfredo Carcosa said most of those who died in the barangay had been trapped in their houses. There aren’t many houses that had been destroyed, but those whose houses were destroyed have been relocated to Lumbia and Calaanan.

Sitio Puntod in Balulang had been leveled by Sendong, but those who lived in the 115 houses survived as they held on trees and found areas away from the current. “They know their areas and the years of flooding taught them what to do. Though they didn’t expect the devastation of Sendong they survived,” Carcosa said.

At present, Sitio Puntod is also a ‘no-build zone.' However, the residents go back there to continue with their vegetable and fruit trees planting to survive since livelihood in relocation sites are hard to come by.

Balulang recorded 82 fatalities and about 3,055 individuals had been affected. There are 472 homes destroyed and the families have been relocated.

Carcosa opined that the biggest challenge to adapt with the climate change is also to put up evacuation centers that are truly safe. “This is one big challenge to us. Disasters will frequent us in the days ahead because of climate change. So, it is important that we can build evacuation centers that can be safe and reliable,” Carcosa added.

According to Ramon Fernandez, chair of the newly created Shelter and Housing Development Multi-Sectoral Task Force, there are still about 2,100 applicants for resettlement sites to date.


On the evening of December 16, survivors of Sendong will gather at the memorial in Cala-Cala to offer candles and flowers to their lost loved ones.

Though he has not gotten over the pain and sadness, SaturninoZambrano is looking forward to this event.

“It is a time when we, the survivors, gather to console one another… we need this because two years have passed but we still have not recovered from it,” he said. (With Cai D. Panlilio and Anjo J. Bacarisas)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 15, 2013.


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