Fred and his Yolanda

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By Nef Luczon

Pencalibur

Monday, December 30, 2013


FRED Padernos’ phone rang at past four in the afternoon on December 27, when he picked the phone up, it was his brother, a security guard working in Manila, who called up and brought an unfortunate news: their mother, Theresa, is dead.

Fred was one of the many community journalists who were affected by the super typhoon Yolanda here in Tacloban City. He was also one of the participants who joined the stress and trauma healing for journalists here initiated mainly by the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (Pecojon) – Philippines, more than a month after the typhoon struck mostly in Eastern Visayas.

The session has just ended that day when he received the call and it suddenly broke him into tears. Fred said that his mother wanted him to be in their home town of Mercedes, Eastern Samar for Christmas since they last saw each other in 2012, adding to the circumstances that the homes of his mother and siblings who live there were also badly hit by the typhoon.

“I even used to encourage my mother to stay strong and don’t mind ‘Yolanda’ too much,” he said in Filipino, and apologized to his mother of not keeping his promise to come home last Christmas.

“I told her that I will be there (in Mercedes) for Christmas, but there was a last minute decision to make since it can also generate additional income,” he added.

As the storm surge wrought huge damage on his rented house in the mid-morning of November 8 and the media outlet he worked with had stopped operations after it was destroyed, Fred and the other journalists find themselves working together with nongovernment organizations and even have “cash-for-work” agreements to wire news agencies based on recommendations in order to meet their daily needs.

Fred planned to go to Mercedes after the three-day healing sessions, but he was too late. He said that he never heard his mother had illness prior to the typhoon except that days ago, he was told that his mother complained about a painful chest.

Until now, he perceived Mercedes as a town that was “pinagtaksilan ng

kapalaran (betrayed by fate),” due to its impoverished situation since he and his three other siblings were still young. That was why he was striving hard to finish his college degree and work in the media in Tacloban City. He ran for city councilor but was not successful.

The exodus

Later that night, I had the peculiar opportunity to have an extended conversation with Fred when he went to the temporary Pecojon headquarters, and asked if the power generator will be turned on for him to be able to recharge his phones’ batteries before he could head back to Mercedes early in the morning the next day.

As we were waiting for the phones to be fully charged, he shared what happened to him and his family when the typhoon came to rip Leyte. At that moment, I did not think of myself as a media person but as a father who thought of my family’s survival.

Fred rented a two-storey house in Tacloban City, about 1.5 kilometers from the coastal area based on his estimates. As early as 8 am of November 8, there had been strong winds and rain and as it neared 11 am, the strong burst of seawater caused by the storm surge swallowed their things on the ground floor and threatened to reach on the second floor.

He also feared that if the strong winds will pluck their rooftops, it would be their last since they will have nowhere to go.

Fred, his wife and five children were together Yolanda happened.

“When the water level subsided on a knee-level, I heard some of our neighbors shouting,” he said, after seeing some of their loved ones instantly died after the surge. He tried to scout his neighborhood and he knew the situation had gone for the worst.

The first casualty he saw was a three-year-old child, and as someone who has a weak spot on dying children, it deeply tore my heart inside after hearing this.

“I saw dead people with their hands raised as if they were struggling to survive. Probably they wanted to get out but they couldn’t,” he said.

Good thing his sister-in-law gave them money to travel all the way to

Batangas where Fred’s brother lives, but they had to walk some kilometers near San Juanico Bridge in order to get a transportation going to Samar where they can get the money and go to Manila via bus ride.

Two weeks after they arrived in Batangas, Fred decided to go back to

Tacloban City since it’s the only place he knows he could go to work as soon as possible. He decided that his children would continue their education in Batangas for the mean time.

It wasn’t enough hearing their stories in just one night similar to Fred’s, the images he created while he tells the stories are as familiar when “Sendong” hit Northern Mindanao.

For some reasons, we may forget the ordeals that Fred has to undergo even after Yolanda. But before the year ends, it is something that we need to contemplate on: we are always dispensable in this universe.

[Email: nefluczon@gmail.com | nefoi.blogspot.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 30, 2013.

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