Spending Christmas with family in Cebu

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Monday, December 2, 2013

NINE days after super typhoon Yolanda battered Tacloban, Barry Anthony Parreñas elbowed his way into a van that would get him out of the ravaged city.

He walked from his home in Apitong to Duptours terminal on a cold Sunday dawn, watching his steps in the dark with the aid of a lighter’s flashlight, careful not to trip over a log, a tin roof, a dead body.

Dozens of typhoon survivors were already scrambling to get a seat in a van when he reached the terminal after a 45-minute walk. It was the same scene as the day before, when he first tried his luck at the terminal.

He pushed his small body through the mob and managed to get on the van.

“Moral dilemma”

Food was running out at home and in the city. Relief goods were slow to come. He needed to find a job somewhere outside Tacloban and send his family money and food.

Four hours later, he was in Ormoc, wondering how he could get to Cebu without waiting for days at the port, like the thousands who arrived before him. Luckily, he bumped into a close college friend who had an extra priority number for a trip ticket to Cebu.

That night, with pocket money barely enough to rent a room for a month, he boarded a fastcraft.

“That was the biggest moral dilemma of my life,” recalled Parreñas, a 21-year-old communication arts graduate of the University of the Philippines Visayas-Tacloban

“I didn’t want to leave my family at their worst, but I had to leave so I can help them. It’s either I starve with them, or I leave and provide for them.”

When he arrived in Cebu around 11 p.m. on Nov. 17, he didn’t know where to go. But two sisters, a nurse from Saudi Arabia and a college teacher, offered to let him spend the night at their house in Lapu-Lapu.

He met the sisters while waiting to get a ship ticket at the port in Ormoc. They came from Carigara, Leyte, their hometown, to check on their family after the typhoon and were returning to Cebu to get relief goods.

In Lapu-Lapu, the sisters, whom he knows by their nicknames Cheche and Bogz, cooked their midnight dinner: rice and ampalaya with eggs.

“It was my first real food since the typhoon,” Parreñas said. “I’ve been eating canned goods, noodles and dried fish.”

While having their dinner, they watched a TV broadcast of a concert in Manila staged to raise funds and awareness for relief operations in the typhoon-ravaged areas.

They all cried.

“I saw on TV how aid has poured in,” Parreñas said, “but we didn’t feel that in Tacloban.”


The next day, after breakfast, he thanked the sisters and bid them goodbye. He went to Cebu City and found a boarding house in Lahug, with the help of a friend.

Parreñas, who worked in a call center in Palo town, Leyte, got accepted in a call center in IT Park, through a friend’s referral.

Four other typhoon survivors from Leyte, one of them a schoolmate at the Remedios Trinidad Romualdez Foundation College, where he took one semester of law, also got in. Two were his colleagues from the call center in Palo, though they only realized it when they met at the IT Park.

With five typhoon survivors out of the 24 newly accepted call center agents, they named their batch “Team Yolanda”.

One of his fellow survivors lost several of his friends to the storm surge, Parreñas said. He himself lost a classmate at UP.

Parreñas, his parents and two younger brothers evacuated to a family friend’s house at the height of the typhoon on Nov. 8, when the water started to rise chest-deep and tin roofs were flying off their house.

The storm surge didn’t reach Apitong, where his family has lived since 2007. The village is far from the coast, but the water coming down the nearby mountains was alarming enough.

Parreñas said they are used to getting inundated during heavy rains, so the flood didn’t come as a surprise. But the winds were the strongest they’ve ever experienced.

Storm aftermath

Late in the afternoon, when they had returned to their flooded house, a colleague of his father appeared at their doorstep, dazed and carrying the plastic water container that helped him survive the surge of water.

He was the only one from the military camp in San Jose village who survived, the man said. The rest of the soldiers were swept away.

Parreñas’s father, a technical sergeant of the Armed Forces of the Philippines stationed in the camp near the Tacloban airport, immediately went out to search for his fellow soldiers.

In the next few days, his father was kept away from home by the duty to look for his missing comrades. Her mother, a nurse attendant, also went to Basey District Hospital every now and then to salvage hospital records.

Before the typhoon, Parreñas said they kept a stock of food for three days. But when they evacuated to their family friend’s house, they shared the food with their host.

His father withdrew his last paycheck in Catbalogan, Samar and bought food supplies, which could only last for two weeks. His younger brothers, both high school students, set out some days to find food, bringing home leftover canned goods from some ransacked warehouse.

Parreñas said it was his mother who pushed him to leave Tacloban and find a job in Cebu.

“We managed to survive Yolanda, but we can’t survive the starvation that would follow,” he said. His parents wanted to stay and guard their property, which they’ve been paying through amortization.

Financial support

His older brother, a newly licensed civil engineer working for a piping company in Cebu, is giving him and his family financial support.

Parreñas said he can’t help but get emotional every time he eats cooked meals, knowing his family back home is eating cold instant food.

He wants his parents and two younger brothers to spend Christmas with him and his older brother in Cebu. Last Saturday night, he was elated when his mother called to tell him they will come to Cebu for Christmas.

“I’ve been convincing them to spend their Christmas with us in Cebu,” he said.

Before receiving his mother’s call, Parreñas got a text message that also warmed his heart. It was from a law classmate who had stayed in Tacloban. She was at a hotel, she said, in a room overlooking the city.

Many establishments have started using generators, she said. She can see lights at night.

“It gives me a sense of hope,” Parreñas said, “knowing that Tacloban is not anymore the dark city that we saw after the typhoon.”

His face bright with hope, he added: “Maglalamrag na an Tacloban diri maiha (Tacloban will soon light up).”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 02, 2013.

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