EVERYONE was caught by surprise when super Typhoon Pablo (internationally named Bopha) wreaked havoc to lives, livelihood and properties of Davao Region particularly in the province of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
Old folks, who have been living there for 70 years or more swear, this was the first time ever that such a devastating typhoon hit them; changing the landscape of the once picturesque coastal lands, the people’s main source of livelihood.
Killing more than a thousand with still less than a thousand missing, displacing a sizeable number of families and damaging crops, plantations and source of livelihood and causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in seven regions out of 17 where it blew its top, the said typhoon will remain part of a sad fragment of history which will leave an indelible mark on those who directly experienced it.
Despite of the difficulties and the devastation it brought, life must go on and we need to move on.
This is another test of our resiliency as a race, a trait we are widely known throughout the world, our source of pride.
Painful reality to accept
To say that the region was devastated by Typhoon Pablo is an understatement as the tropical storm brought an unimaginable damage to the lives and properties of the people of the once typhoon-free region.
As early as dawn of December 4, the hapless would be victims of the super typhoon began their daylong saga of fear and anguish as they were not that prepared for such an unprecedented catastrophe that hit the region.
Thirty years after, Pablo came with Pagasa giving us a strong warning that it would be a strong typhoon and would make a landfall in Bangaga, Davao Oriental. Most of us knew that signal number 3 (NDRRMC Director Benito Ramos later said it was signal number 4) was strong but who would have thought that it would be that strong that it would ravage our earthly possessions.
Radio, TV and print media documented the storm and reported to the people even in places outside the Philippines with videos and photos showing the avalanche of destruction pegged to reach billions of pesos in damages.
I have not imagined the degree of destruction as accounts shown in TV were just portion of it not until when I was requested by DepED 11 Regional Director Gloria D. Benigno to be one of the regional personnel to be with her to assess the damage of the storm two days after the devastation happened.
The team was one in our assessment that it was really a catastrophe to the highest degree where people practically lost everything they value in life.
Education cluster to the rescue
In times of disaster, you can rely on your countrymen and international humanitarian groups to ease out the pain and trauma brought by a recent catastrophe where in Davao Region is considered as unprecedented, the supertyphoon Pablo.
The education cluster which is composed of all the organizations that commit themselves to help normalize classes in schools by addressing those stumbling blocks to achieve it has already conducted numerous meetings in Waling Waling Hall of DepED Region 11 which Director Benigno made it as command center. The cluster is ably coordinated by Rowena 'Wang' Lucero from UNICEF.
They already visited the sites and have given first hand accounts of the real situations in various areas hit by the typhoon especially in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental under Superintendents Nenita Lumaad, Dee Silva and Feliciano Tamondong Jr. respectively.
Personnel from the regional office as well as from the severely damaged schools divisions have also assigned focal persons to work with the specific group who will handle specific needs of the pupils/students and teachers in the field.
The group was divided into those which would provide psycho-social interventions, water, sanitation and health, temporary learning spaces, feeding, providing learning materials and the clearing and clearing of school sites.
Some of these groups are Save the Children, UNICEF, UNDP, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), World Vision, Community and Family Service International (CFSI), Ateneo de Davao University, Davao Medical School Foundation, USeP, World Food Program (WFP), Tulong Kapatid (MVP Group of Companies), Globe Telecom, Jolibee Foundation, Plan International, UNICEF, military and police engineering battalions, local government units and private individuals.
Media groups like ABS-CBN Foundation, GMA Kapuso Foundation, Kapatid Foundation, the Sunstar Network of Publication, to name a few have also extended various support to the survivors of the typhoon.
This space is not enough to mention everybody extending his/her assistance. Be assured that the Lord has seen your pure heart and generosity in helping people in need of help.
Return to normalcy
Officials from DepEd headed by Secretary Armin A. Luistro, FSC and other socio-civic and international organizations doing humanitarian missions have assembled at DepEd Davao Region Waling Waling Conference Hall few days before Christmas to mount concerted efforts to better address the plight of the victims (others want to use the word survivors) of super typhoon Pablo especially the teachers and students.
It was the second time for Sec. Luistro (he first came in the region 3 days after the disaster after finalizing immediate assistance needed by the victims in DepED Central Office and attending command conference presided by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III) to preside a meeting in the said hall.
This time, aside from the host region led by Regional Director Gloria D. Benigno, the key officials of DepED Caraga headed by Regional Director Alberto Escobarte were also invited to attend in order to come out with a workable agreement to finally normalize the conduct of regular classes on January 3, 2013.
The secretary also reported that a cabinet cluster meeting headed by Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras was convened to specifically address the concerns brought by the devastation of Pablo to a number of regions in the country.
Luistro specified that the action plans to be done should be concentrated on the efforts to debrief teachers and students to ease out the trauma brought by the typhoon, identifying immediate and long term solutions to damaged classrooms and other structures and determining the capacity of each school to handle various concerns.
He also mentioned that there would be schools that would not be rebuilt anymore due to the hazard it would bring to the teachers and learners because of their locations and his office is now scouting new locations to construct schoolbuildings in areas identified as hazard prone.
A need to move on after Pablo
The spirit of the Filipinos is always strong despite of the numerous trials that come his way. Not even a super typhoon like Pablo can dampen the earnest desire of every Filipino to succeed no matter what.
Yes, the devastation is unprecedented in this part of the country once touted as typhoon-free. Yes it was too much to bear. But no, this is not the time to stop and be affected by the depression brought by this 'force majeure'. As what they put in their walls and streamers 'Babangon Tayo New Bataan', 'Bangon Baganga', to name a few, there is that drive to survive and win the battle against hopelessness as retreating would only mean accepting Pablo's wrath as one's downfall.
In his third visit to Davao Region, Sec. Luistro met the students in their temporary classrooms they called 'learning space', the tents provided by the NGO, 'Save the Children' (DepEd is also augmenting it with a plan to purchase 200 more) and assured them that 1,142 classrooms in seven regions will be rebuilt and 1,115 more would be repaired.
Luistro and other DepEd officials from the from Division, Region and Central Office greeted the learners and the teachers of the affected regions and divisions with a 'Happy New Year' and cheered their spirits so that the stigma of the disaster would be buried in the past and the hope for a brighter future will overcome whatever pains and anguish they have suffered, thereby helping the children, their teachers and the community to rise again.
The schools are too devastated to start the class but, in a way, the Secretary and the rest of the DepED people and all those helping in the rehabilitation are one in believing that it is only in starting that we will face difficulty.
We are not forsaken. We are showered with so much love and care by all concerned individuals and groups. Let us be grateful by showing to them that we appreciate their help not merely in words but in deeds.
It will not be an easy task, it is impossible to some but life must go on.
If we believe that it is difficult, let us offer everything to God and ask His gift of understanding for us to fathom His purpose in letting the said devastation to happen.
Let us stand whenever we fall.