WIND that whirled and swirled in clear view, defying what they have been taught in school that the wind cannot be seen. Waves that reached the rooftops, except that… they live on the lake and lakes at most, only have ripples.
These are but some of the stories of the Manobos of Agusan Marsh at the height of typhoon Pablo.
The stories of the residents of sitio Panlabuhan in barangay Poblacion of the Agusan Marsh in Loreto, Agusan del Sur are stories of how community preparedness and a strong organization can save lives and homes.
On the day Pablo was expected to make landfall, Roselyn P. Tahil, business manager and treasurer of the Tribong Manobo sa Sitio Panlabuhan Loreto Agusan Marsh Organization (Tmos-Plamo) said, they received a call through mobile phone from Ferdinand Cruz, a consultant of the Samdhana Institute who was working with them on the livelihood component of their people’s organization, telling them to prepare because a big typhoon is coming.
They gathered their people, told them to secure all their homes and brought all the children and their mothers to the biggest structure in their community, the schoolhouse.
The other adults were tasked to secure the houses.
“Nag-iyahay na ‘mi. Wala na’y time mopalit og pisi. Iyahay tali ang lambat (We secured our homes with nets, there was no more time to buy ropes outside the marsh),” Tahil said. “Bahala na maguba ang mga lambat, maghimo na lang balik (Never mind if the fishing nets will be destroyed, we can always make anew).”
Aside from securing their homes, tying to nearby trees, they also surrounded their homes with the water hyacinths that grow in profusion in the marsh.
Houses in the marsh are built on log rafts; they float, and go up and down with the water level. The water hyacinths, they said, tempered the forces of nature and cushioned their homes against the force of Pablo.
What followed was more than five hours of being buffeted by waves and swirling strong winds.
“Kit-an ang hangin nagatuyok-tuyok. Sulti dili makit-an ang hanging, makit-an man diay (You can see the wind swirling. We were told you cannot see the wind, that’s not true),” she said.
Some of the houses they had to remove the walls so that the wind will just pass through them.
“Basta, dako lagi kaayo,” sitio leader Remy Reyes said when asked how high the waves were. “Bisan lantsa yabohon niato (Even big boats would have been sank by those waves).”
The following day, all structures survived although some suffered damaged roofs, except for one – the chapel.
“Nalupad ang kapilya kay wala na-safety (The chapel was thrown by the wine because no one thought of securing it),” she said.
Even before the typhoon, sitio leader Remy Reyes said, they already identified where they can tie their houses. Being floating structures, he said, they secure these when water levels are higher than normal.
Farther into the marsh at sitio Mantuod, the lost all their homes, except for one.
Panlabuhan has 58 households with 178 residents, Mantuod has 96 residents of which just a little over 20 are adults.
That was the first time they ever encountered such in the marshland, they said.
“Niagi mi og taas natubig, Grade 6 ko niato, 1981, pero dili man namo mabantayan kay motaas ra man mi (The worst we went through in the past was in 1981, I was in sixth grade then, when the water level of the marsh rose very high. But this did not affect us because our houses just rose with the water),” she said.
Deomi Havana, sitio leader of Mantuod, recalled how the people squeezed under the flattened houses just to shield themselves from the lash of the wind and water.
He admits they still do not have a people’s organization in their community and has seen its importance as it was through Tmos-Plamo that they received assistance to rebuild their homes from Christian Aid.
Christian Aid provided the construction materials, which they first coursed through Tmos-Plamo, but which was shared to Mantuod because the residents of Panlabuhan did not need much assistance.
Christian Aid partners with non-government organizations worldwide to help the most vulnerable communities cope with disaasters and adapt to climate change.
Havana could only shake his head in dismay when asked to describe how their people are coping after the typhoon.
On one side, a man in his 70s, was still building his house. He and his wife have no one else to rely on. In their care is a daughter who has some mental disability and two very young children left to their care after their son died and the son’s wife left.
He was the rallying call for the people of Mantuod to rebuild as he hammered on even when he was already bent with age.
“Mas daghan pa ganing assistance nahatag sa Mantuod kay sila man gyud ang nanginahanglan og dako (More assistance from Christian Aid reached Mantuod because they were the ones who were in greater need),” Tahil said.
Without their organization and the network they have established with non-government organizations, help would not have easily come their way.
Without their network, they would not have prepared, and no, it wasn’t government who gave them the timely warning. Out there, they are on their own as very few people are able to venture into the marshland except them, the Manobos, who have called the marsh their home.