WE TOUCHED ground exactly six months hence, May 8, 2014. Devastation was still apparent, but life is picking up.
That’s life. The fortunate few who have options have left. The majority who only had enough to life a life at present and save a little for tomorrow on the same plot of land stayed.
The stories come a-plenty, every one has theirs to share. There is great appreciation for all those who helped and are still helping. But the greater appreciation is for those who sat down and listened.
“Ang help nagipangita, dili man langkaon (The help people were seeking was not just for food),” parish priest Fr. Kelvin Alupillo of barangay San Joaquin in Palo, Leyte, said. “It is more of accompaniment in time of grief.”
The same reflection was shared by Tanauan town Mayor Pelagio R. Tecson Jr. as he and his crew battled debris as high as six feet just to reach Tacloban City three days after typhoon Yolanda hit that left all of them without food.
“Ang question nila, anonggagawinnatin?” he said of his people as they walked around in grief and helplessness, debris and bodies all around them.
“I wasn’t sure how we were going to recover, but I had to assure them,” he added. “Tatayka, you have to be a source of strength of hope. Hindi kadapatmaging victim.”
This should be how leaders, whether on a government level or a family level should act, despite the fact that they are all victims.
As these men pondered on the intangibles that bring a different kind of relief, faith was also at the center of conversations.
“It’s a time when even those who didn’t know how to pray were praying,” our van driver Jasper, said in Visayan. “My youngest was only three years old, but was praying repeatedly.”
Jasper lives in barangay San Joaquin, the barangay, which Fr. Kelvin said, suffered the most in terms of fatality as a percentage of population.
Palo Archbishop John F. Du, who was at the Palo Cathedral’s social hall with over 300 residents in the morning Haiyan hit, said they could see people trying to hold to to each other as the storm surge carried them past, fast.
“Angmga houses, matumbanaperoangmgatao, mikupotgihapon, bringing the images of their saints (You can see houses being brought down by the surge and yet people would still hang on to these as they fall, holding on to images of saints),” the archbishop recalled.
At the seminary, 42 theologians and five priests were holding hands, saying their confessions and praying as they stand helpless while the seawater rose.
“They had nowhere else to go,” he said, and were thus ready to die.
The water stopped rising as it was already chin-high. All 47 survived, but not the seminary.
“Dili man ‘to balod (It wasn’t a wave),” Fr. Kelvin said. It was a rolling wall of water, 15 feet high. The water rolled in three times in just around 30 minutes, but it was the water that killed most people, not the wind nor the rain.
“We lived, we survived because of God,” Fr. Kelvin said. “Before, it was a little for God, everything for us. During, it was everything for God. Hopefully, maonani, dilinamubaliksa before (Hopefully, this will be how it is and not return to how it was before).”
Archbishop Du also likened the mothers to the parable of the lost sheep, where even in the midst of howling winds and sheets of rain coming from everywhere, a mother would always run back to grab a child that is separated from the brood.
“Even with all other children huddled in relative safety, once one is separated, the mother will leave everyone just to get that child back,” the archbishop said.
San Joaquin, both Fr. Kelvin and Jasper said, had a good number of rich families of international ship captains.
“Yolanda (Haiyan) was very tragic but it was also catechesis,” Fr. Kelvin said.
Mayor Tecson said the first decent food he had was when he reached Tacloban airport and was offered food by Navy Capt. Roy Trinidad. What was normally 30 minutes by car from Tanauan to Tacloban airport along the Maharlika Highway took two hours on motorcycle because of the debris that they had to struggle through.
At the airport, he said, he was the only mayor there and thus was offered assistance right away.
“Do you have a landing site?” the mayor recalled being asked. He said yes, even though he was not sure if indeed they have. His concern was to get relief goods to his people, how he will bring it there will have to be addressed as situations come. True enough, they found a site to land on at the town’s BantayDagat compound.
Of note is the mayor’s refusal to spend resources for temporary bunkhouses and instead sought the understanding of his people to find their own temporary places and shelters. Thus, just six months after, the town of Tanauan inaugurated the first 1,200 permanent houses for those who lived on no-build zones.
“We were the very first to have a rehabilitation plan – shelter, livelihood, infrastructure, we were very focused,” he said, all for rehabilitation and building back better.
“We did not spend for bunkhouses, magastosyung bunkhouses, taposlilipat pa ulit, which will mean double dislocation,” he said. Thus, he just facilitated the distribution of shelter kits while the local government focused on fast-tracking the construction of permanent houses.
Typhoon Haiyan, which holds the record of being the strongest ever typhoon that made landfall in the history of weather disturbances, had indeed claimed lives by the thousands, much more than what government admits, but it also honed a people into recognizing what is truly important – faith and family.