Third of a series by Ariel C. Hernandez, Written 4 January 2012
Ayi and Belle Hernandez, as well as their kids, were among the victims of Typhoon Sendong as floodwaters submerged their home. They saved nothing but themselves. How they made it out alive, how they coped with being among the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the lessons they learned along the way … are in this series of essays by Ayi.
On our way to my kids’ school, I could not help but notice the absence of heavy traffic that every resident in the neighborhood usually had to deal with. The man who directs the flow of traffic was surprised how easy it is now to manage the vehicles coming in and out of St. Mary’s School. For one, there are no more cars that turn left to Mangga Putol, Saint Ignatius Village to Tambo and then to Tibasak. It is becoming clearer each day that the once busy and highly populated Barangay Macasandig is transforming into a quiet place vacated by its residents after the devastating flood.
We passed by our house after I received a call from our neighbor that a mini bulldozer will take out the knee deep mud in our compound. While we are lucky we have mobilized a machine to help us clean the area, 18 days after the same debris and compounded mud are still there. I couldn’t help but sigh, wondering when all these mud and bulk of debris be cleaned by those in charge. Or are they assuming that this will be handled by the residents themselves? Isn’t it a priority to fast-track the cleanup to project a sense of normalcy?
Eighteen days after, it’s still the same….
I can clearly remember two days after Ondoy, I went to the Provident Village in Marikina to visit my Ninong Dan and his family whose house, all the way to the second story, went under water. On the third day, the debris were already lumped on one side of the street. When I came back a week after, the whole village, if not the whole Marikina area beside the river, was already cleaned up of dirt, debris and mud.
But in our case here in Cagayan de Oro, 18 days after and majority of the residents are still without supply of potable water. Eighteen days after, my neighborhood’s salvaged belongings still lay on the street covered with mud; not because they’re lazy, but simply because they have nowhere to place these things. Eighteen days after the city is still very dusty. Eighteen days after the mood of the city is still the same the day after the floods. I am tempted to conclude that Cagayan de Oro will never be same again. At the rate it is recuperating, CDO will no longer be a choice of destination of both local and international tourists and definitely it will not be the choice anymore of groups’ convention as it used to be.
Eighteen days after, the international and national news coverage of Sendong has died down. It’s actually better because the “abuse” of taking photos and video footages of the grieving victims have stopped. I wish those media people have the courage if not the decency to ask the permission of their subjects as their newspapers or networks actually made money out of the misery of the victims. Eighteen days after, the rebuilding of the city will be left to Cagay-anons and to some brave souls who are committed to journey with the victims who chose to be resources.
Optimists would say Cagayan would stand again and will evolve as a new city after the disaster. I say yes to that. But as a pragmatist, I would say Cagayan de Oro will never be the same again if:
- We will not pursue a real and local based psychosocial program for the survivors. If we have a thousand still missing it simply means we will lose a productive thousand families if we will not attend to them. This is a long term intervention I suppose. So while we acknowledge and honor volunteers from all over the country doing psychosocial program in different levels, developing a local program would be a strategic thing to do.
- We will not start discussing, exploring and piloting entrepreneurship programs for the flood survivors in temporary shelters and in relocation sites. We cannot afford to create “donor dependent communities” in Cagayan de Oro. This I think is missing in the well-organized multi-sectoral cluster.
- We will not be able to come-up with a contingency plan if there’s a second round of Sendong. We know it was a knockout match, with Sendong sending us to the canvass with his powerful blow, and a rematch is not a far possibility. I am so glad that the good Archbishop is taking the lead on this preparation.
All the other ifs, I will leave to the others who choose to blame and hit each other in the midst of the crisis instead of owning the problem and jointly seeking a workable solution.
For the first time, Mindanaw will witness “tent cities” in one of the most developed city of the island. Rotary Club International, together with their local partners, were so fast in installing about 400 tents as temporary shelters in Calaanan while details for permanent housing is still being discussed for at least 300 families who don’t have a choice but to depend on the help from government and non-government organizations. The tents are of international standard, though our resident expert from UK thought the spacing between tents did not conform to the standards.
Red Cross committed another thousand tents in Lumbia where the Jesuits offered their lands for temporary and permanent shelter. I was so happy to see the Army’s Engineering Brigade fully in charge of preparing the land area for the incoming settlers. The AFP has been at the forefront in disaster response all the time everywhere in the country, but personally seeing them working efficiently makes me feel proud of our Armed Forces. As a longtime partner of Balay Mindanaw in our peace work, I hope they will be given the proper recognition of their professionalism in times of disaster.
Silently, Balay Mindanaw will also contribute modestly in the tent cities. With a new found partnership with Disaster Aid International (DAI) we will not only be providing tents and family survival kits but also share the expertise of Disaster Aid Response Team. Hopefully the Balay Mindanaw-DAI partnership will serve as the standard in setting up the tent cities in the next few days. With the credible leadership of Kaloy and effective teamwork of Balay Mindanaw colleages and volunteers, the support and donations keep pouring in from as far as Italy through the federation of Filipino associations, from business groups and even from a Filipino association from Ashburton, New Zealand. The president of the association related that during the quake in New Zealand, it was almost automatic that the Filipinos were the first to do volunteer work to help the survivors. So when they mobilized resources for CDO survivors, the New Zealanders were just as fast in contributing to the Filipios’ cause. Very inspiring ….
Serious efforts will be pursued to fulfil the non-food items assistance to the survivors. This is also an appeal for everyone to stop donating food items at this time. The popular joke is that “entreprenurial survivors” are now looking for a space to set up their sari-sari store because they have a lot of food supply in their hands. The other day, as related by Kaloy, evacuees from Bulua Gym came here in Balay Mindanaw to ask assistance in cooking their food supply. So rather than donating foods which are obviously abundant according to DSWD, you can donate cooking stoves and kitchen utensils, or solar powered bulbs and even carpentry tools.
Many friends have been asking how I and my family are coping. With all honesty, I don’t have a ready answer. Part of me is saying we’re definitely not okay, but deep inside me is still very much convinced things will be better in due time. It’s just that when concerns are too heavy in a day you can’t help but get disappointed and depressed. The skill and the capacity to self-process have been very helpful even if there are times that I simply get angry just to feel human again. The task to recover what can still be recovered is I think the most tiresome. Sometimes, I’d like to think it’s better to just consider everything as debris and garbage so it will not be as painful to see those things you had worked hard to acquire over time covered with mud.
But there are three things I think I have a hard time letting go…
- My diaries and family pictures. I lost at least four diaries and volumes of pictures. I felt so uncomfortable with the reality that I can’t recover these anymore. Luckily, there are some pictures that Belle painstakingly cleaned up and save the memories in it. These are very important for me because these two things are the concrete documents for me to look back to how I evolved as a person, a father, a son, a husband, a friend, a colleague or as Mindanawan who wants to contribute modestly to its peace and development. I will dearly miss my diaries… my previous years I suppose. I will miss the pictures that captured not only the physical self but also the memories of laughter, the memories of camaraderie, the memories of the younger Ayi and family.
- My books. When I took a last look at the sala of our destroyed home, I had my eyes fully focused on at least 300 different books. They were inspirational books, new age books, fictions by Grisham, Ludlum and others. I still have to finish Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. The recent ones were heavily influenced by Tatay Ed and Nanay Girlie’s choices. These include Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat,” Guy Kawasaki’s “Enchantment,” other great management books by Peter Drucker, and a very insightful book by Peter Senge given to me by Ernie Garilao. The list can be very long…. I was fully convinced it was one of my best investments. In fact, I was silently influencing my kids to read books this early. Kuya Danni started reading the newest book I bought last September in India entitled “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci. My books, they were supposed to be my priced possessions that I will entrust to my children. But now they are gone…. Those books were very influential in how I look at life, how I look at other people and how I remain grounded as a person. They were my constant companions and my best aid in imagining things and believing on things I dearly uphold.
- My two dSLR cameras – I didn’t have any formal training as a photographer. But ever since, I remember I had strong desire to own a camera to capture life’s best and worst moments, and preserve them for eternity. I was even very proud to claim that I influenced my father to buy his own dSLR at the young age of 66. Shooting a child, flowers of different forms and colors, shooting the full moon even though I miserably failed to get a good shot of it. Taking a picture of Inay with all smiles in her face at the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The other things, I’m conditioning my mind that it will actually be enjoyable as we are like starting to build family, where the most basic of things are still to be bought. From electric iron to kitchen utensils and pillows, slowly I’m sure Belle and the kids would enjoy buying those things if our cash flow would allow. But amid the tragedy, the biggest blessing is still the gift of family and the gift of friendship. And just like my reflection before the floods, at the young age of 40, I can’t ask for more. I’ve been through thick and thin (this might be the thinnest after all). I have enjoyed life as I like and want it to live. Eighteen days ago I lost almost all material things I worked hard to acquire over the years. Eighteen months or 18 years from now I can have them all, God willing, or I can lost them again, who knows. But with my family and being surrounded and blessed by well meaning friends, I will celebrate this life with humility, simplicity and fondness….