We are workers, not master builders: First 100 Days after Pablo

Balay Mindanaw DR Update No. 4/2013
March 26, 2013


Dear Partners and Friends, 

Today is exactly 100 days after we decided to journey with the survivors of Barangay Ban-ao, Baganga in Davao Oriental. HonorableMeraAdlawan-Ching, the courageous lady Punong Barangay of Ban-ao cited that it was on 16 December 2012, on a Sunday afternoon that they had their barangay assembly with us, with around 200 residents. It was their first ever formal community affair after Pablo; this, aside from the usual gatherings they had during distribution of relief goods.

This significantly marked the official engagement between BMFI and Barangay Ban-ao…

Flashbacks: Why with Barangay Ban-ao, Baganga?

On 7 December 2012, an on-ground assessment of the damage and loss caused by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) was conducted by a team headed by Kaloy and Ayi.We would like to share again the full report of the team as this eventually facilitated the taking off of the journey:

Just arrived home from 4am to 4am or 24-hour travel that took us to Cateel, Davao Oriental and back. 

We decided to do a quick on-the-ground assessment of the damage caused by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha). At 4am, we took off from Cagayan de Oro and reached Cateel, Davao Oriental at about 3pm. As we drew deeper into the areas hardest hit by the disaster, we began to realize the magnitude of devastation.

We saw entire communities totally wiped out as we passed through the highway between Trento, Bislig, Lingig , Boston and Cateel  in  the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental.  We met and saw people with blank expressions on their faces and of desperation and hopelessness.  Hectares of coconuts, bananas, and other trees fallen. Powerlines cut off. No communication lines.

In Cateel, we immediately found Col. Kris Mortela, Battalion Commander of 67IB, Philippine Army who is now playing a key role in the disaster response operations.  He introduced us to Cateel Mayor Nunez who himself is injured,  the municipal council and officials, the Chief of Staff of Governor Cora Malanyaon, and the Provincial Health Officer who is one of the only two doctors attending to the victims in the three municipalities.

The forty-two barangays (villages) in the three hardest hit municipalities of Boston, Cateel and Baganga have been practically flattened to the ground, with barely any structure left standing.  As of this afternoon, 261 have died, with hundreds injured.

In our conversations with the key people mentioned above, they identified the following immediate needs:

1.  Temporary shelter such as tents, etc.
2. Food and drinking water
3. Medicines for the injured particularly anti-tetanus sera, antibiotics and other materials needed to treat injuries

Our proposed immediate response for BalayMindanaw:

1.  Immediately send tents and rolls of tent materials (plastic sheets), food and medicines
2. For BalayMindanaw to focus its DR on the 3 municipalities, in coordination with the other area teams of MINCODE

3. For the BM DR Team to be based in Baganga in close coordination with Col. Mortela
4. Intensify resource mobilization


Then and there, we immediately responded to calls for assistance in Baganga, distributing some medicine, food, clothing, hygiene kits and kitchen wares. Transition teams of volunteers and staff have been deployed to work at the Incident Command Post (ICP) or at the Camp of the 67IB with Col. Kris Mortela, the Commanding Officer.

After waves of distribution in partnership with the ICP, we decided to focus our resources on one barangay.We chose Barangay Ban-ao in part, because this was one of the outer Barangays of Baganga, at that time receiving less attention than the more accessible barangays; in part because it was referred to us by Col. Kris Mortela of the ICP; and in part, because of the dynamic leadership of the Punong Barangay. This, aside from our emergency response provided in solidarity to some civil society partners and friends working in the municipalities of Lingig, Surigao del Sur and Sta. Josefa, Agusan del Sur.

We thought of instead spreading ourselves too thinly, we better do the emergency response –the community-based way. After all, barangay-based and barangay-focused development, disaster response and peacebuilding work is one of our key strengths.

In one of our first meetings, Kaloy reminded that we operate with very limited resources just like the many other individuals and groups that are responding to the disaster.  Thus, we do not intend to respond to every need, everytime and everywhere.  Complementation through community-based collaboration and cooperation is therefore a necessity – with small parts contributing to the whole.

Oneeye-openingexperience for every BM member was the first assessment and planning activity held with some volunteers held at O’Carmelites Parish, San Francisco, Agusandel Sur. There seemed a shared feeling of melancholy and hopelessness growing while comparing the first wave of support extended vis-à-vis the extent of the devastation: “moraogwala pa gihapo’ynahimobisan pa samganahatagna”. Kaloy, while listening to the sharing, shared thisprayer of Archbishop Romero that helped put everything into perspective:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

This guided the team to pursue the response work in synergy with the other humanitarian organizations and agencies both locally-and internationally-based; counting on small parts contributing to the whole…

Setting up temporary shelters, addressing basic needs

We then began with the clean-up drive and clearing of debris that abound everywhere.We provided cash for work, and as price monitors have not been readily made by the concerned agencies that time, we met some extra-challenging experiences that really tested our courage and patience. The most unforgettable was paying up unconscionable price for the use of chainsaw units and a pay loader just to meet the target of facilitating the movement of 100 families, especially those with totally damaged houses, with pregnant and lactating mothers, persons with disabilities and the elderly before Christmas. However, to no avail. The waiting has even gone beyond the New Year’s Eve for all the target families to be in the tents.

Although food is the biggest need in the area, our immediate material response on seeing the devastation wrought by Pablo was to bring salvageable tents left over from Sendongand used clothing since these were the most readily available items. As 95% of infrastructure was damaged, all this is not enough considering the magnitude of the devastation. Rolls of plastic sheets (trapal)had to be purchased to augment the need for roofing, especially so that before December ended, Typhoon Quinta again came with heavy rains taking the same path of Pablo.

Disaster Aid International (DAI) came with 100 brand new tents two weeks after Pablo and these were given to the 100 families that passed the criteria set by the core leaders to avoid further conflicts,and considering the number of families that need shelter even temporary ones at that time.

With your trust and confidence in what we are doing, we were able to generate food donations in the form of assorted canned goods, noodles, sacks of rice, coffee, sugar and the like. Distribution of goods during the first weeks after Pablo had been done thrice a week. Non-food items in the form of kitchen utensils and implements, mosquito nets, blankets, mats, slippers have also been distributed together with the food items or depending on the availability of donations that came at hand. Thanks to all those friends and partners who really made way to Ban-aojust to personally hand their support to the tent community residents and those home-based.

The first medicines that we brought to the area were tetanus sera as these were mostly needed at the time, and these went even to the entire Baganga and Cateel. Medical missions were facilitated and medicines administered; special thanks to Dr. Ruben Cagape, who all the way from Saranganivolunteered and became our regular doctor on medical missions. Officers and member nurses of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) also came and slept with the community for a number of days.Also commendable was the untiring support from psycho-social experts of XU, ADDU, CDO Campus Ministry and other inter-faith dialogues who also slept with us at the Principal’s Office of Ban-ao Elementary School, the only surviving structure left at that time, was touching and commendable. Singing, dancing and playing sessions with the children were so praiseworthy. All these led us to continue these sessions to include the feeding program withsome 300 pupils from Grades I to VI at two-day intervals.

Four hundred ten (410) shelter repair kits were given; this in the form of 12 G.I. sheets, 1 plain sheet and 5 kilos of assorted nails. We also constructed communal kitchens and communal latrines for each of the four sites comprising the entire tent community.

Balay Ban-ao, a community center where the barangay local government unit can continue its regular barangay affairs and meetings, and which will also serve as our small warehouse and staff house has been built. It was inaugurated on 18 February in time also of the dedication day wherein all inter-faith groups had their shares of prayer – pleading for them becoming more resilient, more prepared, more united between now and in the coming days.

Moving onwards

Need for permanent relocation site and permanent housing.

In the latest meeting with the tent and barangay leaders, at least 5 hectares of land is needed to accommodate the permanent housing of the barangay including the needed infrastructures for the barangay site. One potential landowner of a 4.7 hectares of land has agreed to sell the area, however, complying documents for absolute sale is quite complicated. The Office of the Governor can provide funds for the purchase, however everything has to be secured before the Election Ban starts. This again is another challenging thing,one government policy that we see needs to be reconsidered. All humanitarian related assistance should not be barred by any existing policies such as the election bans as this hampers immediate recovery and rehabilitation among disaster survivors.We strongly believe this a violation to the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence that deliberately imply:

Humanity: Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for human beings.

Neutrality: Humanitarian actors are not motivated by political interests. The humanitarian aid that they provide should not be manipulated and diverted to serve any political, personal, racial, religious, ideological or any other interest.

Impartiality: Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions.

Independence: Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

Need for disaster-resilient livelihood options.

Cash crops and short-term incomes are challenging for the period under consideration. Fishing boats and fishing gears, seedlings of coconut trees and other fruit-bearing trees, peanuts, camote cuttings, and short-term vegetables would help much to the community’s rebuilding back for the better.

Finally, thank you for the unconditional support and love shared to our brothers and sisters affected by Typhoon Pablo. May we continue this inspiring conviction not only in times of actual disasters or emergency response but also in supporting sustainable interventions such as disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation, and reconstruction and recovery.




Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email