Pablo, Five Years After

Karla, 8 years old and resident of Barangay Andap, Compostela Valley recalls the early dawn of December 4 when their family and neighbours have to run away from rushing waters and rocks.  

“Gigukod gyud mi sa tubig ug bato pero nisalig mi nga tabangan sa Ginoo mao nga niabot mi diri,” she said.  “Gunit-gunit gyud mi para walay mawala ug para kung nay mahitabo mi sa imo, uban uban gihapon mi.”  (We have to run away from the rushing waters and rocks but we hinged our hope that God will protect us. We have to hold on to each other so that no one could slip away and we will be together, no  matter what happens).

Five years ago, on December 4, 2012 Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) made landfall in Mindanao and was considered one of the worst typhoons to hit the island.  The provinces of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley were mostly affected.  It left 1,067 dead and more than 800 missing.   After Typhoon Pablo, the landscape of Barangay Andap in New Bataan, Compostela Valley was transformed from what used to be a vibrant agricultural community with a thriving eco-tourism into a desolate town.

An elementary school, barangay hall, covered court, health center and part of a church were destroyed.“Naa mi mga classmates ug mga silingan nga wala pa nakita, basin natabunan na sila sa dagkong mga bato ug naa pud mi mga kaila nga nangamatay, niuban na sila sa mga bituon,” Karla added, while she and the other children in the barangay gathered around a bonfire.  (We have lost some of our classmates while some of our neighbours remain missing. There were those who died but they now count among the stars).

Community members continue to look back in dread.  They could have prepared better, had somebody explained to them what the situation was.  “Abi namo unsa ang signal no 3, abi namo ang kusog kay signal no 1, pero wala may niadto sa amo-a aron ingnan mi nga mubakwit daan ug wala pud nagsulti unsa among buhaton kung naay ingon ani nga mga panghitabo,” Lando, 46 said.

It was the same experience for Manong Inigo, 59 who said that days before the typhoon, they got the information from their relatives that a typhoon was in the offing.   “Wala’y nagpahibalo sa amo gikan sa LGU kung unsa ang himuon kung nay bagyo, o kung asa mi muadto para mag bakwit.  Ngadto ra mi sa balay, giingnan mi sa among mga paryente nga naa sa Davao nga naa lagi daw bagyo nga muabot pero wala pud mi nasayod  nga ingon adto diay ang mahitabo, wala man pud mi kabalo unsa ang buhaton,” he added.  (There was no one from the LGU who informed us on what to do during typhoons, or where to evacuate. We just learnt it from our relatives in other areas, but we do not know what to do during emergencies).

If the preparations were nil, so does was the response from government.  Assistance was slow and typhoon survivors have to beg for assistance. In some instances, survivors have to contend with foul smelling food.  Corruption marred the government assistance.

Beyond the distribution of canned goods, noodles and used clothings, survivors have expressed desire to build their homes in safer area.  They awaited the local and national government for the provision of space for them to rebuild their lives.   For many, it not only showed weak disaster preparedness, lack of environmental protection and development planning but it also showcased the corruption in goods distribution and in the building of relocation and housing units.

“Ang lababo wala pa gani na gamit, guba na.  Wala pa gihapon mi’y kuryente ug tubig. Ingo ani na lang gyud siguro mi, pobre pa sa tanang pobre,” said Nang Carla, 56 during a visit in the NHA relocation area in Davao Oriental.  “Pila pa lang ka tuig, ang among balay bungkag na,” she added.

Despite the promises of the previous administration, the relocation project was a failure.  Housing units are of substandard quality and basic facilities like water and electricity are lacking.  In New Carmen, Boston 637 housing units were abandoned.

The best level of post Typhoon response, just like disaster preparedness involves the critical involvement of the communities in policy decisions that affects them.  Where transparency is lacking, public interest will always be held hostage.

This is the time for local government units to come into terms with its priority in terms of economic development and on ensuring the sustainable use of resources while upholding public health, safety and interest.  It can enforce a no-habitation policy in critical areas as long as livelihood opportunities and proper resettlement are provided.

This is also the time for national government agencies to review its housing and resettlement plan, as well  as ensure that erring contractors and the people behind them are made accountable .  It is time for Typhoon survivors to be in the forefront of their own development, as they raise their voice against ineptness and continue to initiate ways to fend for themselves and their families.  (Email comments to roledan@gmail.com)