[Part 2 in a 3-part series]
By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
LORETO, AGUSAN DEL SUR – Before the Agusanon Manobos were displaced due to intense military operations in this province, they were Typhoon Pablo survivors who had to rebuild all over again their ravaged houses and damaged farms.
Ricky Lope, a Sitio (sub-village) leader in the village of Sabud, Loreto, Agusan del Sur, remembers the “ngoyngoy” of Typhoon Pablo that hit them last December 4.
“The wind started to grow strong around 5 am. The wind blew everywhere and grew stronger every minute,” said Lope.
Unlike in other Pablo-hit areas in the Davao region where the storm hit at dark, the villages in Loreto experienced the full force of the storm early morning of December 4.
“We can still see the skies, but then came the white clouds. White but thick enough to make the surroundings dark,” Lope said.
“Then the strongest winds, the ‘ngoyngoy’ came,” he shuddered as he spoke.
After the storm cleared, Lope said he saw “Everything was laid bare. There’s nothing more to see,” he said.
“We lost all our crops – kamote, karlang and balanghoy, the coconut trees and the Falcata trees,” he added.
All 22 houses in Sitio Mampait were destroyed, as well as in Sitio Ilang-Ilang in Barangay San Mariano.
A Barangay Ilang-Ilang resident, Romeo Libria, 43, said “(T)he strong winds easily uprooted our Falcatas,” adding that what they had to grow for six years, the super typhoon wiped off in a matter of minutes.
“When the storm stopped, you feel like breaking down seeing your crops uprooted,” he said.
“The storm came before we had the chance to drink coffee. Who would’ve thought we would miss our breakfast and lunch,” Libria said.
With their houses destroyed, most residents sought sanctuary in a concrete house of a public school teacher.
Maki Malayan, a resident of Sitio Quilancog in Brgy. Sabud came from Leyte, and said he never thought he would experience a storm in Mindanao.
“When we heard that the storm is coming, I told my neighbors to be prepared. They said a bagyo (storm) is just inside a can (Baguio oil),” he said.
“The trees fell, there was a great flood, the livestock were destroyed,” Malayan said as he never knew a storm could be this strong.
“Only two houses remained standing, all the crops were gone, the rubber, coconuts, fruits- mango, jackfruit, ube, and even the durian,” Malayan added.
A volunteer kindergarten teacher Mariche Escuadro of Kauswagan Central Elementary School recounted how she was terrified of the storm as she held her sister’s 9 month-old baby.
“It was clear but also dark. If it came at night, all of us could have died,” said Escuadro.
“We were really scared for the baby. Our roof was torn-off. We hid under the table to be safe,” she said.
The storm also destroyed the classrooms of the grade 5 and 6 students and tear off all the roofs of the school buildings.
Relief, few in between
Lope said help did not reach them since their villages lie far away in the municipal highway connecting Agusan del Sur and Compostela Valley.
He said they had to trek down to Brgy. Kauswagan were relief was being dropped off. “In our place, it takes two hours to reach there but because logs were uprooted and fell off the pathways, it took us more than five hours,” said Lope.
But just like in other provinces, the local Social Welfare office gave only five kilos of rice, sardines and noodles on the first visit and came back only after two weeks. The food relief was only good for a day, said Lope.
There was also a time when they waited for two days as relief came late.
“We borrowed rice from others because we still waited for the relief goods. When it finally arrived, we only got one kilo of rice left to bring back to our families because we had to pay for what we borrowed,” Lope said.
Malayan said that “there was no system” in distributing relief.
“It was chaotic. There were villagers who complained that people from other villages were prioritized, and a fight almost ensued,” he said.
He said that government gave them 22 kilos of nails, which they divided to the 22 houses that were destroyed by Pablo.
But Lope said he got a kilo of nails and four iron sheets but that was only enough to put-up the kitchen.
They were also given a tent good for 10 houses by an international aid agency.
While help came for the repair of their houses, they concentrated in rehabilitating their farms so that they farm all over again.
Libria was able to keep some corn seeds after harvesting them days before the storm.
“We immediately planted a day after the storm came and we harvested it last March. We also planted donated vegetables and fruit seeds,” he said.
Malayan and 15 other farmers agreed on a rotational community farm-work or lusong. While they got three to four rations from government relief, Malayan said they only planted little since fallen trees and debris were still littered the fields.
Typhoon Pablo affected the children’s schooling as the Kauswagan school served as the village’s evacuation center.
Escudero said the school held a general meeting on how to proceed with the children’s schooling while parents-teachers association (PTA) attended to immediate repairs in the schools.
Escuadro shared that parents were also worried of their kids’ education. She said that there were kids who went to school without eating their meals. Escuadro has 45 students divided into two sessions.
Escuadro said parents were worried that some kids went to school without eating their meals. She handles a class of 45 students divided into two sessions.
Up to now, the repairs of the school building have not yet started.
“The (school) division came here last June to see the damage, took some pictures, and said that the repairs will start on July. So far, no one has come yet to do the repairs,” she said.
Malayan said they were hoping that the government grant them the much-need resources to rebuild their communities affected by Typhoon Pablo.
But what came instead were the troops from the 26th Infantry Battalion that forced them to evacuate.
“The gov’t never really gave us development, only soldiers that have since abused us,” said Malayan.
With the intensive counter-insurgency campaigns in Loreto, residents once again are facing another disaster as their farms are left unattended and the education of their children disrupted.
For Libria, what they ask is simply to return to their farms or else they will starve. “We hope that the soldiers will be pulled-out and the government’s military operations stopped. Their operations have disturbed our recovery (from Pablo),” he said. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/ Reposted by )