Yolanda survivors still mourn for the dead, face a bleak future

One year after Yolanda, the survivors including the women are praying not just for the eternal peace of their dead relatives’ souls.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

PALO, Leyte — “We love you Dhane. We will miss you,” read a tarpaulin message to Dhane over her grave at San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte. Dhane is one of the 377 who perished from the onslaught of super-typhoon Yolanda and were buried there in their village. The tarpaulin also showed a photo of a smiling Dhane. In fact, on the mound of other still seemingly newly dug earth that comprise the mass grave were the photos of those who were buried there.

Entire families from this village were buried together. In a meeting spearheaded by women’s group Gabriela in a center it built in San Joaquin, which is now in use as headquarters of local chief executives, they cited a transparency report that revealed that 377 people were found dead in the village alone, excluding the unidentified and the missing.

The village lies 200 meters more or less from the sea. Last year, huge waves battered the village, destroying and washing out everything in its path. “Water rose rapidly and stayed up to our roofs for at least two hours. Floodwaters churned, and the people had no way of knowing where the next would come from,” said Josephine Atencio, 54, housewife, a sidewalk vendor before Yolanda.

Widowed women recalled how their lives worsened after Yolanda, as they lost their husbands, children, and sources of livelihood.

The mass grave in San Joaquin, Palo is getting more visitors aside from the survivor relatives this week, as the first year since Yolanda hit the country approaches. Statues and monuments have been built in front, but the graves itself remain as humble mounds of earth on which the relatives have planted flowering shrubs. No cement nor granite nor marble tablet distinguishes each. Instead, there are just makeshift wooden crosses with the names of those buried underneath, and, because it was just after All Saints Day weekend, there were lit candles and freshly cut flowers on most graves.

(Photo by Marya Salamat / Bulatlat.com)
(Photo by Marya Salamat / Bulatlat.com)

The crosses, like the survivors’ shelter now, came from materials they managed to salvage from the debris.

There are graves of entire families, of fathers and sons, mothers and their children. In some graves the wooden crosses and the names of the dead seem to represent branches of a family tree.

Elderly women were reciting a long prayer for the dead in mournful Visayan when delegates of Gabriela and Women’s International Solidarity Mission arrived after an afternoon of group discussion with their members who are survivors living in bunkhouses.

There are many graves of children whose families have put photos of their cute, cheerful poses. Relatives have also left beside the wooden crosses bearing the names of the dead some of the children’s toys.

The mass grave in San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte already has the makings of a flower garden memorial, which is, in fact, the plan, a mother tending to the grave of her kids told us.

Olay Bonife, 40, was lighting candles on the grave of her four children as the elderly women prayed with the help of a public address sound system in front of the altar. Olay regularly visits the grave of her kids, one of the simplest among the humble mounds, without pictures in tarp or old toys. Olay has planted shrubs with pink flowers on her kids’ grave. On days she could not visit, she said, her two remaining kids drop by to light candles.

She said she is now “moving on,” as she tenderly brushed with her fingertips the lettering of the names of her children on the wooden cross. Talking of her buried kids, she said her Zeiyanne was 2, Vaughn was 6, Sofia Ashley was 8, and Ma. Earma Bonife was 13.

A couple of graves near the Bonifes, Ma. Corregidor, 59, was shielding three lit candles from the wind. She had just fixed the planted flowers on her husband Wilfredo P. Corregidor’s grave as the elderly women’s prayer drew to a close.

It was early evening of November 4, some four days short of the first year of Yolanda.

Olay Bonife, Ma. Corregidor, and other survivors who came to tend the flower garden on the graves were about to hear another mass for their dead.

Most villages in Leyte have mass graves, youth members of People Surge told bulatlat.com. “Small” mass graves have no less than 40 bodies. The condition and location varies.

One mass grave, in Calogcog, Tanuan, Leyte, is located at the center island of a street.

Another big mass grave in Palo, the one near the cathedral, which, rumors say, would be visited by Pope Francis next year, was suddenly reburied and covered in concrete.

Another mass grave behind the municipal hall of Tanauan was reportedly up for transformation into a plaza memorial.

One year after Yolanda, the survivors including the women are praying not just for the eternal peace of their dead relatives’ souls.

“We hope to have livelihood so we can have a more long term source for our daily needs,” said Adoration Triguaros, 56. She used to make nipa roofing materials called pawid. Now, she said, life is harder. There is no more source of livelihood because there are no more materials to make pawid.

“We would accept and care for any job or source of livelihood,” said a grandmother who is also a member of Gabriela. She said many survivors have also died after Yolanda, from hunger and from other injuries. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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