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Archive for December 2013

I feel guilty whenever I want to spend money to celebrate the holidays knowing millions out there in Visayas, in places I’ve been in Samar and Leyte are still without homes or proper food to eat everyday.

As Sir Gerry Lirio told me, I need to be debriefed. I refused to accept that I was traumatized by my experience because that was tame compared with what the other journalists had been through.

Still my Christmas seems dysfunctional already. I would probably need counseling.

Palo Cathedral with its roof torn up and peeled by the 300-kph winds of Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ (Haiyan). Photo by Likha Cuevas-Miel


Catbalogan Pier


…But I know things won’t change
About how we feel, how life goes on
And it feels so strange
And so the light fades away
Try, try, try as I may…              

                                                                —Phil Collins, “Everyday”

And for as long as I live, I will never forget the things that I’ve seen the two weeks ago. Some of my photos are beautiful and at the same time haunting. The truth in those pictures could never be hidden but the raw emotions could only be felt when you’re there. Photos could tug at your heartstrings but it’s different when you feel the pain in the air.


MARABUT, Samar – Coconut trees that once stood proudly on the mountains at the southern tip of Samar island were strewn all over the barren landscape like matchsticks after Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ went island hopping in central Philippines last month.

Most coastal towns in Samar and Leyte affected by the worst typhoon that has hit the country rely on fishing and copra for livelihood. Along with their houses, the fishermen and coconut farmers also lost their fishing boats and hectares upon hectares of coconut trees.

Nothing is left of the coconut plantation (Marabut, Samar)

Engr. Judarico V. Sabit, Marabut’s municipal planning and development coordinator, said their town would not be short of coco lumber to build homes again but the problem is the lack of machine to cut down the trees. He said representatives of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) have visited the area to see the state of the local industry after the typhoon ravaged the plantations.

“Ipapa-slice [ng PCA] yung mga [puno] ng niyog para gawing make-shift na bahay ng may-ari [ng mga puno],” Sabit said.

Given the extent of the damage to the plantations, Marabut is proposing to PCA to replace all the coconuts, standing or not,

Aside from fishing and copra, this town is also relying on tuba–a kind of coconut wine, which I haven’t tried yet–for livelihood.

Coconut farmers and fishermen augment their meager incomes with rice and rootcrops like cassava, gabi (yam), and banana. Save for the rootcrops, all the others have perished in the typhoon.

According to a November 20 press release from the Department of Agriculture:

“PCA has already committed 300 chains saw to be used for clearing operations. Each equipment will require two operators to be paid P300 each per day. A portable saw-mill will also be moved to the PCA yard in Tacloban.”

It’s tough if you’re poor. In Catbalogan, we were told of stories of families belonging to the middle class being able to escape the inhuman conditions in Tacloban and other neighboring towns via their own vehicles or paying for any other means of land transportation. Of Chinese businessmen calling up private choppers or what-have-you to airlift them out of the area. Of people with broken windshields, willing to pay P500/L just to be able to get out of the post-typhoon misery.

But what about those who cannot afford to even buy nails to fix their homes and are sleeping under canvasses?

Poblacion, Marabut, Samar

People of Marabut are left with nothing to pick up pieces of their lives. About 90 percent of the fishing boats here were lost. On the first week after ‘Yolanda’ hit, representatives from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) have come to the area to check the damage wrought by the typhoon but they have yet to hear whether they would be given new boats to help them get back on their feet.

“Walang trabaho, walang income. Syempre yung inaasahan mo nawala,” Sabit told me. “Kahit maliit ang nakukuha pero kung mahal ang bayad, narerecover din. Pero ito [after ‘Yolanda’]–wala.”

He said that each pump boat costs P15,000 but that is for the cost of the body only, without the motor. Paddle boats cost P2,000 but that can only be used in weaving in and out of mangrove areas and not suitable for fishing in deeper areas. Fishing nets cost P20,000 each unit.

At those prices, going back to fishing almost seemed impossible for Marabut fishermen.

“Nagbigay na ang DA dati ng motorized banca, bago dumating yung bagyo. Tapos bumagyo…” Sabit said in a voice that betrayed his inner thought: “Sayang!”.

My husband, who grew up in Catbalogan, talked to a kababayan manufacturer of fiberglass pumpboats and said fiberglass boats can be made for P10,000 only, whereas boats made from marine plywood cost P15,000 to make. The boatmaker said the ones made of fiberglass last much longer than the wooden versions.

This boatmaker confided that he already saw the specifications set by the government but “they were all wrong”, based from his professional wisdom. That’s why he would rather make boats for the private groups who would want to donate to fellow Warays than follow the government specs.

There are kind-hearted private groups out there who are now raising funds to help these fishermen get boats.


MANILA, December 16 – A member of the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) has been talking with BFAR about the distribution of pumpboats. He said BFAR cannot accept private money donations but can direct donors to non-government organizations that can help make and distribute these boats. According to the agency, the boats will be made in SOCCSKSARGEN ( South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City) area then the NGOs will help identify the areas for distribution.

TANAUAN, Leyte – When I asked Ms. Penelope, wife of Tanauan mayor Pelagio Tecson, Jr., what were the things that they desperately need at the moment, she replied without batting an eyelash: pako [nails].

Tanauan was one of the ill-fated towns the was on the path of the typhoon’s eye. To be precise, the eye of the strongest typhoon ever recorded passed through the towns of Tanauan and Tolosa, both in Northern Leyte. The damage there is unimaginable–akin to the Hiroshima bombing and Fukushima tsunami combined.

Tanauan town hall

On the surface, it seemed like Tacloban sustained the most damage since it is a big city–the center of commerce and trade in Region 8–with so many structures to obliterate. But I felt the deepest sadness, the kind that pierces your bones, in Tanauan. I couldn’t explain why but all I knew that after leaving the town, I suddenly had the urge to down a bottle of vodka.

Commerce is alive and kicking in downtown Tacloban

I felt the stirrings of life in Tacloban upon seeing signs of commerce, of people starting to shop again along the bangketa [sidewalks]. In contrast, Tanauan had yet to start propping itself up. Penelope Tecson (the mayor was out in one of the severely affected barangays when we dropped by the town hall) said her kababayan would only be able feel that they had already reached the second stage, which is the post-disaster reconstruction, if they have proper roofs over their heads.

They currently seek protection from the elements under the toldas that aid agencies had been handing out to the survivors of Typhoon ‘Yolanda’.

With whatever meager resources that it had, the local government of Tanauan managed to purchase GI sheets for homes demolished by ‘Yolanda’. Unfortunately it didn’t have enough to buy nails to secure the newly purchased yeros.

“Tuwing umuulan nga, nakakatrauma, lahat kami natatakot na baka mangyari na naman [yung nangyari nung bagyo],” Penelope said.

And those panic attacks happen everyday since it rains in the afternoons until early evenings in Leyte and Samar.

Realistically, going back to school is impossible since there are virtually no classrooms left (and those that are serviceable are few), teachers are ill-prepared and digesting lessons are the farthest thing on the children’s minds. But the mayor’s wife said they had to comply with the Department of Education’s order to start classes on the first week of December to give a sense of normalcy to children and their parents.

“You know, so that they can see their classmates again,” Penelope said. To see each other again, account for who were lost, share their experiences with one another and be together in grief, I added to myself.

However, it’s hard to pretend that things are back to normal if you do not have the basic tools such as pen and paper.

“There are well-meaning people here, the aid workers, who were asking for materials like desks but we said we don’t have any left,” she said in exasperation.

This is the same story in almost every town ravaged by ‘Yolanda’. Salvacion Agudera, a staff at the Sangguniang Bayan in Carigara, Leyte, has been seeking donors who would be kind enough to finance their first batch of school supplies that would still be purchased in Cebu. She said it is pitiful to see school children, trying their best to cope, without any pen. Or paper.

The hole in the wall used to be a blackboard. (Brgy. San Antonio, Basey, Samar)

It might seem trivial, wanting to have pen and paper in the middle of a disaster area but if you’ve been there, you would wish for something that would give you hope that life can go on after the world nearly ended. And that pako and ballpen would spark that hope.

Likha Cuevas-Miel, InterAksyon.com

MANILA – The Katbalaoganon Foundation, Inc. (KFI), in cooperation with the Maybank Group, is holding “Operation: BULIG KITÁ (Let’s help): A Musical-Comedy Show for the Benefit of Typhoon Yolanda Victims in Samar on Dec. 8, 7:30pm at K-Pub BBQ at The Fort Strip.

The concert features Regine Velasquez, Isay Alvarez, Lolita Carbon, Isabella Gonzales, Nanette Inventor, Jacqui Magno, Richard Merck, Radha, Ka Roger and Friends, Jon Santos, Judy Ann Santos, Robert Seña, Tessie Tomas, Lou Veloso, Jessa Zaragosa and is directed by Leo Rialp.

Tessie Tomas’ family is from Catbalogan, Samar and is also the current president of KFI. Jessa Zaragosa is married to Dingdong Avanzado whose family also hails from Catbalogan.

“Over the past two weeks, KFI has been able to send three truckloads of relief goods to Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan victims in the Samar towns of Basey and Marabut through the generosity of our many donors and volunteers and in coordination with Fr. Cesar Aculan of St. Bartholomew Parish, Catbalogan City, who distributes the repacked goods to the beneficiaries. Together, we have modestly met some of the victims’ emergency needs, such as rice, bottle water, canned goods,
medicine, clothes and candles,” KFI said in a statement.

The proceeds of this show will go to community rehabilitation, including building temporary shelters and eventually more lasting structures.

“In truth, this is a long process which will involve partnerships with other concerned groups, but KFI commits to do what it can to uplift the current situation of affected Samareños,” the group added.

Tickets available at K-Pub (847-1961), KFI Office (912-3835), Toby’s (651-7700), Shinjuku (478-5704) & Stacy’s (952-6843).
₱10000, ₱5000, ₱3000 and ₱1000 (free seating for each section, so please arrive early)
For more info, visit http://www.katbalaoganonfi.com or call (0917) 584-9126.

CATBALOGAN, Samar – Volunteers and donors told me that whenever they arrive in an area devastated by Typhoon ‘Yolanda’, they’re often in a quandary when it comes to choosing what formal channel will they use in the distribution of relief goods.

But more often than not, private donors, especially those who are familiar with the locality, choose church-based organizations because they move faster and have no biases in prioritizing who should receive help. Locals told me that mayors tend to favor those areas that have 1) helped them win the elections; and 2) where they live or where their minions live.

If the donors are locals–such as the ones I have accompanied on my trip in one of the towns in Samar–they tend to do the relief distribution themselves since the local government units (LGUs) are crippled anyway or they can penetrate the remotest barangays that they have identified sans the politics. Louie Guillem of the Catbalogan Volunteer Firefighter Brigade has been asking the townsfolk when was the last relief has been given to them. As expected, the distribution was uneven–a similar story in areas we’ve been to.

The relief truck of Burublig: Tindog Waraynon in San Antonio, Basey, Samar

Big foreign donors, on the other hand, do not have any choice but to deal with the local politics. They had to course through everything through the LGUs because they do not know the area and they had to do everything through official channels.

Manuel Orejola, the Basey municipal development planning coordinator, related to me the USAID had donoted 1,000 units of mosquiteros (mosquito nets). Up until that moment, these were still stuck in the town hall’s makeshift storage room because the munisipyo still could not figure out which of the 23 barangays deserve these much-needed items (Ga-kalabaw ang lamok sa tabi ng dagat, residents told me). They advised the donors that 1,000 mosquiteros are not enough so they need to choose. First they passed on the responsibility of distributing these to USAID but of course the organization had to delegate this job to the LGU because obviously these Americans are not familiar with the place. Then Orejola said they finally settled on giving these to the victims in the poblacion, where some of the most affected barangays were.

From the way things were going, I could guess how many days have gone (or still counting) before these mosquiteros could be put to good use. Dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases are just lurking in every corner.

I could understand why they needed to use the master list of residents of every barangay in a town. Yes,  they needed to make sure that there would be no duplication and that everyone has been given relief items. But remember, the barangay elections was just a recent event and reigning barangay captains know who had voted for them, or so the volunteers and donors tell me. And in most rural areas, everyone knows everybody.

Speaking of barangy elections, I was told that winning barangay captains in a particular town demanded to be sworn-in first before they could do anything as village leaders. Among the rubble and roofless homes, these officials took their oath of service complete with all its pomp and glamor.

I may not know what it is to be an elected official nor be a victim of the worst typhoon disaster in recent memory so probably I cannot say what is right or wrong in these circumstances. All I know is, the mosquiteros must be distributed at once.

Working and staying in disaster zones is no piece of cake. You work long hours, face hunger, fatigue, mosquitoes, uncomfortable sleeping accommodations and on top of that you have to deal with inefficiencies and politics–conditions that could wear down ordinary people like me. (That’s why the aid agencies and volunteers–local or foreign–have my respect forever).

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Norwegian contingent was among the groups that responded to the calls for medical aid in the towns of Basey and Marabut, Samar two weeks after Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ (International Code Name: Haiyan) hit Central Philippines on November 8.

The ICRC took over the management of the badly damaged and crippled district hospital in Basey. These Norwegians also stationed themselves in Balangiga, which is already in Eastern Samar and is two towns away from Basey. They also have a half-way “tent city” somewhere in Marabut, the last town of Western Samar.

Team InterAksyon had a picnic in what seemed to be a beach resort that was completely destroyed by Yolanda and where the Norwegian ICRC set up camp.

DSCF1756They have a hi-tech porta-let (the zip-up tent-toilet), portable lavatory and a solar-shower, which i think collects water from the atmosphere to provide water for bathing, and another solar-powered thing that collects water for drinking.

The view and the location is perfect for our Scandinavian friends. It’s like living in a tropical paradise complete with coconut trees, warm sand, and beautiful sunsets everyday. If only the circumstances were different…

While we were having lunch, we got a chance to chat with two of the ICRC-Norway’s supervisors (and for the life of I cannot remember how to spell their names so I won’t attempt to write it here).

“Nice view you have here. I think this used to be a beach resort,” I said.

“Yes. We chose well so we can encourage our staff to stay longer,” he replied.

Marabut has had several beach resorts dotting its coastline, which are now wiped out by the typhoon. The town is also blessed with limestone/rock formations, reminiscent of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, which are still picturesque post-Yolanda.

Photo courtesy of Samartours.blogspot.com

Our Norwegian friend here told me that the owner of the beach resort offered them the place so they can have somewhere to unwind after work and where they can appreciate the beauty that has enticed local and foreign tourists alike to come to Marabut. Back in Basey, Olav Aasland, the Red Cross team leader in the town’s make-shift district hospital, told me they plan to stay for 4 months and hopefully by that time the Department of Health could already take over the healthcare needs of the Samarnons.

I think this resort…

Photo courtesy of Samartours.blogspot.com

…is now this:

And another aid agency is also camping out here.

So I hope our friends from ICRC and other agencies enjoy (albeit I know it’s rather difficult under the current circumstance) the raw beauty of Samar.

life in business journalism

crazy. exciting. boring to some but hey, you get to understand the world better when you're a business journalist. you learn to be patient with tons of documents, make sense of numbers and charts. all geeky stuff. this is my story, behind the scenes.
December 2013
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