Some of them, in fact, were in tears during the commemorative mass held at the San Roque chapel in Barangay Andap this morning attended by about 2,000 people.
Andap was the hardest hit village, where a massive debris flow that included giant boulders flattened the entire barangay, except for the church. Exactly a year ago, heavy rains brought by Typhoon Pablo spawned the flashflood that changed the landscape of this town, when the Mayo River changed its course and swathed houses and farmlands.
A total of 430 people died and 320 are still missing in the entire municipality when Pablo struck. Most of them are from Andap. All in all, Pablo claimed the lives of 1,067 Filipinos, while 834 more remain missing.
Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who officiated the mass, urged parishioners to remain hopeful and faithful.
At the marker, which bears the names of the dead and missing, some offered candles and prayers.
Among the missing are the husband and three children of Elena Pasignasigna, 74. She said she was in Davao City with two grandsons when the tragedy happened.
“I have to stay strong, I have to live for my two grandsons,” she said as she wiped tears.
Joseph Babag, 17, said he woke up before dawn today as he recalled his harrowing experience.
“I’m still feeling sad,” said Babag, who lost both parents and two siblings.
He was among 300 people who sought refuge at the two-story barangay health center here at the height of the typhoon. But then the health center building collapsed, and the people there swept away by the waters. Babag was among the nine who survived.
Commemoration of faith
“This is not like any other commemoration. But this a commemoration of faith,” said Valles during the mass at the newly-renovated San Roque chapel.
The archbishop said that many of survivors may have asked on that fateful day last year: “Where was God? What have God done to us? Why did He let this happen?”
Valles admitted that it is very difficult to answer.
Maybe things are clearer now, that God really didn’t abandon us. He is with us in sorrow and pain, which we still feel in our hearts until this time,” he said.
Valles pointed out that there are many factors in some tragedies that are caused by man. “And that made this world quite imperfect. The tragedy was man’s doing. Deeds that are against the designs of God.”
New Bataan parish priest Edgar Tuling believes that the denudation of the forests because of massive logging and mining may have contributed to the disaster.
“One big lesson that we have learned is to take good care of our environment,” he told MindaNews. “Closer to nature, is closer to God,” he added.
Stage of recovery
Mayor Lorenzo Balbin said that it is still painful to remember what happened in his town. But he urged his constituents not to lose hope to be able to fully recover from the tragedy.
“We were given this Tower of Hope to remind us to remain hopeful amid this tragedy,” said the mayor, whose family was displaced when the flashflood hit the town proper.
He lauded the effort of the people to rise from devastation. “Let us unite to rebuild New Bataan,” the mayor told the crowd in a short program held beside the old riverbed.
Valles further reminded the residents of this town: “If this is a celebration of faith, He walked in our midst, shared our joys, shared our sorrows, shared our tears, shared with our laughter.”
“The power of love, brotherhood and sharing is far powerful than the tragedies in this life. We are thankful to God that our hearts are now burning with hope. Us who survived, let us help each other so we can rise on our feet again,” he said.
Tower of Hope
After the mass, Valles led the blessing and inauguration of the 45-foot “Tower of Hope,” a monument for those who perished in the flashflood, in front of the chapel.
The “Tower of Hope,” which was donated by several individuals, was designed by Davao City artist Kublai Milan. Made of steel, the tower resembles a flame.
Present in the commemoration were Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Mercy Tuazon, Compostela Valley Gov. Arturo Uy, Rep. Maricar Zamora and several government officials from the province and nearby cities.