DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 December) – Playing too much computer games makes some sense, sometimes.
When I got a message from Maj. Jacob Obligado, chief of the 10th Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion, saying that as of 8 a.m. on Thursday, they had so far filled up 18 M35 trucks with relief aid for flashflood victims in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, the PC game Company of Heroes flashed in my mind, particularly the “Red Ball Express Mission,” which is based on history.
The renowned Red Ball Express was the codename for a massive logistics operation of the Allied Forces during World War II in Europe involving about 6,000 trucks and at least 400,000 tons of ammunition, food and fuel.
The huge convoy had become an easy target by German forces but with Germany’s reduced air power after the breakout of D-Day in June 1944, attacks on the convoy became rare.
But unlike the wartime Red Ball Express, which ran for four months, this version of massive transport of supplies was much smaller and carried not war materiel but precious relief aid for the flashflood victims.
The last time I saw a massive military convoy – with trucks towing several howitzers – was in February 2003 in Pikit, North Cotabato, when a battalion of Philippine Marines was deployed during the Buliok war.
Minus the howitzers, the 25-vehicle convoy on Friday still looked like a massive military movement from a distance. But as you get closer, you’d notice the trucks were filled with relief goods instead of battle-weary soldiers.
As Ruby and I arrived at the Eastern Mindanao Command at around 7p.m., 20 trucks were already loaded with relief goods and some goods were still arriving.
The 10th Infantry Division consolidated the donated goods coming from several individuals and organizations. Most of the goods were gathered in less than 48 hours all over the region. And even until Thursday evening, more aid was arriving.
While we were at the military camp, a church-based organization arrived with boxes of medicines, at least a hundred gallons of bottled water and other assorted goods.
Obligado ask the lady who brought the goods if she could produce a banner of their organization to be dangled on the M35 truck.
“No Sir, we don’t need to let the people know that we are helping,” she replied.
But the Army officer clarified that they wanted to let public know that these goods came from different sectors so that it will also encourage other groups to help the people in CDO and Iligan.
“Para malaman ng tao na hindi ito sa amin and we are just facilitating this effort,” he added. The effort is dubbed “Pagtinabangay Caravan Alang sa CDO ug Iligan,” a public-private partnership facilitated by the 10ID.
At a hall where the goods were temporarily stocked, some boxes were yet to be loaded to the trucks.
Among the donated goods were several boxes from St. Mary’s College in Tagum City wrapped just like Christmas gifts, sacks of rice from the local government of Mabini, boxes of papaya, sacks of used clothing, boxes of medicine and noodles.
But Obligado relayed that they received requests from their counterparts in CDO and Iligan to send kitchen utensils, too, for the victims.
Call of duty
With the aid of a lamppost, Capt. Suharto Macabuat led a group of new soldiers in loading the relief goods into the M35 trucks.
One soldier was using the built-in flashlight of his cellphone as they loaded the boxes of relief goods.
Macabuat told MindaNews that he is a flood victim as well as his house in Barangay Tubod, Iligan was partially damaged.
Luckily, his wife and son are in Manila and his nieces, who were the ones staying in their house, were not hurt in the flood.
“My house has a second floor, so they were able to save themselves. Because the water current was not so strong because my house was on a higher ground, but my TV was damaged,” he said.
Macabuat disclosed that about 10 soldiers among the two escort platoons are also flood victims and will visit their families right after the relief operation. For him and his men, it will be their first time to visit their families in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
“I could not say how many are from Iligan but most of the escorts are my fellow Iliganons. But we will assist first in distributing the relief items before visiting our families. That’s our call of duty,” he said.
He added that those soldiers whose families have been affected by the flood in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were the ones selected to escort the convoy so that they can visit their loved ones.
Army escorts flood victims too
The following day, early morning of Friday, we returned to the Eastern Mindanao Command for the sendoff ceremony of the contingent. As we arrived at the camp, three dump trucks from the city government loaded with relief goods also arrived at 6:30a.m.
As we were taking pictures around the row of trucks, I noticed a stern-faced soldier who seemed to lack sleep. When I asked him if his family was a flood victim too, the soldier promptly said yes.
“I will visit my parents in the coastal village of Barangay Tambakan,” 32-year-old Cpl. Rene Barot told MindaNews.
His father is a retired soldier while his mother is a retired teacher. Both are 64 years old.
Barot, a Scout Ranger, said he learned about the flashflood dawn of December 18 after his father sent him a text message while they were on an operation up in the mountains somewhere in Compostela Valley.
He also shared that his comrade in the platoon, a native of Iligan too, cried upon receiving the message from his family that his six carabaos had been swept away by the flood.
The Scout Ranger added that his parents did not evacuate because they had nowhere to go since water was everywhere.
“Nag-abot na ang hightide ug ang baha sa suba, wala na sila paadtuan. Mao to na ang akong mama naghigda na lang daw sa katre kay paabot na lang siya malumos hantud mamatay. Wala naman paadtuan,” (The tide and flood met, they had nowhere to go. That’s why my mother just lay on the bed awaiting her death through drowning. There was nowhere else to go) said Barot.
But the water never got higher than their knees. The flood left knee-deep mud inside their house, he said.
The Army corporal said that the 20-year-old adopted son of his parents is now helping them to remove the mud out of their house.
Barot said his twin brother Renan, also a Scout Ranger in Negros Occidental, had already visited his parents few days ago.
“Dapat mag-abot kami sa Iligan, pero naa pa man kami sa bukid pag-uli niya,” (We should have met in Iligan, but we were still in the mountains when he went home) he said.
The last time he was with his parents was two years ago since his wife and son are living in Tagum City.
Barot said he had no plans to visit his parents this year because of the expensive fares and long bus rides.
Like some of his fellow soldiers whose families are flood victims too, they will help distribute the relief goods first then visit their families for a few hours before heading back to Davao.
But Barot added he may bring his family to Iligan to spend the New Year’s Eve with his parents.
In his sendoff message, 10ID chief Lt. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero said: “The sight of the dead bodies, the agonizing survivors and the devastated environment is very appalling that even those with a heart of stone will probably shed a tear and offer a helping hand.”
Tabaquero asked a minute of silence for the victims of the flashflood before handing a cash donation of at least P20,000 to Obligado.
Of the total amount, P15,000 were coins collected by the volunteers from tricycle and habal-habal drivers, vendors and other individuals in Maco, Compostela Valley.
At 7a.m., the first 11-truck contingent of the 25-vehicle convoy rolled out of the camp.
Obligado said they decided to divide the convoy into two groups with a 30-minute interval to avoid traffic congestion.
The first group to leave was bound for Iligan and was headed by Macabuat. While the second 14-truck convoy left at 7:30a.m. and was headed by Obligado.
The convoy was expected to arrive in Cagayan de Oro around 7p.m.
Upon arrival, Obligado said, each truckload of relief goods will be received by various groups.
The trucks were fully loaded leaving only little room for two to three soldiers and just enough for them to sit with their legs sticking out of the rear gate of the vehicles.
Several residents were seen waving to the convoy as it passed by the diversion road in Buhangin, and the soldiers also waved back and flashed the peace sign. (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)