DINAGAT DIARY, Day 1: Shared Humanity

January 2, 2022

After celebrating the feast of the three kings, at the different barrio chapels, I finally found the time to wrap my belongings as I start my long journey to the Dinagat Islands. I am totally grateful to Bro. Boy and Bro. Vener, my Sunday buddies / lay ministers who accompany me to the chapels, as sacristan and driver, respectively. They did not hesitate to volunteer to load the remaining seven sacks of rice (packed into 10 kilos each) and some assorted clothes. 

When we tried to purchase large plastic cellophanes to wrap those sacks, the owner of the store, upon learning that I was going to Dinagat, just gave them for free to me. Despite the heavy rains, I still feel that God has provided me sunshine through those people who went out of their way to extend their help.

It was just last December 30 when I decided to be the advance party to Dinagat for the relief operations of the Diocese of Tandag, dubbed as ‘Duyog-Bakwit.’

I was left with no choice actually for we are only four in the core group: one is our Bishop, another is in-charge of the command center, and the other, finance. 

I wanted to go immediately after the meeting but I was constrained still by the celebrations of the succeeding days. I kept repeating the appeal for help to my parishioners while I know that some of them suffered, too, the wrath of the typhoon. 

Just this morning, after my last try, a lady approached me after the mass and handed me her cash donation and some food for my travel. People become generous when they realize how much grace they receive from God.

The author, Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray (R) with Fr. Richard Limbaga (L).

I went to the Pastoral Center then in Tandag to fetch my travel buddy, Fr. Richard Limbaga who will turn out later to be the driver. Since there is no network signal in my parish assignment, the travel is my only time to communicate with my contacts in order to secure our space in the ship for Dinagat tomorrow. We travelled to Butuan to fetch Sr. Len who hails from Cagdianao town in Dinagat Islands where ‘Odette’ made its second landfall (after Siargao) at 3:30 p.m. on December 16. 

She was there last week and her information is very important as regards to the nature of my trip. It was night already when we reached Butuan and Sr.Len accompanied us to the mall to buy the remaining things we needed and eventually also have our much needed dinner there. 

Along the way, from Baan to the City, we discussed the reality on ground and the possible execution of our interventions. Bishop Raul Dael is coming to Dinagat together with the able-bodied clergy of Tandag, together with the medical team and some professionals for psycho-social interventions. 

Two trucks of winged van and three trucks of Isuzu Elf are being prepared, too, to bring the goods including the very much sought after tents, kettles, mats, blankets, clothes, especially the undies.

Fr. Richard and I were already tired when we finally found our seat for meals. It was pizza, pasta and wings, a treat from a generous nun. I did not enjoy the meal at first because I had not secured yet my place in the ship tomorrow. I pulled many strings so-to-speak to be able to board the ship but to no avail yet. However, in the middle of our gracious meal, my phone rang and I literally made the sign of the cross before answering it. And voila!! My appeal was granted! Thanks to Vice President Robredo’s people, so patient and efficient. Needless to say, the rest of the meal went superb! Deogratias!

Wake up call tomorrow would be at 3:30 a.m. while departure time will be at 4 a.m. I feel today like one of the Magi who journeyed through uncertainty except for a star. The light brought by the Child Jesus has continued to illumine my way on a piecemeal basis. The Lord hears the cry of the people of Dinagat. When the Lord comes, He does not delay. In this moment of time, we are asked by the Lord to go beyond our complacency and embrace life to the fullest by being instruments of Christ’s love and goodness.

Day 1 and ½: Shared Humanity 

January 3, 2022

We left Butuan at 4:20 a.m. and arrived in Surigao City at almost 7 a.m. The second phase of our journey today is a sea travel from Surigao City to San Jose, Dinagat Islands. The last phase of the journey hopefully is to visit all the six municipalities / parishes of the Island and make a rapid appraisal of the whole situation. This will be a long day. I am writing right now on the boat, trying to take advantage of the signal.

It was still dark when we left Butuan and we took our time talking about many things. Sr. Len shared about how their small hut beside their house was wiped out. Fr. Richard shared about his experience when he first arrived in Surigao City a few days after the typhoon. We were already in Santiago (Agusan del Norte) when we glimpsed the first light. Then we started to see the devastation brought by the typhoon. Power is still out. The highway is littered with garbage, felled electric posts and in some parts, landslides. Nearing Surigao City, I started to make sense of the initial report of Surigao Bishop Antonieto Cabajog: ‘Calling Odette a super typhoon is an understatement.’

In the city, we took our breakfast at the market with reasonably priced food. Sr. Len went to buy some meat and vegetables while Fr. Ritchel bought some ice. We paid a courtesy visit to Fr. Denish, the rector of the Cathedral and at the same time, the Social Action Director of the Diocese. We had the chance there to attend to our personal necessities. Before going to the port, I met Ma’am Roselle, my high school friend, who despite being a victim, gave me her donation. She told me that she still lacked sleep. Her house was severely damaged and she has only an ample space to sleep with her kids. When I told her why she still gave when she is also in need, she told me: “Ginagmay da yaon pads..importante we can still share” (It’s just a little.. what’s important is that we can still share).

The next part was the grueling procedure at the ticketing office to secure permit. Thanks to the assistance of the Office of the Vice President (Robredo’s), we were facilitated well. We eventually bought extra gas to prepare for the Dinagat ‘tour’ later. As we waited for our turn to enter the ship, we also found the group of nuns and priests from the Diocese of Butuan. It became a sort of instant reunion for us. Mobile network signal is still bad. They shared with me their rapid appraisal which I badly needed for our team. My task is getting lighter. I don’t know if I can keep abreast on the updates.

The ship is filled both with the passengers and vehicles. There is no one with a happy mode but more of patient mode. We have to bear the brunt of the typhoon. That’s what life is. We fall. We stand. We get support because we recognize that more than our differences, we have a shared humanity.

Tomorrow: The Arrival 

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray heads the Ecology Desk of the Diocese of Tandag. He is a graduate of MA Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University, a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and a founding member of Caraga Watch, an environmental watchdog. He is part of the think tank of the Bishop of Tandag on IP Apostolate, formation on Environment and the Historical Commission. This diary was first published on his FB page. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this)