DINAGAT DIARY, Day 2: The Arrival

January 3, 2022

We left Surigao port almost 12 noon already due to some expected delay. 

Everyone wanted to go to the island province but the priority vehicles are those bringing aid. 

We arrived at San Jose port in Dinagat Islands at 2:30 p.m. We took our late lunch at a streetside barbecue grill which was surprisingly delicious. We wasted no time then to visit the nearest parish (Immaculada Conception, Dinagat where San Jose is part of) and started our much needed interview/ assessment. We proceeded later to another parish in Cagdianao (Sts. Peter and Paul) and again made our inquiries. 

Both parish priests were out, understandably to the mainland, to seek more help. We then unloaded our things at the residence of Sr. Len where we are billeted. Before dinner, we took a quick visit first to the area where there is a mobile network signal (eight kilometers away!) in order to send my initial report to our command center in Tandag for their perusal.

Bald and brown mountains. Photo by Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray

While on our way to the Islands, as we started to see them closely, I saw a depressing sight of bald and brown mountains, way past its green vegetation. I can imagine how on earth people there took shelter at the onslaught of the typhoon. Upon arriving at San Jose, we finally saw the immensity of the devastation. The debris was still scattered everywhere and most of the houses are still unrepaired. Some relied on tent materials (trapal and laminated sacks) to serve as temporary roof. 

Coconut trees are uniformly coiffured, telling us how the super powerful wind ravaged them. Observing the faces of the people, I can already see smiles that try to surpass or suppress the pains and frustrations amidst the destruction.

Images from Dinagat. Photos by Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray

During dinner with Sr. Len’s family, I started to hear horrifying stories how the storm surge banished many economic structures of this remote town. People are not informed well about the intensity of the typhoon and about the exact time of its landfall. In this town, they had five casualties. Good enough that the church and the rectory were spared. The roof of the pastoral center, however, was ripped off by ‘Odette.’ People received help already primarily from the government while the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) and MSC fathers (who were missionaries here before for a long time) delivered their aid already. 

Yet according to Michael, Sr. Len’s brother who is working at the local government unit,  when the relief goods are consumed, the affected fisherfolk will continue to suffer because they still cannot resume their livelihood due to rough seas until the month of March. Besides, they also have no fishing boats or  fishing materials to use. I was speechless for a while upon learning this. 

We closed the day by drinking the remaining brandy kept by Michael for the New Year’s revelry. People here are still stunned by the intensity of the typhoon and are still groping in the dark on how to start again. However, I also see them moving, literally picking up the pieces of their houses. Many kinds of aid are coming, including team of linemen from different electric cooperatives and medical teams everywhere. Kids are able to play again oblivious of the damages surrounding them. 

Amidst the darkness enveloping us, we cheered ourselves thanking God about the gift of life and the New Year that He gave us.

TOMORROW: The ‘Tour’

(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)