DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 December) — “Gail! You’re not writing for us any more?” asked University of Mindanao President Willy Torres.

UM owns Mindanao Times, a local daily that carries my wayward and fanciful column on MindaViews.

I reminded Willy that I wrote from an Internet café in Dumaguete two weeks ago.

“You should write more often,” he said. “You have so much to tell.”

Maybe. Very little time to write, definitely.

It was early morning on December 23 and the sun had yet to come up. Willy and I were on the beachfront in the Eastern Mindanao Naval Station in Panacan, looking out to the military trucks being readied for transport of relief supplies for the flood victims in Cagayan and Iligan. I wouldn’t have come to the sendoff ceremony, if not for the car that was waiting outside my gate at five in the morning. Major Jacob Thaddeus Obligado, commander of the Civil Military Operations Battalion of the 10th Infantry Division insisted that I had to be there. After all, he said, the idea for the 10ID to mount a relief caravan started with my text exchanges with him over the weekend.

Jake was overwhelmed with the response to 10ID’s call. In particular, his call got the various Youth Leadership Symposium (YLS) chapters in various provinces within the 10ID’s area of responsibility to mobilize its network for a relief drive. Leslie Bangoy, a BS Education student at Maco and one of the YLS movers, was so excited to report that even the tricycle drivers in her town ran after their volunteers to press them to accept coins for the collection till. She, too, was overwhelmed by the generosity of the ordinary folk who really wanted to help the victims of the worst flood to hit Mindanao in 25 years.

Leslie and her team have had very little sleep since they set about collecting donations. During the day they moved about town spreading the word and getting pledges. At night, they would repack the used clothing and food stuff and account for the monetary contributions.

It was the same with my students here in the City.

As soon as I stopped batting around with Jake alternatives for what we could do, I sent out text messages to my students for help. My daughters got on Facebook and amplified the call. Soon, their friends and acquaintances took up the relay and by Monday, donations started to fill my basement office at Ateneo de Davao.

Sunday morning, and my soul sistah Joey Jegonia at Xavier University in Cagayan sent an urgent text: “We’re running out of toxoids!”

I last saw Joey Friday afternoon at Xavier University. Ericson Batican, Nelly Limbadan, and I delivered a training workshop that was intended to prepare the Guidance Office and the Campus Ministry staff of the XU to deliver psychosocial services in times of disasters, such as floods, fire, and armed conflict. We had developed this module from the findings and resource we used for the Mindanao Resilient Communities project, a research that the University Research Council found to deserve an official “no comment” last July when I sought its endorsement.


I should be used to it by now. Appointed authority tends to always be suspicious of the wayward and fanciful. I guess they will never get to see what we see.

This is not an “I told you so.” This is merely to say we’re heading this way with or without institutional support. We will pursue work on the Resilient Communities project, seeing as we do the need to prepare communities for disaster response.

But on the 15th  as we left CDO for home, we had little notion that in the next two days, our XU trainees would have a baptism of flood.

On Sunday when Joey texted about needing toxoids, she was still hurting. Her parents had a close call with that flood. They spent five hours on the roof of their house before rescue came. Saturday morning, I had found Joey’s text message expressing her relief that her olds had finally been rescued and were finally with her. She said her dad worried that they did not have clothes for Sunday’s mass. It wasn’t hard for me to imagine what Joey was going through. Her parents’ experience was eerily similar to what mine endured when Typhoon Frank rampaged through Iloilo City three years ago.

To calm Joey – this being an emergency situation – it was time to turn directive and give her a rundown of things to do. Independence being her second name, as mine, Joey really doesn’t prefer the leadership role. But it was an emergency situation. It needed someone who knew how to calm people and to thin-slice what needs to get done first. Supergirls could do that.

I asked her for a list of things XU needed and set about mounting the relief drive and planning for transport. Jake was among the people I communicated through text.

By Sunday, our Psychology students were in the thick of the collecting medical supplies, clothing, water, foodstuff, used tarps, blankets, slippers, and cookware. They too were surprised by the generosity of almost everyone they approached. Some gave money and asked them to buy something. Joey said better to buy what they needed here because store operations were yet to normalize in CDO so we used whatever money we collected to buy toxoids, bottled water, and underwear by the dozen on the sidewalks of Uyanguren. People usually donate used clothes, but rarely do they remember to give unused underwear, sanitary napkins, and slippers.

On Monday, we sent Rodge Lelis and Randolph Reserva with backpacks and bedrolls on the plane to CDO carrying toxoids from Davao Doctors College HR chief Angelica Torres and medical supplies from Joji Ilagan, Dr. Joselle Villanueva, and Dr. Joanna Abella of the Pediatric Society of the Philippines. Too late to find out if medicines required special permits to transport. If questioned, they were to say they were on a humanitarian mission, as indeed they were. They immediately proceeded to XU to help beef up Joey’s team of volunteers.

Later that night, Eric Batican got on the stage at MTS Taboan and rallied patrons to give for the relief of flood victims. He also requested them to bring donations to Coffee for Peace where Kiara Rioferio was joined by her classmates after five pm to help pack what came in. Meanwhile, we also turned the Tambara editorial office at ADDU as a drop center more convenient for donors from downtown. AB Psych senior Ria Maghuyop and Tambara administrative assistant Lani Rivera took charge when I was at the press. They ran or sent someone off to Uyanguren for more underwear every time money came in. Soon they had the merchants bringing their price for panties down toPhP80 to the dozen. They also bought bottled water and foodstuff.

Ria also kept track of the sign up and parents’ consent for volunteers to join Eric on the Wednesday transport. By the time the truck rolled out at 4am Wednesday, Eric had a team of eight that were to join Rodge and RR at XU. Two more took the bus and met up with them before night fell. I had hoped that their contingent could give Joey and her volunteers some breathing space debriefing survivors at the evacuation centers. Meanwhile, six others were getting ready to join the Coffee for Peace caravan to Iligan City later that day.

That Monday, the Psychological Association of the Philippines Clinical Division e-group was also abuzz with plans, suggestions and inquiries for how the members could provide crisis intervention support in the flood-affected cities.  Lyra Versoza was gathering a team of volunteers while monitoring the situation from various sources. Most attention-grabbing was Miriam Cue’s SOS from MSU-IIT in Iligan City. By Tuesday, the campus was hosting 10,000 evacuees.

It was Christmas break and there was very little manpower and logistic support we could muster at ADDU. With our volunteers gone off to Cagayan and Iligan, Lani joined forces with Muss Lidasan at Al Qalam to start putting together a relief drive for MSU-IIT. The Ateneo guards watched over the supplies where we gathered them in the Mini-Auditorium, accessible to the 10ID truck which hopefully could come back soon after Christmas for another run to Iligan.

Debriefing our volunteers who came in from XU on Friday night, Dr. Orange Lozada and I were glad to note that their stay in the flood-devastated areas had changed them in fundamental ways. Responding to people in distress made the practice of psychology more meaningful for them. Rather than falling victim to secondary trauma as most inexperienced students would, they came through more committed to the noble goals of the helping profession.

Had I feared some years back that the Ateneo de Davao studentry had turned trivial with its obsession with social network sites, earphones as a natural appendage, modeling contests as the highlight of student body get-together, and expressing altruism – being a person for others – only from the comfort of far away?

Well, bite my tongue. I found my students would be willing to work all day and work some more at night. They would pick up and go at a moment’s notice to deliver help. They would sacrifice convenience and crowd into spare military transport – no cushioned seats or airconditioning – flying over jarring potholes on that nine-hour ride to Cagayan and two hours more to Iligan. They would extend a hand and give an empathetic ear, braving mud and rain and the sight of desolation such as would curdle one’s soul, just to assure the desperate that every man is a brother and that someone in this world cares.

In all their time in that sea of grief, so far removed from the comfortable world they’ve known all their lives, my students took care of each other, coming back to us whole and staunch of heart. It was, they told Ma’m Orange and me, an experience that brought home to them the true meaning of Christmas.

Never have I felt prouder to be an educator.  (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says