“It’s still a Merry Christmas because we are all alive”

 CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 December) —  They lost their little house by the river, they have been staying and sleeping under the flyover since Saturday,  they have no money to prepare for even the simplest Noche Buena,  but Merlyn Rejas says it is still a happy Christmas “kay buhi ming tanan” (because we’re all alive).

“Tanan” refers to herself, her partner Bobby Adolfo, their children Precious, 7 and Bob Dexter, who turned  4  on December 18, a day after the killer floods swept away their home in Isla Delta, Barangay Consolacion.

Mylene, seven months pregnant, carried Precious while Bobby carried Bob Dexter just as the roof of their house was blown  away in the early hours of Saturday, December 17.

The water was thigh-deep when they fled but she remembers the rampaging waters quickly rose up to the waist and the chest. “Naanod among balay” (our house was swept away).

At their temporary shelter under the flyover morning of December 24, Merlyn recalled how the family was planning to go to mass on Sunday, December 18, to celebrate the fourth birthday of Bob Dexter.

“Nagplano iyang papa bago nagbaha nga magsimba mi ug magsuroy-suroy sa Gaston Park” (Before the flood, his father’s plan was we would all go to church and then to Gaston Park).

Instead of the church and the park, they found themselves seeking shelter, along with other neighbors whose houses were also swept away by the floods,  under the flyover.

“We came here because the school was also flooded. The other evacuation centers are full because we are not the only evacuees. Barangay Consolacion was not the only village under water,” she said in Binisaya.

In its December 24 report, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC)  said 36,000 families or 342,000 pesons were displaced by the floods in Cagayan de Oro City.

Before the flood, Merlyn had planned for the family’s Noche Buena. “Ginagmay lang gud basta may makaon ang mga bata pagka alas dose” (it’s a simple meal, just so the kids have something to eat by 12 midnight).

What they had last year, she had planned to prepare again for Christmas this year: pancit, sliced bread and a bottle of Coke.

Where they are staying now is just across a famous food chain which serves, among others,  pancit, sliced bread and a bottle of Coke.

As of 9 a.m. on December 24, they had not received the promised Chistmas package for Noche Buena that the Department of Social Welfare and Development announced a day before.

But Merlyn did not seem worried. Elsewhere in the city, individuals and organizations were busy preparing food packs to be distributed to displaced residents.

In his pastoral letter on December 21, Cagayan de Oro Arcbhishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ,  proposed a “Family-Adopt-a-Family program” where families unaffected by the flood “can invite to their homes an evacuee family, especially those that have lost their homes or loved ones, for a few days or for a Christmas meal to share the spirit of the season.”
The Christmas Day plan of Merlyn’s family this year would have been to go to church and “maglipay-lipay pero unsaon man niabot man gyud ang trahedya” (celebrate but tragedy befell us).

Her wish for Christmas and the New Year is to have a house to return to “kay lisud kaayo nia sa dalan, naa pay mga bata” (it’s so difficult to be on the street, especially with children).

“Wala mi tarong paghuna-huna asa mi padulong” (We’re confused where to go), she said.

Merlyn acknowledged they cannot return to where they came from, “pero ang mga tawo mamalik man gihapon kay wa may kabalhinan lain” (but the people will return there because there is nowhere else to go).

She said she heard about a relocation site in Kalanaan but her neighbors do not want to go there because it is so far –  it is “double ride” or two jeepney transfers — and their source of livelihood is in the downtown area. Her husband gathers scrap iron to sell.

Laundrywoman Floresa Avenido, 31, a resident of Zone 7, Acacia St. in Barangay Carmen, said her two-storey house was completely destroyed when another house crashed into it.

The Avenidos have four children, all boys. They are presently staying at the West City Central School evacuation center.

“Wala gyud mi magtuo nga malapawan pa among balay kay dos andanas man.” (We still cannot believe the flood would destroy our house since it was a two-storey house.)

But the now homeless Avenido is still grateful. “Bisan pa’g nawala ang tanan tungod sa baha, nagapasalamat gihapon ko kay kumpleto mi pamilya karong pasko.” (Even if we lost everything we had to the flood, I am still thankful because we are still a complete family this Christmas.)

“Pamilya ang pinaka importante nga pinaskohan sa ako.” (My family is the most important Christmas gift to me)

Arcbhishop Ledesma had said “practically everyone in the city has lost some relatives or personal friends in this calamity.”


In Iligan City, the owner of a small business enterprise selling fried banana chips, said they have temporarily stopped because floodwaters rose to the ceiling of their house but “ok lang wala lahat gamit kasi buhay man lahat family members” (even if we lost all our belongings, it’s okay because everyone in the family is alive).  [Carolyn O. Arguillas with a report from Cong Corrales/MindaNews]