Couple who survived ‘Sendong’: We’re like newly-weds

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/27 February) — ”I remember feeling the hair at the back of my neck tingle when I heard what sounded like a wounded beast growling in pain,” Ernesto Mabolo, 35, who used to live on the Isla de Oro sandbar, a geohazard area in Barangay 13, this city, said.

A construction worker by trade, Mabolo recalled how the flood, which he described as black and thick as tar, washed out downstream Cagayan River towards Macajalar Bay the concrete two-storey house he built with his bare hands.

“I thought we were already safe at the rooftop of our house when it suddenly swayed and then turned 180 degrees. Luckily, there was an electric post nearby,” recalled Mabolo, while gently stroking the 10-inch gash on the left side of his rib cage. The scar still reminded him of how close he was to death.

While they were hanging on to an electric post during the height of the rampaging flood waters, Mabolo said they saw people carried by the deluge of mud and water and calling out for help.

“I really wanted to help them but I could not because I’m not a trained at rescuing and feared I might die in the process,” he said slowly, his eyes gazing at the distance.

Mabolo said he could still hear the voices pleading for help and startling him in his sleep.

Surviving Sendong

Tropical storm Sendong (international codename: Washi) made landfall on the east coast of Mindanao on the afternoon of December 16 last year.

The Philippine Astronomical and Geophysical Services Administration (Pagasa) stated in its forecast that Sendong was to pass the eastern part of the island. But it brought rains that flooded 23 of this city’s 80 barangays—most of which are along Cagayan River— and Iligan City by early morning of December 17.

Over a thousand people died in the floods, and thousands of families were rendered homeless.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD 10), in their bulletin dated February 22, 2012, reported that 1,808 families were still living in 22 of the 45 evacuation camps set up after Sendong, and 1,621 others were living in 18 transitory shelters in the city.

In neighboring Iligan City, 4,905 families or 19,999 individuals were still living in 18 evacuation camps.

Local and international aid organizations have donated at least P71,036,947.24 in the region.

Losing hope

Tragedy struck again when another Sendong survivor committed suicide inside his tent in Tent City III, Kalubihan area, Calaanan Resettlement Area, Barangay Canitoan, on Wednesday last week.

Daisy Babiera, point person for Camp Management and Coordination Cluster of DSWD 10, said Jesus Noel Bienvinida, 44, single—who used to reside in Acacia St., Barangay Carmen, “took his life in the morning of Wednesday, February 22.”

Babiera said that when she went to the temporary shelter of Bienvinida a day after the incident, she found out that the victim was depressed because he had no work. He had two children with his former live-in partner.

“The victim was seemingly depressed of his present condition having no means of living at present. Furthermore, the need to avail the psychiatric services may have been overlooked since he already had hallucinations of seeing scenarios associated to flashflood the night prior to the incident,” she said.

She said the DSWD provided grief counseling to the bereaved family of Bienvinida, adding the City Social Welfare and Development Office has also promised to pay for the cost of funeral services.

Since it was the second suicide among Sendong survivors, Babiera said they will continue to conduct psycho-social process (PSP) sessions and other therapeutic activities to them. She added, these will be in close coordination with the Department of Health, the lead agency in conducting the PSP sessions.

On the afternoon of January 6, Roy Navarro, 32, who used to live in Barangay 13, stabbed his stomach and then slashed his throat in front of his five-year old son inside a classroom of City Central School.

Mabolo, Navarro’s close friend and neighbor in Isla de Oro, said Navarro possibly became desperate after knowing his family would not receive a tent because their house which he bought and renovated was not yet registered as a residence.

“We’ve worked together as masons in construction projects. He had lived in the barangay as long as I have but his newly renovated house, which he used to rent, was not registered at the barangay when the flash floods happened,” Mabolo said in the dialect.

Operatives of Cagayan de Oro City Police Office-Special Weapons and Tactics (COPC-SWAT) rushed Navarro to nearby Northern Mindanao Medical Center but he died a few hours later.

In an emailed statement, DSWD 10 has assured the evacuees still staying in evacuation camps and temporary shelters that “they will continue to attend to their needs, not only on relief goods and shelter, but including their emotional conditions.”

Epilogue: Dawning of a new day

Mabolo now operates a small “sari-sari” store in front of their shelter box temporary home at Calaanan Tent City, Barangay Canitoan.

“This is our way of having a semblance of normalcy in our lives. It gives my wife and me some purpose in this new community,” he said.

He said he would not mind if they will be resettled in Calaanan for good. Even the prospect of having new neighbors, he said, sounded exciting to him.

Mabolo said they have already applied for a housing grant. The DSWD 10 is currently constructing 1,517 units of quadruplex and row-houses in Calaanan Phase III, Barangay Canitoan.

Their harrowing experience, he claimed, has strengthened their bond as a couple. Two months after “Sendong” Mabolo said they have slowly recovered and are looking forward to a new chapter in their lives.

“In a way, we are like newly married couple starting again from scratch. I have faith in my wife and that faith gives me the courage and strength to rebuild again,” he beamed. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)