Red Cross giving houses to Valencia flood victims

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/ 19 October)—Every time the water level rises in the Pulangi River, the Escribano family at Purok 1A in Barangay Batangan here fears they might be carried by floodwaters.

They live on a house at the riverbank just across the Pulangi Bridge in the road to San Fernando town.

In most cases since 1975, even if they are afraid, they preferred to stay home when there is a flood. But not in December 2011 when two floods more than a week apart swelled the riverbank and invaded their homes.

Several houses were swept away by the first flood on December 17, which was brought by Tropical Storm Sendong. The second on December 27, 2011 displaced hundreds in this “City of Golden Harvest.”

“We didn’t want to return but we have no choice. We have no other place to go to,” 54-year old Anabelle Escribano, mother to four, said.

After the floods last December, the Escribanos and hundreds of other families have remained in Barangay Batangan.

Their life and that of 149 other families, however, are bound to change with the construction of 150 shelter units initiated by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

“I am truly blessed. This makes me happy,” Escribano, who earns a living by ironing other people’s clothes, told MindaNews on Thursday.

She was only 17 years old when her family arrived in Batangan from La Castillana in Negros Occidental, and until last year she was used to living in a dangerous zone.

“The water current in the Pulangi is now very strong, we can’t choose to stay back there anymore,” she said, adding their income, including that of her husband who is a vendor, is not enough for them relocate.

Former Senator Richard Gordon, PRC chair and chief executive officer, graced the groundbreaking rites for the housing units on October 18 at Barangay Bagonta-as here, attended by local officials and other PRC officials in Bukidnon and around Mindanao.

Gordon said the new houses “will not only rebuild homes but also restore the dignity of the people affected by the floods.”

Since 2005, he added, PRC built a total of 44,500 shelter units.

The 150 units in Valencia City is part of the PRC housing initiative for survivors of Tropical Storm Sendong in December 2011.

Selvaratnam Sinnadurrai, head of delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Philippines, said that Bukidnon was lucky not to have been affected much by Sendong, unlike Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities.

Gordon stressed that building the shelter units, which is not the PRC’s main mandate and which they do only on a case-to-case basis, should be a partnership.

The PRC, which obtained donations from an international fund-raising activity, is footing the bill for the materials and engineering design of the housing units.

Gordon said the recipients would provide labor as their equity and that PRC will also extend to them P5,000 as initial livelihood assistance.

The city government donated the two-hectare property for the housing project, said Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata.

Gordon said that like the PRC that has struggled to be independent from the government, they want to promote among the recipients the value of self-reliance and cooperation.

He stressed that PRC wanted to respond right away to the housing problem but finding a safe area for the relocation site has been difficult, hence the groundbreaking took 10 months after the Sendong tragedy.

Catarata vowed to provide skills training for the recipients of the housing project to support PRC’s livelihood intervention.

Escribano, who last year was among those who sought refuge at the city gymnasium, said the long wait was worth it.

“We never imagined this would happen, we want to start a new life here,” she added. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)