NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/28 Dec) — No, it has not reached the level of “disaster tourism” on the scale of post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans where guided bus tours are available for a visit to severely damaged neighborhoods but Barangay Andap, the town’s top tourist destination before super typhoon Pablo reduced the village into a pile of rocks and boulders on December 4, has remained a top destination, this time for humanitarian agencies, local government units’ disaster risk reduction councils, the academe, environmental groups and the plain curious.
But while survivors understand why their village post-Pablo is attracting thousands, they are appealing to visitors to please be sensitive. After all, the rocks and boulders that have now become the backdrop for many a Facebook posting and post-relief mission reports, killed hundreds of their relatives and neighbors.
Survivors Johnmar Pelayo, 20, and Glen Marumdan, 24, said they get offended when they see visitors posing for the cameras, acting like they were being crushed by the boulders.
“Sakit kaayo na sa amo” (it hurts us so much), they told MindaNews on Thursday afternoon, adding that visitors should realize that the rocks and boulders they are standing on are the graveyard of their relatives and neighbors.
Pelayo said there may still be bodies underneath the rubble. In fact, there are portions that still reek of putrid flesh.
Thousands of visitors have been flocking to Andap since it became accessible a week after Pablo. When a MindaNews team went to Andap two days after the storm, the area was not yet accessible to four-wheel vehicles.
Today vehicles can reach all the way to the Catholic chapel, the last structure on the right side of the road that survived the debris flow. Part of the debris on the left side had been cleared for a road that would connect with the highway to Maragusan. Part of the New Bataan-Maragusan highway was destroyed by the debris flow.
Disaster tourism” is defined by Wikipedia as the “act of traveling to a disaster area as a matter of curiosity” that “can be a nuisance if it hinders rescue, relief and recovery operations.”
The Independent of UK on the other hand defines “disaster tourism” as “exploiting interest in the damage wrought by disasters for financial gain.”
“On the one hand, it can inject much-needed relief funds into devastated communities. On the other, the money doesn’t always go to the community and isn’t turning the misery of thousands into a leisure pursuit kind of bad taste, anyway?,” asked an article in The Independent titled “Post-Hurricane Sandy disaster tourism hits New York.”
As of December 27, however, no entrepreneur has taken advantage of the situation. No food stall has been set up.
Visitors come with bottled mineral water and food. Some visitors stay in the area like it were a picnic ground.
Already, there are evidences of heavy visitor traffic here: trash on the rocks. Food wrappers, empty bottles of mineral water, tetrapaks, plastic bags.
Most of those who deliver relief goods in New Bataan villages as well as service providers and humanitarian workers, students and teachers, priests and nuns, make it a point to visit Barangay Andap when they’re in town.
Workers of local government units also make sure they visit the place after delivering relief goods.
Dulia Sultan, North Cotabato provincial board member and head of a delegation from the erstwhile war-torn Pikit town in North Cotabato, headed a team distributing relief goods in Barangay Andap on December 19. She later asked members of the other teams distributing goods in other areas of New Bataan to proceed to Andap so that they could see what she saw.
“Pasalamat tayo, gyera lang. Pwede pa tayo magtago, pwede pa tayo mag evacuate. Dito, paano sila mag-evacuate di naman nila alam sino ang kalaban nila. Akala nila tubig eh bato pala” (Let’s be grateful, we’re only dealing with war. We can hide. We can evacuate. Here, how can you evacuate when they do not know who their enemies are? They thought it was water but it turned out to be rocks and boulders), Sultan said as she pointed to the vast expanse of rocks and boulders where once stood houses and barangay offices.
“Walang namamatay na hundreds sa gyera” (no one dies by the hundreds in war). In Pikit’s experience with war, she says only around 10 civilians are killed.
Majority of the 426 persons reported dead as of December 26 in New Bataan were from Barangay Andap. As of December 17, when the figure was still 373 dead, 271 of these were from Andap.
In the poblacion some seven kilometers away, the bridge near the San Antonio de Padua church, has become yet another destination for the curious.
MindaNews saw members of a motorcycle-riding club posing for the cameras on a pile of coconut trunks on the spot where, a few hours earlier, a television personality also stood.
Before the area was cleared, it was also a mass graveyard. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)