More caskets needed in Monkayo

MONKAYO, Compostela Valley  (MindaNews/06 December) – Outside the Angel Funeral Homes here,  relatives  are waiting anxiously for caskets to arrive so they could bring their loved ones  home – if their houses survived Typhoon Pablo at all.

Occasionally they would smoke a cigarette or walk towards the highway to shake off the stench of death on this Thursday afternoon, two days after Typhoon Pablo’s arrival  caused the sudden departure of their wife, brother, sister, father, husband,  cousin.

Even the funeral parlors were not spared by Typhoon Pablo’s wrath. Pabilona Funeral Parlor is not accepting bodies because its  roof and walls were destroyed;. At the Angel Funeral Homes, the  signage is gone. And the space where the caskets are supposed to be placed (often refered to as ‘chapel’) should the family decide to hold the wake there, has been rendered roofless.

The dead were laid on the entrance to the chapels,  under a still functional roof .

Brillan Barce, a licensed embalmer from neighboring Agusan del Sur who was assigned to the branch here in the aftermath of Pablo,  told MindaNews 24 bodies were brought here but only 21 have remained as one was brought to Tagum and two were brought to Nabunturan.

“Kulang pa 13 ka lungon” (We still need 13 more caskets), he said.

Among those awaiting caskets is the Tabanan family – Joseph Jude, 28; his wife Manilyn, 21; and year-old daughter Jasmine.

They were recovered, along with the other bodies, from a landslide in the small-scale gold mining site in Depot on the way to Diwawal.

Andy Tabanan, Jude’s brother, said he hopes the caskets would arrive soonest.

Nel Jun Lastimoso, 29, was also waiting for a casket for his brother Jonel, 28. whose body was among those recovered in Depot.

Between  puffs of cigarette, 65-year old Romeo Libsacan, also waited for a casket for his wife Carmen. The Libsacans live in the poblacion.  His wife died after a coconut tree fell on her.

No one can say exactly how many persons were killed in Diwalwal although reports have been circulating that hundreds were killed in the landslides.  One report that has been passed around is that at least a thousand persons were killed but this was immediately denied by Mayor Manuel Brillantes whose family is into gold-mining.

Verifying has been made doubly difficult not only because of the 30-year “code of silence” practiced  during accidents in the small-scale mining operations in Diwalwal but also because  transportation by habal-habal is only up to Depot.

Habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers at the terminal along the highway and the public market said they could only reach Depot as landslides and felled trees block the way.

Mayor Brillantes shrugged off reports a thousand were killed in Diwalwal. He told MindaNews Thursday afternoon that he was in touch with the barangay captain and that only 10 remain missing. He could not say exactly how many persons were killed or injured ni Diwalwal but as of Thursday afternoon, the total number of persons killed were 66, the injured at 82 and 10 missing.

Monkayo’s population is 95,000.  Brillantes, who belongs to a gold-mining family, says “almost 94,000 individuals are affected.”

Brillantes  was not around when Typhoon Pablo battered his town on Tuesday. He was in Manila Hotel for the December 4 to 6 League of Municipalities of the Philippines General Assembly.  and returned  Wednesday to find his town in shambles.

On the way to his town from the airport in Davao City, Brillantes would not have missed  how badly battered the province was, particularly along the 28-kilometer stretch of the Davao-Agusan highway from Mawab to Nabunturan to Montevista and then to Monkayo.  Hundreds of houses destroyed totally or partially, the remaining roofs twisted, hundreds of coconut trees  uprooted,  stripped off their crowns or felled. Oil palms looking like they had fallen by the wayside,  Banana plants chopped off about half a meter from the ground.

On entering his town from the Monkayo Bridge, Brillantes would have realized the town he left a couple of days ago for the conference in Manila, is now simply a memory.

Brillantes’ town hall was not spared, a portion of the roof destroyed. Also partly damaged were the neighboring police station, national government agencies’ hall, the municipal gym where evacuees would have sought refuge, the public market, bus and habal-habal terminal and hundreds of houses.

When MindaNews told him about the lack of caskets,  Brillantes replied  the province is helping but “siguro  hindi lang nila mapapadali yung tulong lahat naman willing tumulong sa nangyari” (maybe they cannot hasten the assistance but everyone is willing to help).

Asked how the town prepared for the typhoon,  Brillantes said  teams went on recorida – going around town using megaphones to announce the coming of the typhoon – “pero yung tao ayaw maniwala. Since 1960s kasi walang dumaan na bagyo dito, sa histoy ng monkayo.  May bagyo pero walang ganito katinding bagyo” (but people don’t want to believe. Since 1960s, there has been no typhoon that passed this way in the history of Monkayo. There was a typhoon before but not this strong).

Residents of Barangay Rizal along the highway to Agusan told MindaNews there was no recorida in their area. They said they learned about the typhoon from television news. Jean Ace Caneda, 29, mother of one, said they had no idea what typhoon signal 2 or 3 meant. Other residents said there was no meeting conducted  by the barangay before the typhoon.  

MindaNews asked Mayor Brillantes if they did preemptive evacuation in the landslide-prone and flood-prone areas in the town. “Ah, hindi nangyari yun kasi  yung announcement is yung bagyo biglang dumating na kaagad” (that did not happen because the typhoon suddenly came),” he replied.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council had repeatedly warned local government units days ahead to do preemptive evacuation based on the weather forecasts of the  Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration. Even President Aquino delivered a message to the nation to prepare for what was believed to be the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)