One year after Sendong: Still living on the edge

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/17 December)—His limbs seemed to have atrophied with fear when he heard over the radio that a typhoon would pass the city again, on the same month that a flood brought by tropical storm “Sendong” washed away their humble home at Zone 5, Barangay Carmen, this city, last year.

Sendong survivors light up their candles as they offer a prayer for those who perished in the floods spawned by the storm one year ago, at the Rodelsa Circle in Cagayan de Oro City after a commemorative march last December 16, 2012 . Mindanews Photo by Erwin Mascariñas
Sendong survivors light up their candles as they offer a prayer for those who perished in the floods spawned by the storm one year ago, at the Rodelsa Circle in Cagayan de Oro City after a commemorative march last December 16, 2012 . Mindanews Photo by Erwin Mascariñas

As super typhoon “Pablo” pummelled Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur in the afternoon of December 3, Leonardo Cababat, 54, hurriedly gathered his two children and a few essentials to transfer to their housing unit in Calaanan Resettlement Site.

Pablo packed maximum winds of 175 kph, gusts of 210 kph and a torrential rain of 20 to 30 mm/hr within a diameter of 600 km.

“We have lived in this house for 10 years. I cannot just leave this house. Anyway, City Hall said we can still live here,” said Cababat.

Into the maelstrom

Sendong made landfall on the east coast of Mindanao in the afternoon of Dec. 16 last year. By 10 pm of the same day, the eye of the storm was already over the city. It also affected neighboring Iligan City and portions of Libona and Baungon towns in Bukidnon.

In a span of six hours, Sendong poured 500 mm of rain, approximately eight to 10 inches. The community where the Cababats lived then is beside Cagayan River that swelled with a deluge of mud and debris. It was one of the hardest-hit barangays in the city.

It may be recalled that during his visit last year, President Aquino specifically ordered the relocation of all residents living near the banks of Cagayan River. He gave the direct order to then Police Regional Office (PRO 10) Regional Director Chief Superintendent Jufel Adriatico.

As of this writing, PRO 10 Regional Director Chief Superintendent Gil Hitosis has yet to return this reporter’s calls or reply to message-inquiries. Meanwhile, City Hall has also yet to reclassify the identified geohazard areas of the city.

Living on the edge

One year after Sendong (international codename Washi), the worst calamity that ravaged this city in roughly a hundred years, most of the survivors have yet to be relocated and families whose loved ones were declared missing have yet to have closure.

Worse, Aquino’s direct order to the police to prevent survivors from returning to identified geohazard areas has not been implemented.

When Pablo (international codename Bopha) struck on Dec. 4, City Mayor Vicente Emano had to order the forced evacuation of residents who opted to stay in their houses near the Cagayan River despite the City Risk Reduction and Management Center having changing the alert status from green to red.

Still in dire straits

According to Survivors of Sendong Chair Rhodora Bulosan, the lists of the Estate Management Division (EMD) here and the city do not tally.

“The number of relocated beneficiaries listed on the tarpaulin of City Hall is 4,320 while EMD listed only 3,015 survivors who have been relocated in permanent settlements,” Bulosan said in a phone interview Monday.

She cited that the 4,320 beneficiaries who have been supposedly relocated permanently in one year is a “mere shadow” of the 13,000 families targeted to be relocated.

“Equally disheartening is the plight of Sendong survivors who are still living in the ‘temporary’ shelters and evacuation centers. They have been battling the elements with plastic canvasses for a year now,” she added.

It is hard for most survivors in the hard-hit communities, transient sites, relocation areas and even evacuation centers in the city to move on when rehabilitation and recovery is moving at a snail’s pace because of bureaucratic red tape and partisan politicking, Bulosan opined.

“We strengthen our resolve to push for our legitimate demands in the backdrop of the government’s constant failure to bridge the big gap between promises and actual deliveries,” she said.

Nothing to celebrate

Bulosan said the tarpaulins scattered in the city proper that show pictures of politicians who are running for re-election in next year’s midterm elections only cast doubts on the real motives of City Hall.

City Hall is reportedly spending some three to five million pesos and has invited movie celebrities to commemorate the first anniversary of Sendong. The Sendong commemoration activities organized by the city government include a caroling contest, lantern contest, dance contest, gift-giving, tribute to the relief donors, and performances by entertainment celebrities.

Bulosan said the amount “would have been more meaningful if given directly to the affected families who are still in dire straits.”

City Councilor Edgar Cabanlas expressed his reservation on the amount City Hall is spending for the commemoration event since it could be misunderstood as a “celebratory mode.”

“What’s the point in inviting movie stars? Is it their ploy to cover their misdeeds? This is a remembrance of the pain and frustration we suffered. I beg the City Government not be jumping like chimps in memoriam,” Cabanlas said in a phone interview, Monday.

But City Vice Mayor Caesar Ian Acenas said in a text message: “We are not celebrating. We are commemorating the Sendong tragedy.”

In a text message today, Sulog member Edwin Dael said the people should not celebrate but gather in prayer for the memory of the victims and survivors of Sendong.

Sulog is a coalition of local civil society groups, environment organizations and Sendong survivors.

“The city will remain in mourning until there is (a) final inquiry on the disaster and public accountability,” he said. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)