In New Bataan, the nightmare is far from over

NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/23 January) – Fifty-three-year-old farmer Clemente Dulce sat on a pew at the San Antonio de Padua parish late Tuesday afternoon, wondering if he would still have a house to return to when the rains stop.

Dulce fled Purok 4B in the poblacion barangay of Cabinuangan along with his child and three grandchildren because their house near the public cemetery was in danger of being swept away by the fast widening “new river” that the debris flow triggered by Typhoon Pablo on December 4 had created.

At around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, residents flocked to the cemetery area near the entrance of what used to be the Pag-asa’t Bagong Buhay Uswag GK (Gawad Kalinga) Village, to monitor the water level.

The crowd screamed as the raging waters swallowed a portion of the concrete foundation of a pre-Pablo wooden kiosk, its skeletal structure eventually collapsing.

New Bataan posted the highest death toll among the towns hit by Pablo, at 436 out of a thousand dead nationwide. Most of the victims were killed along the path of the debris flow from the resort village of Andap up in the mountains down to Barangay Cogonon some 10 kilometers downstream. The debris flow buried under rocks and boulders the village center of Andap, houses, farmlands, a portion of the cemetery, all the way down to Cogonon.

Approximately five meters of debris covered the barangay center of Andap, the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau’s regional office said.

Dulce did not lose his house to Pablo. But he lost his livelihood when the debris flow destroyed his patch of farmland.

On this late Tuesday afternoon inside the church, seated beside his meager belongings packed in sacks, Dulce prayed the rains would stop to spare his house from crashing into the waters.

Dulce’s family walked to the church at noon because “hapit na maanod among balay” (our house was in danger of being swept away). Twenty other families sought refuge in the church. Thirty-three-year-old Juvy Mituda and her family had been staying there since 11 a.m. Sunday.

A week earlier, the post-Pablo river near Dulce’s house had disappeared as public works personnel redirected the waters back to the pre-Pablo path of the Mayo River up in Andap.

On January 13 and 14, MindaNews saw the post-Pablo river near the San Roque chapel gone, its waters redirected to the Mayo river path at the mountainside some 700 meters away.

The chapel is the last structure on the right side of the road that was spared by the debris flow.

MindaNews also noted that the public cemetery in the poblacion could already be traversed by vehicles, allowing easier access for residents like Dulce and the National Bureau of Investigation forensics team collecting DNA samplings from the exhumed remains of unidentified victims. The makeshift bamboo bridges built over the “new river” were gone.

But as is often said, the river remembers. Given the heavily compromised forest cover and rains brought about by the “tailend of a cold front,” the post-Pablo river returned to its debris flow course, this time, even more furious as it widened its territory, destroying more structures on its path.

Geraldine Reston, a 29-year-old mother of three, wondered if the new house they were constructing in Purok 4 in the poblacion, some 50 meters away from the new river, would be washed away. They have been staying in the Tribal Village evacuation center while the house is under construction.

Up in Andap at 4 p.m. Tuesday, vehicles could reach only up to Purok 5, at least a kilometer before reaching the chapel.

Residents set up a crude dike of rocks and logs, as they tried to direct the rampaging waters away from the road.

The chapel, they said, was still standing.

Andap barangay captain Francisco Aldueso told MindaNews the provincial government had sent out a vehicle at noon to evacuate 83 families – 53 in the Andap National High School and 30 others nearby – but only five families evacuated.

“Dili man lagi gusto mohawa” (They do not want to evacuate), he said.

At around 4:15 p.m., eight persons carrying sacks crossed the makeshift bamboo bridge across the turbulent waters.

Junjun Dante of Purok 5 said they went to help relatives evacuate but the latter refused to leave.

Dante said they told him they would follow if it’s too dangerous.

“Kini lang man ilang gipadala diri” (They just sent us this), he pointed to the sack containing his relatives’ clothes.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) on Tuesday morning reported 193 families in New Bataan evacuated due to the January 20 floods: 54 families in Barangay Cogonon; 37 in Purok 4, 4B and 1 in Poblacion; 37 in Purok 5, Magsaysay; 28 in Purok 9, Poblacion; 20 in Purok 1 and 9 Poblacion; 10 in Purok 10 and seven in Purok 7. They were still in the evacuation centers as of the 9 a.m. January 22 report.

Marlon Esperanza, New Bataan information officer, told MindaNews their evacuee population is now at 609 families – due to Typhoon Pablo, the other flooding incidents post-Pablo and the January 20 floods.

The MGB is undertaking the new geohazard mapping of New Bataan, post-Pablo.

Beverly Brebante, Supervising Science Research Specialist and OIC of the Geosciences Division of the MGB regional office, told MindaNews that “it will take us up to the second week of February” to finish the mapping in New Bataan, Compostela Valley and Boston and Baganga towns in Davao Oriental.

“MGB Central Office is doing the New Bataan mapping with four geologists while Baganga and Boston are covered by MGB XI with three geologists,” she said.

The MGB had earlier advised against relocating in the poblacion. Esperanza said the municipal government is trying to institute mitigating measures because “we have nowhere to go.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)