Cagayan de Oro marks 1st anniversary of Yolanda

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/08 November) — Artist Nicolas Aca embraced the other performers after their heart-rending performance in front of the Magsaysay Park in Cagayan de Oro Saturday on the first anniversary of typhoon Yolanda that ravaged the Visayas.

Aca and the artists who were mostly students covered their entire bodies with brown dirt from nearby Iponan River to portray what typhoon victims in Tacloban City in Leyte could have looked like a year ago after Yolanda struck and devastated their city.

He said many of the artists were themselves victims of tropical storm Sendong that inundated the villages beside Cagayan de Oro River on December 17, 2011.

“Imagining how typhoon victims look like is the easy part. We also experienced the fury of nature when tropical storm Sendong devastated our city on 2011,” he said.

“The most difficult part is to keep our emotions in check,” he said.

Their performance in front of Magsaysay Park in Divisoria this morning was part of a nationwide art performance called “Kalig-on” (strength) for the Yolanda victims.

Synchronized performances were also held in Ateneo de Zamboanga in Zamboanga City, Ilo-ilo, and other key cities in the country.

“We know what they are going through. We were on the same path,” Aca said.

Aca’s and the artists’ performance was among the city-wide activities that remembered Tacloban, a year after the strongest typhoon that hit the country and devastated the Visayas region.

Freelance photographer, model and videographer Paola Michele Pilapil remembered she was watching the news on how Yolanda inundated Tacloban when she read calls for help to repack relief goods on Facebook last year.

Without hesitation, she and a group of friends went to Mt. Carmel Church in Barangay Carmen to repack small bags of rice, noodles, sardines and coffee for Tacloban and other parts of Leyte Island.

Pilapil and her friends kept going back to the basement of Mt. Carmel Church to help repack the relief bags unmindful of the hot environment. They worked with students and typhoon Sendong victims.

“I remembered when Sendong hit our city, it was very devastating and we needed help too. Help from other cities and countries came pouring in. I figured the victims of Yolanda also needed the same help,” she said.

According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development Region 10, help from concerned Cagayan de Oro residents who flocked to repacking centers proved crucial to early government response to Tacloban and Leyte.

Oliver Badel of the DSWD-10 information office said the volunteers were able to repack relief goods worth P10 million in a matter of two weeks.

Badel said the red relief bags of two kilos of rice, sardines, coffee and noodles were immediately sent to Tacloban in truck convoys via the Lipata ferry service in Surigao City.

“We were amazed and thankful of the volunteerism. We never anticipated this kind of Bayanihan spirit from the Cagayan de Oro residents,” he said.

Maj. Christian Uy, public information officer of the 4th Infantry Division recalled there was no objection when then division commander, Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, called the officers to a conference and told them they would be deploying a contingent to help in Leyte.

“Almost all of us knew that our soldiers will be of great help at the disaster areas in Leyte,” Uy said.

There was even no objection when the officers decided to donate a day of every soldier’s subsistence allowance. Uy said P500,000 was raised from their contributions and the money was spent to buy additional relief food packs.

“I was never more proud as a soldier when we rolled into Leyte. We were there to help in the biggest humanitarian relief mission. I am proud to be part of it,” he said.

The 4ID sent a battalion of soldiers, nurses and engineers to Leyte 10 days after Yolanda struck, and they were later deployed in Abuyog town after bringing relief to Baybay City.

Together with the contingent from the 10th Infantry Division from Davao City, the soldiers were the first to roll into Yolanda-devastated Tacloban and Leyte province.

Tito Alex Besinga, who heads Gawad Kalinga Cagayan de Oro Mission, said the Yolanda relief operation improved the relationship between him and his daughter, Essa Gabrielle, who is a nurse.

Besinga brought Essa with him in two relief missions to Tacloban and Tanauan town in December 2013.

“I never knew that Essa loves children until I saw her work during the relief missions,” the father said.

“It made me realized that me and Essa have so much in common,” he said.

Essa, who also came with her friends, organized themselves to treat and entertain the deeply traumatized children in the devastated areas in Tanuan and Palo towns in Leyte.

Besinga said he was also happy that most Cagayan de Oro business firms immediately offered their help when they learned that he was organizing relief missions for Leyte.

“The companies just gave. It was as if the Bayanihan spirit has taken over in all of them,” he narrated.

In the aftermath of Yolanda, Evans Indino Yonson, University Press Director at Xavier University, organized the VEST or Valuing the Ecosystem Services Together, a program to protect the upland forests of Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon.

“It is a multi-sectoral strategy designed to protect our forest in the highlands of Mindanao so that when it rains, the water will not be devastating by the time it reaches low-lying, urbanized areas,” Yonson said.

He said the experience during tropical Sendong is already a tragic wake-up call for low-lying urban centers like Cagayan de Oro.

Yonson helped organized a relief mission to bring Christmas gifts to Tanuan and Palo in Leyte, and Bantayan Island in Cebu in December 2013.

“I felt going to Tacloban was a moral obligation for me as a Filipino. There were countless and nameless faces who helped Cagayan de Oro get back on its feet. Going to Leyte was giving back,” he said.

“Organizing VEST is a result of all the experiences that I have had in the past -Sendong, Pablo, Yolanda. As an individual, I know I have to do something,” he added. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)