LUNA NORTE, Makilala, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 07 November) – Raymond “Totong” Dingcong made a dash for the road when seconds after the Magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck at 9:04 a.m. on October 29, he heard a strange rumbling sound followed by the “dahili” of soil, rocks and other debris. He reached the road, saw two motorcycles pass with around four persons each on board, before he was thrown off by the force of the landslide some 200 meters down, to the other side of the river.
When the slide stopped, the 26-year old bachelor found himself standing but buried neck-deep. Fortunately, his left arm was out, outstretched like it were praising the heavens.
His fellow farmhand, Jonathan Lamar, remains missing. Lamar was bagging a bunch of bananas, standing a few meters farther up on the slope from where Dingcong was weeding a banana plant, and had in fact shouted to him “linog!” (earthquake!).
Dingcong held on to the banana trunk while the ground shook.
But while Lamar felt the quake, he did not hear the rumbling that Dingcong heard, the sound that sent him running downhill to the road. “Naka headset man gud siya” (He wore a headset). Dingcong said the 27 year old Lamar, married and father of two children aged 2 and 4, worked that way: with a headset “para maminaw ug sounds” (to listen to music).
Dingcong does now know what happened to the estimated eight persons on board the two motorcycles that he saw pass when the landslide came down. “Gisugat nila ang landslide” (They were covered by the landslide).
Visitors were starting to arrive in Barangay Bato that morning as it was fiesta. Dingcong remembers one of the passengers carried a “pangsabong” (fighting cock).
Dingcong has been working at the 1.6 hectare banana farm of Rolex Valdevieso for five months now.
Valdevieso said the road itself was buried so deep, the electric posts could no longer be seen.
The landslides isolated 332 families in Barangay Bato from October 29 until their rescue on November 2. They were brought to the centers in barangays Malabuan and Bulakanon.
“Paglubong sa akoa, diri kutob” (When I was buried, it was up to here), Dingcong said, pointing to his neck, as he began narrating his ordeal to MindaNews on Tuesday, exactly a week after what would have been his death.
He made sure first that the landslide had stopped before he started to remove, slowly, the debris on the right side of his body, using his left arm, until he managed to free his right arm.
With both arms now unencumbered, it was easier to free himself from what would have been his graveyard.
But he unburied himself slowly.
“Gihinay-hinay nakog kalot. Hinay hinay,” (I dug slowly. Very slowly), Dingcong narrated, afraid he would trigger a movement that would completely bury him.
He was lucky no rock fell on him. “Dagko kaayo ang mga bato” (The rocks were huge), he recalled. The nearest rock was “dako pa sa ulo” (bigger than my head) but there were even bigger ones. He estimates he was able to free himself in less than an hour, making him luckier the second time around because at 10:42 a.m. a Magnitude 6.1 quake again shook the ground.
By then, Dingcong was near or back in Barangay Luna Norte.
“Kalot gyud ko para mabuhi gyud ko”
“Akong huna-huna mabuhi gyud ko. Wala man ko nakuyapan. Kalot gyud ko para mabuhi gyud ko” (I willed myself to live. I did not faint. I dug to make sure I’d live),” Dingcong says, adding “gikaluy-an ko sa Ginoo” (God had mercy on me), he said.
After extricating himself from what would have been his burial place, he found a way to go up and looked for Lamar. As he was moving, he kept shouting “Bay, Bay” (Brod, Brod), but no one answered his repeated calls.
Four earthquakes above Magnitude 6 struck Makilala and neighboring areas between October 16 and 31: Magnitude 6.3 on October 16, Magnitudes 6.6 at 9:04 a.m. and 6.1 at 10:42 a.m. on October 29 and Magnitude 6.5 on October 31.
Dingcong said they noticed a crack just below the road after the first quake on October 16. The landslide on October 29 came from another area, above.
According to Valdevieso, Dingcong looked like a “taong grasa” when he arrived in Barangay Luna Norte shortly before 11 a.m. Luna Norte is approximately 12 kilometers from the farm.
In fact, some people on the road avoided Dingcong, thinking this unkempt person — shorts and shirt torn apart, blood on his head and mud all over his body and hair — was crazy.
From the landslide site, Dingcong walked towards Sitio Basak, some six kilometers from the farm. When a motorcycle passed, he begged the driver to take him to Barangay Malabuan so he could report what happened. A family gave him first aid treatment. He hitched another ride on a motorcycle until Barangay Luna Norte and stopped at the barangay hall to ask for the rescue of those who were left behind.
The nurse on duty at the barangay hall dressed his head wound, Valdevieso said.
Valdevieso’s farmland in Barangay Bato was planted to 2,500 bananas and 112 coconuts. All gone now, he said.
Valdevieso brought Dingcong to Kabacan on October 30 where he was reunited with his parents and siblings and where he had his medical check-up and X-ray. Except for some bruises, doctors found no fractures.
But the trauma has left Dingcong sleepless at night. He says he sleeps well at daytime but is awake at night until morning, when everyone else is sleeping.
He said Lamar visited him in his dream, telling him to take care of his family.
The Valdeviesos have vowed to help Lamar’s family and to link them up with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for assistance.
Relatives of missing persons believed to have died during disasters can now avail of benefits even without a death certificate, according to Rudy Encabo, Director of the DSWD’s Disaster Response Management Bureau.
Encabo told MindaNews the relative can approach any DSWD personnel or the barangay captain to attest that the person is missing and believed dead so he/she can avail of 10,000 cash assistance.
“No need for death certificate during disaster time,” Encabo told MindaNews.
Lamar’s wife, Beverly Nigos, 23, is still hoping to see Jonathan alive. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)