DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao del Norte (MindaNews / 19 December) – From a distance, darkness shrouded Sitio Tinabon in Barangay Kusiong here, the Ground Zero of a deadly landslide at the foot of Mount Minandar that took the lives of dozens of residents last October.
Shimmering stars and the glow of the last quarter moon glistened over the foggy coned-shape mountain as a group of Christians gathered before dawn Sunday for the Misa de Gallo.
Around 70 persons attended the 4 a.m. mass, singing worship and Christmas songs in the eerie surroundings close to the seashore, as the sounds of crickets buzzed in the air.
For a long time, villagers happily practiced the tradition of holding Misa de Gallo, which is observed with nine dawn masses from December 16 to 24, just before Christmas Eve.
But this time, it was not as merry as dozens of residents died, buried by a landslide triggered by heavy rains spawned by Typhoon Paeng in the village last late October.
The devastated chapel was just around 200 meters away from the makeshift chapel where they hold the dawn mass.
“Hindi namin mawawala ang paniniwa, nagpapasalamat kami na sa kabila ng nangyari sa amin andito pa din kami kaya hindi namin makakalimutan na magsimba kahit ganito na po ang nangyari sa amin (Our faith remains despite what happened. We are thankful to be alive, that’s why we don’t forget to go to mass, ” Daisy Fering, one of the survivors of the landslide, said.
Fering, who lost a grandson during the disaster, suffered several wounds after she was swallowed by the landslide. Luckily, she managed to get out.
At least 26 residents were buried alive by raging boulders and mud, four of them still missing until now.
“Kahit na mahirap, magpapatuloy po kami, magsimba talaga, kahit anong mangyari , di talaga namin makalimutan magsimba talaga (Even if it is hard, we will still continue attending the holy mass. Whatever happens, we will not forget to go to mass ),” Melita Unting, pastor of the Ministry of the Episcopal Church who officiated the mass, said.
The members of Episcopal Church are mostly Teduray indigenous people from Maguindanao province.
When the landslide struck, most of them ran to the high ground where the devastated chapel was erected, only to find out that it was the first to be hit by the bulk of rampaging mud and boulders.
This Christmas season, while most of the surviving landslide victims, including Fering, stayed at the evacuation center, which is just nearby the makeshift chapel, they continued the Misa de Gallo tradition, to thank God for giving them another lease on life.
By observing Misa De gallo despite the recent disaster, the residents also continued their practice of sharing and showing love to their neighbors.
As the mass went on, a couple who lived near the temporary chapel was busy preparing suman, a traditional cassava cake wrapped in banana leaf and steamed-cooked.
They also boiled water at their wood-fired kitchen for the native coffee, which flowed for all after the celebration.
“We may lost some of our members but the spirit of love and sharing stayed in our hearts and this will continue. Let us all remember them this Christmas,” Fering said in the vernacular.
After the mass, Fering and her 60-year-old husband left the evacuation center at the Kusiong Elementary School and transferred to their newly-built small house at the relocation site provided by the local government.
The Fering couple was among the 31 families who are beneficiaries of construction materials donated by China.
Fering was advised to avail a cooking course from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to help her find new opportunities. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)