Filipinos are a tough breed. Nowhere was this more evident than in heartwarming scenes that unfolded in New Bataan town in the province of Compostela Valley in the aftermath of Typhoon “Pablo.”
Rescue squads that descended on this farming and mining town were by turns astounded and inspired by the open-arm welcome from the residents, whose actions bespoke their resilience.
While many were still stunned and in tears over dead or missing loved ones, others showed remarkable toughness of spirit and calm. Against a backdrop of uprooted trees, ruins of houses and the stench of bodies decomposing under the rubble, the residents could still smile.
At a school grandstand serving as an evacuation center in Barangay Cabinuangan, hundreds of villagers poured in on hearing word that fresh supplies of relief goods were to be distributed.
They crammed the bleachers, as if they were about to watch a sports spectacle. Sporadic laughter broke out as residents from villages far and wide chatted among themselves, munching on bananas handed to them by social workers.
“That’s just how they are. Sometimes, there will be crying. Then there will be people laughing. People are slowly getting over the shock,” PO3 Rogelio Cabuñas of New Bataan Police Station said.
Sorrow and hope
Many of the evacuees had not known each other until Pablo brought them together to share sorrow and hope.
Typhoon Pablo was the strongest to hit the country this year, killing nearly 500 people and leaving hundreds missing.
On the national highway leading to Monkayo, another badly hit town some 45 minutes away from New Bataan, children in disheveled clothes stood by the roadside, hands cupped in the universal pose of begging.
They looked almost cheerful, as they swarmed around motorists who stopped to give them money, food or water.
Nemencio Muyot, a member of the Makati Rescue and the Philippine K-9 Search and Rescue Foundation, said he was touched by the warm smiles of the otherwise suffering villagers.
The 10-member team was sent on Friday to help in the retrieval of corpses buried beneath the rubble in difficult-to-reach areas in the town that Pablo had turned into a wasteland.
“It’s amazing how warm the people are, considering the situation they are in. I guess that’s how Filipinos are,” Muyot said.
Juber Lugas, a volunteer rescuer who spent days plucking people from rooftops in submerged pockets of Tagum City in neighboring Davao del Norte, said he was impressed by how well the residents had coped in the difficult hours after the typhoon.
“You know Filipinos. They will tell you, ‘We’re still okay,’ even though, of course, they’re not,” Lugas said.
Lugas mentioned several instances when residents refused to be rescued out of concern for their pets and livestock.
“Some of them would only consent to being rescued if we took the animals with them,” Lugas said.
His 10-man team from the Tagum-based Condor Panacan Rescue ended up herding a small army of dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs and even cattle and carabao to Pagsabangan Bridge and leaving the animals in the care of their owners.
“That was memorable,” Lugas said.
Edmon Solitario, an ambulance driver for the Tagum City Council, said it became commonplace to see neighbors helping neighbors or villagers assisting strangers, as the rescue workers traveled around the city.
“There was bayanihan at work, definitely,” he said, using the word Filipinos use to describe community spirit.
Police officer Cabuñas cited several instances when the villagers opened their homes to neighbors in need of shelter as the typhoon raged on Tuesday.
That, he said, was why there were still people who survived in Barangay Andap, the most severely hit after Mayo River topped its banks, unleashing a torrent of mud, boulders, toppled trees and parts of destroyed houses into the villages below the mountain.
Rescuers from far and wide have arrived here to help the search and retrieval operations. They are from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which leads the operations, and from little known volunteer organizations from far-flung parts of the country.
Donations have also been pouring into the centralized help center at the municipal gym, from organizations like the United Nations, politicians and private citizens. Groups like the Digos Joggers Club and the Dog Owners of Tagum have chipped in to help the search and retrieval efforts.
Lots of help
This town and the municipalities around it need a lot of help.
Clean, drinkable water is the top requirement, residents here said. Food—rice, canned goods and noodles—though coming regularly, is not being distributed quickly enough. Medicines, clothes and blankets are also in short supply.
“It’s times like this when Filipinos really have to come together to help,” Lugas said.